Three consecutive losses haven’t shaken Michael Chandler’s confidence. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Michael Chandler had one professional fight before he began competing for a premier MMA organization.
After dispatching Kyle Swadley via first round knockout, he was signed to fight for Strikeforce and then Bellator and never looked back. For several years, Chandler was regarded as one of the sport’s preeminent lightweights, and some believed he was destined for all-time greatness.
Fast forward to today and the opinion of Chandler from much of the fickle MMA media is that he probably wasn’t as great as expected. He began his pro career an impressive 12-0 and captured the Bellator lightweight title, but right now he’s just trying to get a win under his belt. The Missouri native has hit the skids recently, having lost three consecutive bouts.
Chandler looks back at what happened and offers up a rather clichéd response about it being just part of the sport. Two of Chandler’s recent losses, to Eddie Alvarez and Will Brooks, both came by way of split decision.
“Those first two losses were very close, close to the point where a lot of people thought they should’ve gone my way,” Chandler told Sherdog.com. “But it’s something you take in stride, stay positive and focus on continuing to move forward. Losses happen in this sport. Whether they happen in a row or they happen sporadically, they happen.
“Nobody goes undefeated and this sport is about success, not perfection,” he added. “I still consider myself as the best lightweight in the world and I can beat anybody in the world, not just in Bellator but in any organization on any given night. I’m expected to be the best lightweight in the world.”
Though Chandler’s first two professional defeats were about as close as they come, he was knocked out by Brooks in the fourth round of his most recent battle. It was then when the media began changing their collective opinions of him, that this premier talent might have been more style than substance. Chandler obviously disagrees and says the negative remarks have no effect on him whatsoever.
“The one thing about being in the public’s eye and having a million MMA fans in the world, they are going to talk about you,” he stated. “Whether it’s positive or negative, you have to take it for what it’s worth because, to be honest, not much of it really means anything. I can have a million people compliment me but it’s not going to help me in my next fight. It’s not going to help me get through all those tough rounds of sparring.
“On the contrary,” he continued. “People can give me their negative, worthless opinions of me and they also don’t carry any weight. I’ve realized in this sport that love me or hate me, I’m going to sleep real good at night because I know I’m doing the right things. I have a real good life right now. I’m making very good money doing something that I love and it’s a blessing to be able to go to the gym every day and have fun. When work is fun, life is good.”
Chandler is aware of the massive pink elephant in the room, and that is the three-fight losing streak. It’s something that comes up in every interview and though he says it doesn’t bother him and that it’s part of the sport, he did admit that he has been working feverishly in the gym to correct things. While he may still believe he is the best lightweight in the world, something hasn’t gone perfectly according to plan the last three times he climbed through the Bellator cage.
“I am constantly trying to improve and correct mistakes because this is mixed martial arts,” he said. “When you look at it, there are a thousand different ways to win or lose, a thousand different techniques from all martial arts and then you add in boxing and wrestling and all the different types of ground games. You can kind of be a jack-of-all-trades but you’ll ultimately be a master of none. What I try to do is focus on my strengths. I know exactly what my strengths are and I know exactly how I can beat any lightweight in the world. By honing in on these strengths and working on them every single day in training, and having not lost even a minute of any round during training, it gives me a load of confidence going into this fight.”
The fight he’s referring to is a featured duel on the Bellator 138 card this Friday against Derek Campos. A relentless fighter who constantly pressures his opponents, Campos brings a level of energy that Chandler feels will be fun to deal with. Chandler is excited to match his skillset with Campos’ aggression, but he knows what’s on the line; he can ill-afford to slip up against a man widely considered a sizeable underdog.
“I like the way he fights,” he admitted. “He’s entertaining, he comes forward and he swings hard. He’s good. My team and I have put together a great gameplan for him. We have seen some places where we can exploit some holes in his game and we look forward to doing that on (Friday).”
Chandler didn’t want to reveal what his gameplan will be come fight night, but he said he knows exactly what to do against Campos in order to snap the winless streak. He has seen enough film on him to prepare for what Campos will bring to the cage, which he believes will pave the way toward victory.
“His cardio is not an issue; he can fight hard for three full rounds,” Chandler said. “He hits hard but doesn’t do too much damage. His wrestling and takedown defense is average and his work on the ground is average. He is not going to be an easy guy to put away, but we expect to do that at some point within the three rounds.”
Chandler will be the first person to admit that Campos really has nothing to lose because there is no pressure on him. Chandler is the one who is under immense pressure to turn things around. He stated that pressure is what makes diamonds and that all the great ones are always under immense pressure to win. The former NCAA All-American believes that what he’s gone through during the last 18 months is a mere hiccup, and that he’ll eventually not only reclaim the Bellator lightweight title he lost to Alvarez, he’ll become the best at 155 pounds in the entire sport. But in order to prove that, he has to eventually take on other stars who are under contract to other organizations, most notably the UFC.
“The beautiful thing about this sport is that we are seeing a shift in that there are so many great, big fights by both promotions,” he said. “You have guys leaving the UFC and coming to Bellator and others leaving us to go the UFC and I think the gap is being closed between the two. It’s interesting the see where the two organizations will be a year or two from now, or five years from now. Who knows where it will all be?
“I respect those guys at the top of the UFC, and do I think I can beat all of them? Absolutely,” he declared. “We’ll see how everything plays out. Right now I am more than happy where I am and with the financial motivation I’ve been given in Bellator, I’m living a good life. We’ll cross that bridge if it needs to be crossed.”
If Chandler is to ever face the likes of UFC lightweight king Rafael dos Anjos, Anthony Pettis and others, he first will likely need to avenge his losses to Alvarez and Brooks. But he can’t even think about anything along those lines until he faces Campos, a dangerous man with nothing to lose. And men with nothing to lose are the most dangerous.