Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler reportedly have "verbally agreed" on a matchup at UFC 268, according to ESPN's Brett Okamoto.
While Okamoto reported that a venue and date for the event have yet to be agreed upon, "the target is Nov. 6. [at] Madison Square Garden."
Gaethje, 32, won the UFC lightweight title at UFC 249 over Tony Ferguson in 2020, only to lose it to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254 later that year. Charles Oliveira is currently the division's champion after defeating Chandler by a second-round TKO in May at UFC 262.
That loss was just Chandler's second fight in the UFC, following his victory over Dan Hooker at January's UFC 257 in his debut. Chandler, 35, had spent the previous 10 years with Bellator, where he was a three-time lightweight champion.
Gaethje currently ranks as the UFC's 14th overall pound-for-pound fighter and is ranked second in the lightweight division. Chandler is ranked fourth in the division.
The two have already traded verbal jabs, with Chandler calling out Gaethje earlier this month on Instagram Live after Islam Makhachev called out Chandler.
"Gaethje should be next. There's no doubt about it. There is no secret [Islam Makhachev] and Gaethje both share the same management, so obviously that management would want to say, 'Hey, throw Islam on the trail. Throw Islam on the Chandler trail so that it takes the heat off of Gaethje.'
"But Justin Gaethje: Come on, bro. You call yourself a fighter, and you are—you're one of the most exciting guys in mixed martial arts. Be prepared to make a highlight or be made a highlight, because that’s what I am. That's what I’m ready to do.”
Gaethje responded with a profanity-laden tweet [NSFW language]:
Justin Gaethje 🇺🇸 @Justin_Gaethje
<a href="https://twitter.com/MikeChandlerMMA?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MikeChandlerMMA</a> is talking out of his ass. I was waiting for the bout agreement 3 weeks into camp and wake up to news his daddy Dana gave him the shot. He’s been out of commission since the KO. What am I missing? I’m on vacay and this fucker is slandering my name. 3-4 times? 🤦♂️
Bring on the fireworks. The winner of this fight will make a strong case to face the winner of a potential title fight between Oliveira and Dustin Poirier, the top contender, or whoever Oliveira faces next.
"I believe Dustin fought Conor [McGregor] because he knew he would be making a lot of money" Oliveira told Guilherme Cruz of MMA Fighting earlier in July. "He passed on the belt to fight for money but knew that he would be next in line with a win. I don't know what his plans are."
"I believe the right fight to make is Charles Oliveira-Dustin Poirier, but I'm not worried about it," he added. "I'm the champion. They are the ones that must run after me and the belt, not the other way around."