‘This is a classic’: Fans hail epic scrap as Gaethje returns from Nurmagomedov defeat by edging out bloodied Chandler at UFC 268

In his first fight since losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov more than a year ago, Justin Gaethje earned a unanimous decision against blood-splattered former Bellator MMA champion Michael Chandler at UFC 268.

The American pair, who were both aiming for a win that could have led to a lightweight title shot against current champion Charles Oliveira, produced an enthralling, unpredictable contest at Madison Square Garden in New York.

A no-holds-barred first round featured a connecting flying knee from Chandler and a series of characteristic kicks from Gaethje that left Chandler's lead leg clearly impaired.

There was no let up in round two, with Gaethje dropping Chandler courtesy of an uppercut before attempting to hammer his opponent on the floor.

Seemingly fearless Chandler responded with a right hand that landed on Gaethje's eye, causing referee Mike Beltran to step in.

Chandler then hit Gaethje again while his adversary was appealing, with Beltran failing to give 'The Highlight' time to recover from the questionable blow.

A fight that looked highly unlikely to go the distance did so largely through an immensely gritty display from Chandler, absorbing a plethora of painful shots from Gaethje.

By the end, the relatively new UFC recruit, who was a backup for Gaethje's fight with Nurmagomedov on Fight Island, looked a bloodied mess.

Despite his predicament, Chandler repeatedly beckoned Gaethje forward as he tried to avoid his eventual unanimous decision defeat.

Fans lauded the contest and UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski wrote: "100% guaranteed fireworks."

Gaethje likened the pair to gladiators afterwards. "I knew exactly what that motherf*cker was," he said.

"He is a warrior. We should have had a fight to the death in the Colosseum – that's what should have happened.

"At this level, with what is on the line tonight, I knew I needed to put him to sleep. We're fighting for the belt."

Asked who should challenge next for the title, Gaethje was predictably assured in his response.

"I'm ranked number two," he pointed out. "I've just got an impressive win – who else? I'm the only motherf*cker left."

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