Michael Chandler (above) likes his chances against Eddie Alvarez. | Photo: Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Michael Chandler dove headfirst into the world of mixed martial arts from the wrestling mats of the University of Missouri. In two short years, he was able to earn his way into Bellator Fighting Championships’ fourth-season lightweight tournament. Saturday night in Atlantic City, N.J., Chandler firmly engraved his name into the minds of MMA fans as he laid a beat down on favorite Patricky “Pitbull” Freire to claim the tourney title and a shot at reigning Bellator 155-pound champ Eddie Alvarez.
Chandler’s drive toward MMA was strong: the High Ridge, Mo., native began his fighting career before even completing his undergraduate studies at Missouri.
“I started getting into MMA in my junior year,” Chandler told Sherdog.com on Saturday. “I was blessed to have good guys in my life like Tyron Woodley and Ben Askren.”
Woodley was especially instrumental in Chandler’s growth as a mixed martial artist. In late 2009, the Strikeforce welterweight was able to secure Chandler two fights in his home promotion; Chandler won both decisively, earning a TKO in the first and a rear-naked choke submission in the second.
After signing with Bellator, Chandler made the decision to train full-time with Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. True to form, once his choice was made, Chandler invested himself completely.
“It was the best decision I’ve made thus far,” Chandler said. “I realized I wanted to fight full time, so I threw everything in my car for Las Vegas. I needed that structure like I had gotten in the past five years in college wrestling. I can get a workout 24 hours a day, whenever I want, at the best gym in the world for a lightweight.”
His training with striking coach Gil Martinez was particularly evident in Saturday’s fight with Freire, as Chandler displayed improved hands and was able to outstrike the dangerous Brazilian. Friere had turned his last opponent, Toby Imada, into a walking zombie with a brutal flying knee and Chandler was aware of the dangers posed by the “Pitbull.”
“He definitely hit me a couple of times. He does have some power. I think he punched me in my eye,” Chandler smiled, wincing through his swollen-shut left eye.
Martinez developed a sharp boxing gameplan with Chandler, emphasizing footwork and speed to keep Friere away from the former Mizzou Tiger.
“We worked a lot of movement and in-and-out. We worked on keeping that jab long and keeping that hook long. I wanted to keep the distance between him and I,” Chandler said.
In the last round of their encounter, Chandler was able to secure a takedown, which served as the final blow to Friere. The wrestler rained down elbows and punches onto his opponent until he felt his Freire begin to give.
“I got the takedown in the third and I wanted to break him. I think he was heading that way. I’ve competed so much in combat sports that you know when someone is broken. You know when someone doesn’t want to win anymore. I wanted this tournament title,” he said.
Chandler’s first remarks in the post-fight news conference after defeating Friere were words of humility and thankfulness. For Chandler, family comes first and he does not forget where he came from or how
important his family is to his continued success.
“It’s not very often you see someone who has family and friends who are willing to travel around the country,” he commented. Certainly these family values are central to Chandler not only as a fighter, but also as a person. He acknowledges the bright spotlight that could come with a lightweight title and his potential stardom as his young career begins to unfold.
“I knew that people didn’t know my name going into this tournament. Now, hopefully, some people do,” said Chandler. “I’ll be put on a platform to reach a lot of people and I want to carry myself the right way.”
His upcoming title fight with Alvarez, whom Bellator Chairman and CEO Bjorn Rebney calls “the best 155-pound fighter in the world,” represents Chandler’s most formidable challenge to date.
Though Chandler dealt with a dangerous striker in Friere, he will have an entirely different challenge with Alvarez, whose speed and boxing ability rank among the best in the lightweight division. The Philadelphian is also known for his relentless pace over the course of five rounds, a distance Chandler has never faced in his career.
Not shockingly, Chandler is undaunted by the new challenge ahead of him and is confident in his trainers at Xtreme Couture. He was excited to see the fruits of his hard work in the gym pay off against Friere. After a relatively short amount of time training, the 25-year-old has already achieved quite a bit in such an unforgiving sport. Much like the previous challenges he has faced, Chandler has no fear of Alvarez and insists he will not be intimidated by the champion.
“A lot of people have been a little bit scared of Eddie. I’m in the cage with Gray Maynard a couple times a week. I’m training with guys like that. I’m kind of a grinder and brawler by nature. That is what wrestling has made me,” said Chandler.
Like a true wrestler, Chandler noted that hard work and dedication will be the key to dethroning the champ.
“I know I’m going to be training my butt off. We’re going to go into those championship rounds and see if Eddie can hang with us,” Chandler said, before adding a bit of swagger and bravado regarding his chances against Alvarez.
“I think in four months, I will match up extremely well. I’m going to come at him,” Chandler said, smiling. “You guys better not blink for 25 minutes.”