Staying Grounded: Interview with Bellator Lightweight Champion Michael Chandler
Article by Brian Hemminger
Michael Chandler’s life changed forever in 2011, but you wouldn’t believe it by talking to him.
If not for a certain UFC light heavyweight named Jon Jones, Chandler could have taken home the “Fighter of the Year” award after defeating the likes of Marcin Held, Lloyd Woodard, Patricky Freire and then top five lightweight Eddie Alvarez to win the Bellator tournament and capture the 155 pound title.
Despite all the accolades, the new rocket ride to the top 10 in the lightweight divisional rankings and that strap of gold around his waist, Chandler has remained grounded and humble.
After all, he’s not even come close to achieving his goal of becoming the best lightweight in the world yet, at least not in his own eyes.
For Chandler, it was back to the gym where he’s been working hard the past several months in preparation for his upcoming non-title “super fight” against Pride, UFC and Dream veteran Akihiro Gono, which will be the main event of Bellator 67 tomorrow night (May 4, 2012) in Rama, Ontario, Canada.
The Bellator lightweight champion spoke about remaining grounded, branching out his training with new teams and what he still has left to prove to himself during a special guest appearance on Bloody Elbow Radio last week.
Matt Bishop: It’s been a few months here, almost seven months since your life changed beating Eddie Alvarez. How excited are you to be getting back into competition next week?
Michael Chandler: Very, very excited. I did have a nice little layoff if you will. It kind of worked out real well. I fought in November and then in December we had Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years to spend back home so that was a nice little time to rest and recover and heal up from the fight and it got me itching to get back in the gym and now I’m back and better than ever and I’m just excited to put on a show for the fans and continue to prove to the world how hard I’m working.
Matt Bishop: How has your life changed since beating Eddie Alvarez?
Michael Chandler: Honestly, I don’t really feel like it has changed much. I’ve done a few extra interviews. I get looked at a little bit differently in the MMA world. Some of the rankings have me in the top 10 but other than that, it’s the same old me. I’ve got a ton of hard work left to do and tons of hours left in the gym to still go through. I’ve still got the same goals, the same hard work ethic so that’s about it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You were confident heading into that bout against Alvarez which is a great sign, showing no fear. Now that you’re the champ, you’ve beaten him, what’s your confidence level like now? Did it soar even higher or have you tried to stay level?
Michael Chandler: My confidence is always very, very high. I wake up every morning knowing God put me on this Earth for this reason. When you wake up and you know you’re fulfilling your purpose in life and you’re working towards the goals that you know you believe in and you know you were put on this Earth to accomplish, it takes on new meaning. For me, I wake up every single morning knowing I was put in this sport to be dominant and be a champion.
Right now I’m the Bellator champion. I want to get to number one in the world. I want to be known as the best lightweight in the world and I’m not that yet so I have a ton of work left to do but I have a ton of confidence that I’m gonna get there because I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s a lot of hard work. My confidence comes from my hard work and the great coaches and training partners I have around me.
It’s not, “I can jump higher or run faster or punch harder than that other guy” but I know I worked harder than him. I know I worked with better quality training partners and I worked with better quality coaches than him and if you truly believe in that, if you sell out and buy into that notion that you are training harder than anyone else in the world, you feel like you can’t lose.
Matt Bishop: How do you manage to keep yourself so grounded? That’s one thing that stands out to me with a lot of your answers. A lot of people after such a high profile win like you had against Eddie Alvarez, they would maybe do some stupid things. How do you keep yourself so grounded?
Michael Chandler: For me, I’ve been very grounded my whole life. My parents are very hard-working people and very awesome people and have helped me stay humble and they’ve led by example. That and like I said, by no means have I accomplished what I want to accomplish in this sport. You’ve got to give yourself a pat on the back and you’ve got to know that you’ve achieved things and you’re improving but at the same time, I know I have so much more work to do, it’s ridiculous.
I have so many hours left in the gym and I can’t for one second stop and think I’ve accomplished something because that’s when guys are passing you up. I definitely took a little time off, patted myself on the back, let my family pat myself on the back, see the joy I got in the win and then I got my head back into the game, got to the gym and have tried to get as good as I think I possibly can be. It’s a testament to my family, my upbringing and my humble, hard-working, blue collar family. That’s what I am. As soon as I’m number one in the world, maybe I’ll stop and think I’ve accomplished something but even then, I doubt it.
Matt Bishop: What did the Eddie Alvarez fight prove to yourself? It was a tough back-and-forth fight, getting in and out of bad situations. Did that fight prove anything to yourself?
Michael Chandler: Yeah, just that. The fact that I was in a war, in a bad spot there in that third round especially. I think more than anything, I knew that I could have that five round war and win. I knew that if anybody was gonna break in that fight, it was gonna be him. I knew that I was gonna put him in situations that he had never been in before. He had never fought a guy like me. I don’t know that the fans knew that about me.
