Article by Mike Johnston
Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler is the best 155-pound fighter in mixed martial arts that no one seems to talk about.
The 26-year-old is a perfect 10-0 and represents everything that’s good about MMA. He is respectful towards his opponents and of the process in which it takes to become a champion; he is a world-class athlete that trains like one, not relying solely on his natural athletic ability; he’s soft spoken without a shred of hubris; and most important of all, he is supremely talented in the cage.
While it’s common for high-level collegiate wrestlers like Chandler who transition to MMA to rely on their abilities on the mat to grind out their opponents, Chandler doesn’t. He likes to finish fights as quickly as possible and he has done so in eight of his 10 fights.
In the main event at Bellator 67 on Friday in Orillia, Ont., it took Chandler just 56 seconds to knock out Japanese MMA legend Akihiro Gono — who had never been finished in less than seven minutes in his legendary 18-year career.
Chandler is such an explosive and athletic fighter there’s no reason he couldn’t give top lightweights like Benson Henderson and Gilbert Melendez a run of their money, despite the fact he only made his professional MMA debut in August 2009.
And no one is a bigger fan and supporter of Chandler than Bellator Fighting Championships CEO Bjorn Rebney.
“Just a few years ago (Chandler) was in college and was winning NCAA titles as a wrestler and had never officially or competitively hit anyone in the face, and (he) came into our first lightweight tournament after a smattering of professional fights and said without any equivocation or hesitation that he was going to win the tournament, he was going to beat Eddie Alvarez — who at that time a lot of people considered the best lightweight in the world — and he was going to win the (Bellator) title,” Rebney said at the Bellator 67 post-fight press conference.
“There was no braggadocious to it, there was no over-the-top-presentation. It was just a matter of fact of what was going to happen.”
And it certainly did happen. If you haven’t seen Chandler’s bout with Alvarez, take the time and check it out. It will be one of the more entertaining fights you’ll see. Bellator was so proud of it that they made it available on their YouTube channel for fans to watch.
His win over Alvarez is what put him on the map for many MMA fans, but still, he does not receive the accolades or recognition as that of his fellow lightweight champions in the UFC or Strikeforce.
The Missouri native isn’t bothered by this though.
“I don’t feel disrespected. I don’t feel like I need to worry about that,” Chandler said. “For me, I can’t control what the whole world thinks about me. All I can control is getting my butt in the gym every single day and getting as good as I can possibly be, and then try and live life right. So, I think hopefully I’m starting to get more recognition, but at the same time I don’t really need it.”
Chandler added that all the recognition he needs comes from his family and the people close to him in his life. “I’m so blessed to have an amazing support group around me … and it’s one of the main reasons I fight. ”
He also realizes there is more to the sport than just wins and losses. He has a website called Blessed Threads that sells MMA apparel with proceeds going to Friends of Kids with Cancer.
What’s most impressive about Chandler, the fighter, is his rise from an unknown wrestler to an elite-level MMA competitor.
“His growth has been the kind of exponential growth period you dream about either in athletics or business,” Rebney said. “He’s gone from being a great national-calibre, international-calibre wrestler to being one of the greatest mixed martial artists in the lightweight division in the world, so his growth period has been just shocking.
“The thing that surprises me most about Michael’s growth curve is that his striking has been so devastating. It’s so crisp and so technical and so powerful, and literally just a few years ago he had never done any striking and that kind of progression is unheard of, and shocking and great to see and obviously he puts on great performances.
“Where he ranks in the world, if I had a suitcase of all the money I have in the world I’d put it on him against anyone else.”
The consensus top-10 lightweight isn’t one to speculate as to where he is in the rankings, but he knows his hard work is paying off.
“I do believe I’m on my way to being the No. 1 lightweight in the world and I’m working hard towards that,” Chandler added. “So as far as where I am now, I don’t know where they want to put me … but I promise I’m working my way to get there.”
Bellator continues to produce some of the top fighters in the sport like Alvarez, Pat Curran, Ben Askren and Eduardo Dantas.
Michael Chandler could be the best of them all.