The legendary former two-time Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler spoke exclusively to Pundit Arena about his ability to deal with pressure and adversity after a career that is amongst the finest the sport has ever seen.
It’s hard to describe Michael Chandler as one of the game’s most underrated fighters because anyone who is even slightly aware of his talent and credentials would be confident in sticking him in there against any lightweight on the planet.
With that being said, there was a time when it looked like the former champ’s momentum had been knocked off completely. Losing to Eddie Alvarez in their second all-time classic showdown before being beaten twice by Will Brooks left Chandler with a three-fight losing streak.
And in a sport like mixed martial arts, going 0-3 is the sign of an athlete whose best years are slipping out of their reach.
Michael Chandler is not most athletes, however.
One look at his Instagram profile will reveal a lot about this man’s incredible work-ethic and frankly terrifying strength and conditioning.
Rebounding from his skid and looking better in almost every way, he went on to claim the Bellator lightweight title once again with a streak of three finishes indicative of a man on the warpath.
Speaking to Pundit Arena in a recent interview, Chandler explained how he dug himself out of his slump through introspection and acceptance of his own role in what had gone wrong for him in his career.
“Someday when I write a book it’s going to be called ‘688 Days’ – because that’s how long I went without winning a fight. To anyone out there who has failed and failed and failed – all you feel is failure, you’re consumed by your inner turmoil and your inner negative self-talk.
“I realised that I cannot consistently perform in a manner that is inconsistent with the way that I see myself.
“I had constantly build myself up, I had to seek a sports psychologist and I had to take extreme ownership of what was going on in between my ears.
“I come from a very blue-collar family. My mother was a secretary at a junkyard and my father was a union carpenter. There were times where they were barely able to scrape by but they gave me and my two brothers everything we needed to succeed in life.
“Every single one of my setbacks has set me up to give them the gift of showing them that they raised a son who can shine in the face of adversity. Having setbacks is nothing more than an opportunity to be set up for a comeback.”
Tonight at Bellator 212, Chandler will once again be forced to return from the depths after losing his title to the current champion Brent Primus last year.
The fight saw Primus by way of TKO after Chandler injured his ankle after eating a hard leg-kick. And while the manner in which the fight ended was unfortunate, climbing back to the top has once again given him fresh motivation.
“If anything, it has helped me. Any time I have had a setback I’ve always come back faster, stronger, and a better person because of it. The injury was very temporary. I was back on my feet running five miles five days later.
“I was ready to fight, asking for the rematch and now here we are, eighteen months later and it’s finally happening.
“It wasn’t as if I got the immediate rematch. I had to go through two opponents. As soon as I realised that Primus wasn’t going to pony up and rematch me, I wasn’t going to wait around. I literally called out the number-1 guy on the rise. [Goiti] Yamauchi was 22-3 with 18 submissions – the kid was a killer.
“I wanted to prove that I wasn’t just a wrestler who turned into a striker, I wanted to prove that I could beat someone up on the ground, beat a BJJ black-belt up on the ground.
“And then I fought a very tough competitor in Brandon Girtz – a guy who you literally have to put out. I literally had to pick him up, slam him, separate his shoulder and then choke him unconscious to get him to quit.”
Chandler has seen and done it all at this point. As one of Bellator’s flagship stars, he has fought and beaten the best of the best under the promotional banner but now, at 32-years-old, he admits that his constant position as the betting favourite is something that plays on his mind.
“A lot of the time, I’m never the underdog in my fights. I’m always the guy who’s supposed to win and if you’ve been in that position, you know what pressure that comes with. It’s like ‘you’re supposed to beat this guy so you have to go out there and finish him quickly’.
“That’s a lot of pressure to fight under, a lot of pressure to deal with.
“Not only are you dealing with the strenuous training-camps, all the pain of all the different sparring sessions, and the weight-cut, and the media obligations, but also the inner-pressure and the external pressure of you being supposed to beat this guy.
“I’ve never had the opportunity to sit back and be the underdog. Not since the Bellator lightweight tournament. Not since I fought Eddie Alvarez for the first time in 2011.”
With an eye on the Bellator bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell being signed up for a cross-promotional super-fight with RIZIN bantamweight king Kyoji Horiguchi, Chandler revealed that he is also interested in testing the waters against some of the world’s best in other organisations.
“It’s definitely something I’m interested in. It’s awesome to see these fight promotions looking at working together and if anything, it’s better for the fighters because we have more options than the contracts we are stuck in, contracts that the clock is ticking on.”
On a final note, he expressed his gratitude for the enthusiasm of the Irish MMA fans and the infectious attitude of their travelling supporters.
“I love the Irish fans. You have changed the mixed martial arts game.
“Obviously, a lot of that has to do with Conor [McGregor], but the way you guys show up is cool.
“So to all of my Irish fans – and even my Irish haters – god bless you!”
Chandler returns to the cage tonight at Bellator 212 in Honolulu, Hawaii in an attempt to win back his lightweight strap for the third-time, facing Brent Primus in the night’s main-event.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena