'I'm a better wrestler than Khabib': UFC 254 back-up boy Chandler talks up chances against The Eagle

New UFC signing Michael Chandler – booked as a replacement should either Khabib Nurmagomedov or Justin Gaethje pull out of their October 24 showdown – has claimed he has a superior ground game to the unbeaten Russian.

Former three-time Bellator lightweight champ Chandler is the fallback guy should either of Khabib or Gaethje fail to make their UFC 254 lightweight title showdown on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.

READ MORE: Ex-Bellator champ Michael Chandler signs with UFC, immediately drafted in as backup for Khabib-Gaethje fight

That bout pits the legendary grappling game of the Dagestani against the explosive punching power of Gaethje – although Chandler claims he has the skillset to match both men, should he be called upon.

“I think I’m the better wrestler than [Khabib] is,” said the 34-year-old on Instagram Live, according to MMA Junkie.

“That’s not to disrespect [Khabib’s] wrestling. I think he has shown to be the most dominant wrestler in mixed martial arts, the most dominant wrestler in the world. 

“[Khabib] comes forward with reckless abandon, pushes you against the cage, picks you up, puts you down and puts you in the Dagestani handcuff…,” added ‘Iron’, who owns a 21-5 record.   

But Chandler claimed his own wrestling roots trumped the fearsome ground game Khabib forged under the tutelage of his late father and trainer Abdulmanap.

“I will say, he’s never, to my knowledge, fought a Division-I, high-level Division-I wrestler. I don’t think he’s fought anybody who is a Division-I wrestling All-American. There’s just a different breed out there.

“There’s a different breed between a high school wrestler who got into mixed martial arts and stopped doing wrestling many years ago and a guy like myself, who was a Division-I wrestling All-American.”

Khabib’s oppressive grappling is the stuff of legend and the foundation of his stunning success, although Chandler vowed he would somehow avoid takedowns, or at least escape them expediently.

“[Khabib’s] going to take me down I don’t think. If he takes me down, he’s not going to hold me down. I’m going to be able to take him down unlike everybody else who has been up to fight him.

“As we saw in the Khabib versus Al Iaquinta fight [for the interim lightweight title in April 2018], when he can’t take you down he starts to resort to a little bit of sporadicism… he gets off his game.

“Seeds of doubt get planted in his head because he knows he doesn’t have great striking, he knows his ability to win the fight is predicated on him being able to get in your face, to put you up against the cage and pick you up and hold you down.

“That’s the game plan: Don’t get taken down. But that’s everybody’s game plan. So I’m going to sit here and say I won’t get taken down.”

Chandler, 34, said he hopes for the sake of the fans that the UFC 254 main event does go ahead as planned, but will nonetheless be heading to Abu Dhabi and following a strict training routine – including cutting weight – should he be called on.  

He also predicted he would nonetheless share the octagon with ‘The Eagle’ “somewhere down the line,” telling MMA fans to “get ready for it.”

As for Gaethje, Chandler predicted with similar bombast that he would neutralize the primary threat from his fellow American – in this case the punching power of ‘The Highlight’.     

“The game plan [against Gaethje] would be, keep my hands up, keep my chin tucked and get into a fist fight with him. I think I can match his cardio, I can go step for step.

“I think I have more power than he does. I think I could string together the wrestling and the grappling and the striking better than he can, and it will be the best fight possibly in UFC history when me and Justin Gaethje step into the cage, and we will step into the cage.”

For now, Chandler is watching and waiting for his chance from the sidelines, but if and when it comes, he is in doubt that he will be ready.  

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