Ahead of Bellator 97, which took place on July 31, 2013, Michael Chandler and Ben Askren were Bellator MMA’s two best fighters and biggest homegrown stars. Both were 11-0 and both seemed to be settling into dominant title reigns: Chandler would be defending his lightweight belt for the second time, while Askren was scheduled to make a Bellator record fourth defense of his welterweight strap.
On that night in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, Chandler and Askren both won in emphatic fashion, further fueling the idea that they would be the faces of Bellator for years to come. In the co-main event, Askren positively overwhelmed Andrey Koreshkov on the ground for three rounds—all of which could have been scored 10-8 without blinking an eye—before pummeling him from mount for a TKO stoppage in the fourth. Throughout the fight, Askren appeared to grow into the half-heel persona that had emerged in recent years. On numerous occasions during the steamrolling, Askren was seen grinning, seemingly in sheer amusement at the ease with which he was manhandling an undefeated challenger.
Chandler defended his belt in a performance that was every bit as lopsided as Askren’s but much, much shorter. Facing the 15-1 David Rickels, Chandler engaged in a few tentative exchanges on the feet before exploding with an overhand right that floored “The Caveman.” Rickels got back up in a hurry, only to be met with an uppercut that dropped him again. This time, there would be no recovery, as Chandler followed him down and knocked him out cold with several brutal ground strikes. It was over in 44 seconds as Chandler roared in exultation while the referee and doctors attended to his would-be challenger.
Chandler and Askren had both seemingly cemented their places as Bellator’s No. 1 and No. 2 fighters, but surprisingly, neither would be champ by the end of their next fight. After four increasingly easy title defenses in Bellator, Askren elected to jump to One Championship, perhaps reasoning that if he was going to take easy fights, he might as well earn outlandish paychecks and not have to make 170 pounds while he was at it. Askren was every bit as dominant in his new digs, if not more so, and was still undefeated when he finally signed with the UFC in 2019.
Chandler, in his next fight, dropped a split decision to the man he had beaten to earn the title, Eddie Alvarez. That fight, an instant classic and “Fight of the Year” candidate, set up an obvious trilogy, but it never came because Chandler ended up losing his next two fights as well, and Alvarez was gone by the time he got back on track. Chandler bounced back, however, regaining his title and defending it several more times. While he currently awaits a second shot at Patricio Freire, he remains one of Bellator’s top stars and most accomplished fighters.