Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) knockout artists Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler will throw down this weekend (Sat., Nov. 6, 2021) at UFC 268 inside Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.
It feels like a really long time ago that Khabib Nurmagomedov retired, doesn’t it? “The Eagle” called it quits at UFC 254 in Oct. 2020, which is also the last time Gaethje made the walk. It’s surely been a bitter layoff for “The Highlight,” who has been unwillingly sidelined while vocally calling for title fights and similarly high-profile match ups. Fortunately, he has a chance for a big return here. Chandler is coming off a title fight as well, and in each of his two UFC contests so far, “Iron” has come forward swinging like a bat out of hell. This is a stellar match up that was widely demanded by fans, and it just might determine the next title contender.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Tony Ferguson (UFC 249), Edson Barboza (UFC on ESPN 2), Donald Cerrone (UFC Fight Night 158), Michael Johnson (TUF 25 Finale), James Vick (UFC Fight Night 135), Luis Palomino (WSOF 19, 23)
Key Losses: Khabib Nurmagomedov (UFC 254), Dustin Poirier (UFC on FOX 29), Eddie Alvarez (UFC 218)
Keys to Victory: Gaethje is quite arguably the most exciting fighter of all time. He’s refined his brawling instincts a great deal over the last couple years, but he’s still a knockout artist intent on landing huge shots in volume first and foremost.
Defense remains a distance second.
If Gaethje and Chandler take turns punching one another in the face, it’s not clear who falls first. Gaethje is probably a touch more durable, while Chandler has a bit more pure knockout power — who knows which man lands first?
Fortunately, each man has a pretty clear-cut path to tip the scales in his favor. For Gaethje, low kicks could push this from a 50-50 exchange to dominant victory. Chandler stands wide to maximize his explosiveness, but his calf is vulnerable as a result, a proven problem from Brent Primus to Charles Oliveira.
Key Wins: Dan Hooker (UFC 257), Benson Henderson (Bellator 243, Bellator 165), Brent Primus (Bellator 212), Patricky Freire (Bellator 157), Eddie Alvarez (Bellator 58)
Key Losses: Charles Oliveira (UFC 262), Patricio Freire (Bellator 221), Brent Primus (Bellator NYC), Will Brooks (Bellator 120, Bellator 131)
Keys to Victory: Chandler has to be among the most fast-twitch athletes in the sport today. The former All-American wrestler is simply so fast and powerful, regardless of whether that energy is being translated into a blistering right hand or blast double.
If Gaethje wants to chop up the legs to turn the tide, Chandler’s equivalent game changer is the takedown. Gaethje may be an All-American himself, but that accomplishment is over a decade old, and Gaethje has spent very little time actually wrestling in fights compared to the former Bellator champ. Based on just how easily Nurmagomedov knifed through Gaethje’s defenses once on the mat, a quick rear naked choke win from Chandler wouldn’t be a shock.
Should the takedown fail, however, feints become the key. Chandler has to feint and false start, knowing that low kick is coming. If he can convince Gaethje to throw himself out of position trying to chop calves, it will create openings for Chandler to then press forward and attack more safely.
BONUS KEY TO VICTORY!
The following applies to both men: the left hook could be such a game changer.
Both of these athletes are right hand-heavy strikers, and they really commit to the strike with all their force. If either man were to then return to his stance with the left hook, he stands a fair shot at catching his foe backing out or just generally out of position. Chandler may have just been crushed by Oliveira’s left hook, but the opening is there for both.
Is this a title eliminator? Maybe.
Gaethje likely has a better shot at turning victory into a second opportunity at UFC gold. He has mild beef vs. Charles Oliveira and a previous, legendary brawl vs. Dustin Poirier. Regardless of who holds the belt in 2022, a Gaethje match up would be electric, and a knockout here likely secures such an opportunity.
Chandler’s situation is a bit more situational, as it’s likely too soon to run back the Oliveira rematch, even if the first fight was fantastic. Poirier would be a fresh opponent, however, so if he capitalizes big on this opportunity and “The Diamond” takes the crown, there’s a chance Chandler (once again) leapfrogs his fellow Lightweight contenders.
At UFC 268, Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler will slug it out. Which man remains standing when the dust settles?