When Will Brooks was still entrenched atop Bellator MMA’s lightweight division, Michael Chandler had plenty to say to -- and about -- the reigning 155-pound king.
Now that Brooks has departed to the UFC, however, Chandler seems ready to move on from that chapter of his career. There is no regret, no lamenting the missed opportunity to gain revenge on the man responsible for two of his three career defeats. For Chandler, there is only the present tense, and that world no longer includes Brooks.
“I don’t really have a take. I think it played out the way it did. I think business is business. This is the fight business, the entertainment business, and it didn’t work out for him,” Chandler told Sherdog.com.
“This sport changes like crazy. The rosters change. Guys retire, guys come up, guys surprise you. Guys are changing promotions,” he continued. It’s part of the fight business now. For me, it’s not about who I’m fighting or where I’m fighting or when I’m fighting. It’s about outperforming my previous self. My last two performances have been great. I want to do even better this next fight and win the world title [Friday night] and keep moving on forward.”
When Brooks was granted his unconditional release from Bellator MMA, he also vacated the lightweight belt he officially won against Chandler in November 2014. Now, Chandler will get a chance to regain what he lost when he faces Patricky Freire at Bellator 157 “Dynamite 2” at Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The evening’s main card airs on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.
Back-to-back losses to Brooks, preceded by a decision loss to Eddie Alvarez, marked the low point of Chandler’s career. There was a time when the fighter once tabbed as the potential face of a promotion was questioning whether he belonged in the sport at all.
“You don’t really know what to do. You don’t know what you did wrong. You don’t know what you need to change,” Chandler said. “Am I gonna get cut from the promotion? Is my next contract gonna be way less than the contract I have now? How are you gonna provide for your family? You can’t provide for your family if you keep losing fights.
“But then slowly but surely yesterday blends to last night. The sun’s gonna rise the next day. You keep that faith and you keep working and you keep smiling through it all. And now, here I am a year or two later and I feel the best I’ve ever been.”
Chandler enters bout against Freire with those setbacks comfortably in the rearview mirror. His last two outings, stoppage triumphs over David Rickels and Derek Campos, have instilled a renewed sense of optimism in the former University of Missouri wrestler.
“I just had my 30th birthday and I feel better at 30 than I did... when I was champion. I feel so much more of a seasoned veteran. I’ve been through the fire. I’ve shown that I can come back from losses. I’ve been down in the dumps. I’ve been embarrassed of myself. This sport has made me the happiest I’ve ever been sometimes, and it’s made me the saddest I’ve ever been sometimes,” he said. “Just where I’m at, just as a person, as a man, as a competitor, as a husband, as a future father, this sport and these ups and downs have shaped me into who I am. I’m more proud of who am now than I ever have been.”
It seems fitting, then, for Chandler to be facing Freire on Friday night. Before he was a Bellator champion with a long-term contract and sky-high expectations, Chandler was simply a young underdog trying to get through “The Toughest Tournament in Sports.” Freire, a hard-hitting Brazilian touted by Bellator’s then-president Bjorn Rebney as a “phenom,” was standing in his way. Back then, nobody would have blinked if Chandler had stumbled against the elder “Pitbull” brother at Bellator 44.
“I remember watching his crazy knockout with Toby Imada... He knocks the dude out, and me and [my manager] look at each other and say, ‘We’re still gonna beat the crap out of this dude.’ And then a month later we did it,” Chandler said. “I had that supreme confidence in myself back then, and that was after a year of [MMA] training. Now, with all that I’ve been through and all the training that I’ve had, and the leaps and bounds of improvements that I’ve made, I feel like I’m the best I’ve ever been.”
Six months later, Chandler shocked the MMA world by submitting Alvarez in an all-time classic at Bellator 58. A star was born that night, and even though some of that shine has since faded, Chandler is confident he can regain -- at Freire’s expense -- any luster he might have lost.
“I think that’s what I’m coming into this fight with, knowing that I’ve got a much more substantial calling of my life,” Chandler said. “I was put in this sport to be a champion; I truly believe that. I believe in my abilities, I believe in my training; I believe in my coaches; I believe in where my mindset and where my skill set is. Really it’s not about where he lacks, it’s about where I am in my preparation. I feel great and I feel unstoppable.”