Michael Chandler joins UFC with 'target on his back' but could earn title shot with 'statement' win over Dan Hooker

MICHAEL CHANDLER joins the UFC with a 'target on his back' – but could earn a title shot with a 'statement' win over Dan Hooker.

Chandler joined the UFC after his Bellator contract expired, where he reigned as three-time lightweight champion.


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Welcoming the American will be expert striker Hooker, as the pair co-main event UFC 257 on Fight Island.

Chandler's move created immense anticipation amongst the division, but his time as an ex-title holder will put him in good stead to deal with theeyeballs fixed on his arrival.

His trainer Henri Hooft told SunSport: "Michael does have a target on his back but I don't think that's a problem as he was champion, he had a target on his back from when he had the belts.

"I think the UFC really likes Michael, you can't really not like him, he's very representable, well spoken, he's an athlete, I think he's a good guy to have in your company."

Before Chandler, 34, even debuted in the UFC, he has already talked up a fight with superstars Conor McGregor, 32, or Khabib Nurmagomedov, also 32.

As he enters the 155lb division, he does so with the title up in the air, due to Nurmagomedov still holding the crown despite retiring in October.

UFC president Dana White announced unbeaten Khabib will only consider returning for one fight should a lightweight contender impress him enough to do so.

And with rivals awaiting Chandler's introduction into the UFC, he has been given a new incentive – as he finds himself a showstopping win away from challenging Nurmagomedov.

Hooft agrees a jaw-dropping performance would make it hard for either of the Fight Island co-headliners to be denied a shot at the belt.

He said: "If he makes a statement against Dan Hooker, or Dan Hooker makes a statement, one of these two guys are going to fight for the belt.

"We don't know if Khabib is coming back or not, some people say he might.

"If Michael makes a statement there's no reason for him not to fight for the belt, you don't need to put him in another four or five fights.

"For me, as trainer of Michael Chandler, if he makes a statement, against a very, very good opponent in Dan Hooker, I think he could get the title shot."

Chandler has won five of his last six, while Hooker is coming off a loss against Dustin Poirier, 31, which ended his run of three victories.

The New Zealander is another product of the City Kickboxing academy in Aukland, home also to middleweight king Israel Adesanya, 31.


Hooft admits making an example out of Hooker will be an almighty task, but will be the exact reason Chandler decided to sign for the UFC in the first place.

The trainer explained: "It's not easy to make a statement against a fighter like Dan Hooker, I think he's a top three guy easily in that weight class.

"His striking is really, really good, his takedown defence is good, he has a lot of attributes and experience in fighting so it's very difficult.

"But, Michael made the decision to go the UFC instead of staying at Bellator making a lot of money to fight the same guy, or go to ONE FC where he could also make a lot of money.

"He still wants to prove a point, and as a trainer when your fighter still wants to prove a point it makes me motivated too, to get him to the point where he still wants to compete for the belt."

Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez – who Hooft coached – are standout names who joined the UFC from rival promotions and made a name for themselves.

And while Chandler remains an unknown commodity in the UFC, his career as a top tier lightweight elsewhere cannot be underestimated.

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A post shared by Michael Chandler (@mikechandlermma)

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A post shared by Michael Chandler (@mikechandlermma)

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A post shared by Michael Chandler (@mikechandlermma)

And Hooft warned 'keyboard warriors' now is the time to put more respect on his fighter's name.

He said:"He brings experience to the table, you can't train experience, you can't buy experience.

"They can say whatever they want about different organisations – but he's a three-time champion.

"He won the belt, lost it, won it back, lost it and won it back, so he knows how to go through difficult times and knows how to win important fights.

"I think that's a big thing that he brings with him, again it's not the UFC, it's Bellator, but he's still fighting another guy in a cage.

"Not everybody in the UFC would beat everybody in Bellator, and the other way around too.

"He made his mark in Bellator, there's a lot of keyboard warriors who don't know anything about fighting that keep saying Bellator is this and that.

"But Eddie came from Bellator, Justin Gaethje came from World Series of Fighting and he's one of the top dogs in the division."

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