More than anything, I hope I proved to the fans that I’m not going down easily. I’m gonna be hard to finish. I’m never gonna take a backwards step, I’m always going to be looking to dominate, dig deeper than every single person I step into the cage with. I hope that fight shows people to never count me out, never bet against me. I didn’t necessarily have to prove it to myself or my training partners because they see how hard I work and how passionate I am about the sport but you can’t really convey it to the fans unless you actually showed it and I think in that fight I showed it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now Michael, you’ve said before that you viewed your boxing as one of your little toys you love to play with and develop. With all this time off you’ve had, how far do you feel your boxing has come because I know you spend a ton of time with it?
Michael Chandler: Yeah, it definitely has and that’s been one of the most fun parts of the training. I’ve said it numerous times, Gil Martinez is the best boxing coach in the world and he’s got my hands from the first day that I started working with him to the Eddie Alvarez fight, you guys saw how much I’ve improved. I’ve continued working with him, continued sharpening my game and continued soaking everything up like a sponge.
That’s one of the big things that I try to be, more than anything, coachable. If you want to make it to the top, you can’t make it without coaches and training partners and you have to listen to everything they say and that’s why I’ve grown so quickly. I’m just excited to continue to work my hands, continue to work with Gil and everybody who’s helped me. Hopefully I’ll show even this fight that I continue to get better.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you split your time with Xtreme Couture and with Gil since he went to the other training center?
Michael Chandler: Not so much. Right now I’ve actually been doing a lot of work with Alliance over at Throwdown. I’m still working with Gil and that kind of stuff. There’s been some changes and moving and that kind of stuff but that’s the beauty of being in the fight capital of the world. There’s always guys and coaches and tons of training partners and it just so happens that right now Dominick Cruz and Eric Del Fierro and those guys are in town for The Ultimate Fighter and I’m very blessed to have that opportunity to work with guys like that who have been in town for my camp. It’s worked out very well.
Matt Bishop: Now Mike, your fight with Akihiro Gono is a three round fight. Would you like to see Bellator go to five round fights for their superfights that involve their champions?
Michael Chandler: To me, I could care less. It doesn’t matter to me. Whatever would help them out the best as a promotion is what I think they should do as far as that goes. As far as me, being the champion, I’m always going to be prepared for a five round fight. I know this fight can’t go past three rounds but now I do feel like I’m in even better shape than the Alvarez fight. I’ve been bringing my cardio to new levels so I’m going to be prepared for a five round fight in the fall against Hawn or Weedman, whoever that is. It doesn’t matter to me. It’s up to Bellator in that regard.
Matt Bishop: It’s funny you bring up Hawn and Weedman because that’s my next question. What do you think of this lightweight tournament so far? Rick Hawn has looked very impressive and I think his fight against Weedman is going to be a good one. How do you handicap that?
Michael Chandler: Yeah, me too. If you look at Hawn, he’s knocked his last two guys out. He’s got power in his right hand and he’s the bigger, stronger fighter in this lightweight final but never, ever, ever count Brent Weedman out. He had a really tough fight against Jay Hieron. It was really close last year so I’m excited to see it. I’m excited to see who wants it more because in my eyes, it could go either way. Hawn might be able to throw Weedman around more but the grappling goes to Weedman. He’s got more submissions and he showed a lot of strength on his feet as well with punches, kicks and knees. I think it’s gonna be a barnburner and whoever wants to win it more is going to. I’m excited to be tuning in and see who wants it more in the fall.
Matt Bishop: Brian and I were at the post-fight press conference in Cleveland and it was kind of funny, both Eddie Alvarez and Lloyd Woodard were calling you out and it kind of seems that that’s a thing that more people are doing these days. How does it feel to be a marked man?
Michael Chandler: Shoot, I don’t know. I don’t ever look at myself like that. People are gonna talk about you and say they want to fight you and stuff, but for me, I just want to go in there with the same mindset every fight. Whether I’m 1-0 or 9-0, I want to always go forward and look to dominate a fight no matter who it is. For me, it’s kind of cool to be a marked man if you will. I’m not the kind of guy that gets fueled by people gunning for me or from having a bullseye on my back. I’m not one of those guys that trains harder because of it. I look at myself as the same guy from the beginning and I’m working to be the best in the world. It doesn’t faze me and I knew Lloyd Woodard was gonna do that. He called me out in his first two fights and I guess now that he’s out of the tournament, now he’s still doing it. We’ll see what happens.
Matt Bishop: What’s gonna be the biggest challenge presented to you in this fight against Akihiro Gono on Friday?
Michael Chandler: Ummm, biggest challenge is just the same challenge as every other fight. Go out there and get a win by any means possible. Go out there and try to get a finish. It’s the same as the last fight against Alvarez and the fight before that. Obviously Gono’s got a lot of experience so I’ll have to be on my A-game and stay out of submissions, keep my head movement up. More than anything, I’m just excited to get out there, get a win and put on a show for the fans. It’s my first fight up in Canada and people were saying I needed some fans up in Canada.
You can follow Michael Chandler on Twitter @MichaelChandlerMMA.