Michael Chandler is out to prove a point.
The former Bellator MMA lightweight champion wants to show that he’s the same fighter who who recorded 10 finishes in his first 12 fights, not the one who dropped his last two bouts by split decision. Chandler will have the chance to prove himself on Nov. 15, when he rematches interim lightweight champ Will Brooks at Bellator 131 in San Diego -- and the former All-American wrestler from the University of Missouri says he’s never been readier.
“I know it sounds cliché, but this has literally been the best camp I’ve ever had,” Chandler, 28, told Sherdog.com in a recent interview. “I’m healthy and the most explosive, in-shape, strongest and sharpest I’ve ever been. After my last fight, I re-evaluated things to do with my training, and now I feel like I’m 18. I’m excited to put it on display and get that belt back.”
Chandler’s last fight was a five-round split loss to Brooks at Bellator 120 in May. Brooks replaced Eddie Alvarez on one week’s notice and, after losing the first two rounds, used wrestling and ground-and-pound to take the final three frames from Chandler and claim the interim belt. Chandler nearly finished Brooks in the final minute of the fight with a three-punch flurry and a mounted arm-triangle choke, but it wasn’t enough to sway the judges.
“I fought the worst performance of my life,” Chandler said following the fight. “There were a lot of different things going on.”
What Chandler didn’t tell anyone before the fight was that he injured his back during preparation for the fight, limiting his training camp. Still, Chandler refuses to blame the loss on the injury.
“I was struggling with some muscular injuries in my back and needed some time off,” said Chandler, who fights out of San Diego’s Alliance Training Center. “But, once I signed for a fight, there’s no time to take off. I was out for a week with muscle spasms and I couldn’t train much for about six weeks before [the Brooks fight]. I went out there and went out on my shield. I showed up, and Will was able to squeak out a decision against me. Now that I’m feeling good, I’m excited to go out there and compete.”
Chandler said he wouldn’t ever have made the injury public if Alvarez hadn’t mentioned it in a conference call.
“I hate making it sound like I’m making excuses for what happened against Will,” Chandler explained. “[Alvarez] brought it up because Bellator told him about the injury. I don’t want it to come off like I’m a sore loser or making excuses. I’m as respectful as anybody can be, but [Brooks] fought a completely different fighter than the one he’ll see on Nov. 15.”
Now, after allowing his back to heal and making some changes in his training regimen, Chandler feels fully prepared for his return match with Brooks.
“I just needed some time,” said Chandler. “I fought May 17, and by the middle of June, I started looking for a new stregnth and conditioning coach. I took about three weeks off to not have any wear and tear on my body, and then I just started working on my overall body. I’m a better, stronger athlete and I’ve learned a lot about things like balance. I had some deficiencies and I had to fix them, but now I’m healthy and pain free and happy.”
Chandler said Brooks will not only be facing a healthy opponent, but one who is better than he was in their first fight.
“Because of that injury, I was basically brawling,” Chandler said. “Now, people are going to see a veteran of the sport who’s approaching the sport like a veteran. I’ll be putting together combinations on the feet. On the ground, where he thinks he’s better than me, he’s sorely mistaken. I’ve been finishing guys in the gym. He’s going to get choked out or tapped if it goes to the ground.
“It’s exciting, because he can look at the last fight and say he beat me, and I look at the last fight and see that he has a false sense of confidence. I haven’t even watched the last fight. It’s going to be a completely different type of fight. You don’t want to take anything away from your opponent, and Will showed up that night and won. I lost that fight and I’m man enough to admit it, but if you want to ask me where I’m at right now, it’s a completely different place. I’m knocking out training partners. I’m so confident. I know he’s a game opponent and very tough, but we’re on two completely different levels and that’s how I'm approaching this Nov. 15.”
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