Justin Gaethje edges Michael Chandler in instant classic at UFC 268

Daniel Cunningham

Kicking off the main card of UFC 268 was arguably the most highly anticipated matchup of the evening. Former interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje (22-3) took on former title challenger Michael Chandler (22-6).

Originally, this fight was scheduled to be the third of the night, but with Trevor Wittman coaching Usman and Namajunas in addition to Gaethje, this fight was moved up. This was the first time we saw Justin Gaethje in over a year.

The last time we saw him was at UFC 254 when he lost to Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title. That loss snapped a four-fight winning streak that saw him capture the UFC interim lightweight title against Tony Ferguson.

Michael Chandler made his UFC debut back in January with a knockout of Dan Hooker. After that win, Chandler got a shot against Charles Oliveira for the vacant UFC lightweight title. After a dominant first round, Chandler was caught with a flush shot in the second and was stopped.

With that, both of these men are coming off losses in UFC lightweight title fights. Whoever won tonight was being looked at as potentially the next title contender.

UFC 268 Recap

Round 1

The UFC 268 lightweight contest started with both men meeting in the center. Gaethje looks for a leg kick early. Chandler clips Gaethje and Gaethje stumbles a bit but seems okay. Gaethje then lands a good shot which backs off Chandler.

Chandler holding the center but eats a right from Gaethje. Powerful leg kick from Gaethje and both men just start trading bombs. This fight is as advertised so far. Massive uppercut from Michael Chandler. Gaethje returns fire with a big shot.

Big leg kick from Gaethje. Massive right straight from Chandler and Gaethje’s chin is holding up her. Stiff jab from Chandler and the pace slows a bit. Another jab from Chandler. Big leg kick from Gaethje and Chandler lands another jab. Lead left from Gaethje.

Gaethje is rocked by a big shot from Chandler. Chandler charges forward and unloads on Gaethje. Gaethje lands an uppercut that rocks Chandler and now Chandler is in troulb.e Both men slow down near the end of the first.

Huge uppercut from Chandler. Lead elbow lands for Gaethje. Uppercut from Gaethje and now the tide is turning a bit. Big shot to the body lands for Chandler. Gaethje now is starting to unload on Michael Chandler. Crazy first round here at UFC 268. No idea how to score that one, but I lean ever so slightly towards Chandler.

Round 2

The second round at UFC 268 kicked off with immediate pressure from Gaethje. Chandler opens with a jab but his leg looks a little weak after that first round. Huge 1-2 from Gaethje and again Gaethje slams a leg kick.

Chandler lands a nice right straight with a jab behind it. Beautiful right straight from Gaethje and Chandler mixes it up to the body. Another body shot from Chandler but Gaethje lands a big leg kick. Gaethje pushing forward and lands a big uppercut.

Chandler might be in trouble here. Massive uppercut from Gaethje and Chandler goes down. This fight is almost over but Chandler grabs on to a takedown attempt. Chandler is badly hurt here and Gaethje is punishing him. Lots of blood leaking from Michael Chandler.

Halfway through the round and it’s all Justin Gaethje. Gaethje appears to be looking for a submission and he takes the back of Chandler. He lets Chandler up and Chandler plots forward. Powerful jab from Justin Gaethje and Chandler lands a big uppercut.

Takedown attempt from Chandler that Gaethje just shrugs off. Right hand lands from Chandler on the break. Another leg kick from Gaethje drops Chandler and Chandler pops back up. His face is a mess and I’m not sure how he’s still standing.

These two are just trading at UFC 268. Lead left from Gaethje and he lands a body kick. Chandler plots forward and lands a powerful 1-2. The round ends and it might be even at UFC 268.

Round 3

Entering the final round at UFC 268 and all the momentum appears to be with Justin Gaethje. They touch gloves to start the final round and here we go. Chandler looks much more fresh but eats a leg kick immediately as the round starts.

Jab from Chandler but another big leg kick lands for Gaethje. Nice right straight lands for Gaethje. Lead left hook lands for Gaethje. Chandler doubles up on the jab and lands a nice right hand behind it. Powerful uppercut from Chandler.

Another good uppercut lands for Chandler. Chandler pushing forward here and he’s ripping shots to the body here. Huge hook from Gaethje and Chandler waves him on. Chandler shoots in and gets a big takedown but Gaethje scrambles and ends up on top.

Chandler gets back to his feet and they rest against the fence. Back to striking and Chandler plots forward. Huge hooks to the body from Chandler. Gaethje might be hurt and then out of no where he rocks Michael Chandler.

Gaethje pouring it on but Chandler is just eating everything. One minute left and I can’t believe this fight. The two meet in the center with just a few seconds left in the fight. Leg kick from Chandler. Body kick from Gaethje. Somehow this goes to the end and I think Gaethje edges out a decision here.

Justin Gaethje def. Michael Chandler by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)