The Xtreme Couture product steamrolled through the Bellator season four lightweight tournament, defeating top prospects Marcin Held, Lloyd Woodard and Patricky Freire to earn a title shot and his wrestling was his bread and butter.
A former NCAA Division I All-American, Chandler was among a strong crop of Missouri wrestlers who transitioned to mixed martial arts that included Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren and top Strikeforce contender Tyron Woodley. All three are undefeated and Chandler will be looking to keep that streak alive.
After a brief one month delay, the Missouri native will battle Eddie Alvarez in the main event of Bellator 58 this Saturday night (November 19, 2011) in Hollywood, Florida.
Chandler spoke with both myself and Matt Bishop during an appearance on Bloody Elbow Radio about his improvements as a fighter, preparing for a five round fight and how he feels he'll be successful against Alvarez where everyone else has failed.
Matt Bishop: Mike, this is six months between fights for you and you mentioned it has given you a lot of time to hone your game. What's been the biggest thing that you've learned or picked up, maybe something that you didn't know in this timespan?
Michael Chandler: Not really anything specific, but just continuing to work my boxing with Gil Martinez multiple times per week, continuing to work my grappling ground game with Neil Melanson and just being able to get those precious sparring sessions in a couple times a week, those precious grappling practices a couple days a week. Just taking every single opportunity that I can to train and be like a sponge and soak everything up. I'm in a great situation out here with tons of great training partners, guys who have been there and are veterans of the sport. Everybody knows the number of guys that are out here as well as the great coaches that I'm working with so more than anything, just the experience.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): About that 25 potential minutes, I know you mentioned you sparred extra rounds and I read your blog where you talked about putting in more road work and you're working that cardio. Can you tell me about the confidence you have to go in there for five rounds for the first time in your career?
Michael Chandler: Yeah, it's one of those things where I know that's what has to happen. It's a constant in the sport. Everybody who wants to win a world title has to fight potentially for 25 minutes so I have put the extra work in, talking about the road work, I got on my bike a couple times a week, doing some extra runs, extra conditioning, extra lift, just being smart about my training making sure I'm not going too hard for too long without recovery and really just sparring and making sure I'm sparring five, six, seven rounds each time we spar and just really going with guys that are gonna push me and making sure I'm using my sparring partners right, the guys who are going to simulate the fight as much as possible.
Really, I showed it in my last two fights that have gone the distance. In the third round, I'm still pouring it on. While my opponents were going downhill, I was still on the uphill just laying it on them and I feel like if these fights go into the fourth and fifth round, I'm still gonna have a ton of gas. If I have to fight 25 minutes, I know I'm gonna be prepared and that's just what I'm ready for. Hopefully I can end the fight before the 25 minutes to make it be a dominant performance.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This fight was delayed a month when Alvarez had an unspecified injury. Do you feel like that gave you an advantage, like more time to improve, more time to prepare yourself?
Michael Chandler: Yeah, absolutely. An extra 4-5 weeks to train is awesome for me. I'm a guy who's young and healthy and I can go harder than most people and I really just love this sport and I have a great time every single day training two times a day seven days a week so it's just fun for me. Obviously, I don't want to be in camp for real, real long. I want to get this show on the road, I want to get to that fight and that opportunity but once it got delayed, it was one of those deals where I just kinda had to take a step back.
I stayed out of the gym for a week because I had already been training for 4-5 weeks prior to the injury being announced so if I had continued to go another eight weeks, you're looking at a 12 week camp and if you're going that hard for that long, your body is bound to get run down. I pretty much just pulled back for a week, week and a half and I just kinda came in a couple times, hit mitts with Gil. Other than that, I stayed out of the pro practices, stayed out of the hard sparring sessions and that kind of stuff and really just let my body recover for a little bit and then jumped right back into the last six weeks basically. All it did was give me extra time to prepare and that does nothing but help me so it didn't set me back at all and I feel I'm a better fighter on November 19th than I would have been on October 15th. It was a blessing.
Matt Bishop: What quality to you feel you have that will make you successful against Eddie Alvarez where so many others have failed?
Michael Chandler: I think it's the ability to match his intensity and even go beyond his intensity. I really think Eddie's a great fighter. I say it all the time. I'm not afraid to talk good about my opponent. He's a great fighter, he's a great champion. He puts on exciting fights, he's a fighter that fans love to see because he pushes the pace. He keeps a high pace, he throws his hands. He's kind of reckless at times and it's afraid. He's not timid, he's not afraid to lose his belt. He wants to go out there and beat people up and that's kind of what he's done this whole time he's been with Bellator. Nobody has really challenged him in the department of actually just stepping across the cage with him and not taking any backwards steps.
His last fight with Pat Curran, Pat just let him have his way with him for 25 minutes. Pat Curran showed a couple flashes but other than that, Eddie's always moving forward, always on people and getting in their face and I'm the type of guy that I'm not gonna sit back. I'm always gonna be pressing forward, always gonna be in his face and I'm not gonna let him breathe at all for as long as the fight goes on whether it be five minutes or 25 minutes. I'm pretty much gonna bring the pressure the whole fight and I don't think that's something that he has had ever in his career. He's never fought a guy that's gonna be able to push the pace like I am and is as dangerous as I am in any part of the fight so that's just what I bring, it's just a wrestler mentality. We'll see how he reacts.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In your last fight to win the tournament, you actually stood with Patricky Pitbull for the first round and really had him second guessing everything and you were successful. Did that give you a lot of confidence because the stand-up department is Eddie Alvarez's strongsuit?
Michael Chandler: Yeah, every single day that I get to work out with Gil Martinez, it's like my boxing game is my new little toy. The grappling is so similar to wrestling, it's not really, really new but the boxing aspect of it is something that really excites me and it's entertaining for myself. It's not like I'm going out there and working out and hating my life. I'm going there and running stuff and just listening to what Gil says and really just picking up all these pointers, all this boxing stuff that's just going on and I really had no idea about any of it before transitioning to fighting.
I wasn't a boxing fan, I never really watched boxing but now I find myself jumping on YouTube, the Pacquiao-Marquez 24/7 on HBO. The boxing part of MMA, I'm really coming to love it and it's fun and exciting. I just work on it a ton and just going out there and standing with a guy who's really dangerous like Patricky and not taking much damage until later in the fight and then getting the takedown and finishing the last two rounds out, that gave me confidence going in there. Eddie's a great boxer and I don't plan on wrestling with him the whole fight. You're gonna see some hands.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know your pure wrestling is better than Eddie Alvarez's, you were an Division I All-American at Missouri, but do you feel like with his experience in MMA that your MMA wrestling is better when you throw in all the kicks, clinches and how you have to specifically set things up in the cage?
Michael Chandler: Yeah, absolutely. I think people give him a lot of credit with his wrestling because he fought a lot in Japan and they don't know how to wrestle over there. His last couple fights, everybody he's fought, he hasn't really fought a really good wrestler. In his last two fights he actually got taken down. He got taken down by Roger Huerta and he got taken down by Pat Curran so that definitely shows you that his wrestling might not be as good as everybody thinks it is and I don't know if you want to call it pure wrestling or MMA wrestling but no matter what, in the wrestling I am head and shoulders above him. That's what I bring to the table as well as every part of my game. There's no way I think he'll be able to stop any takedowns if I want to get them.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now Gray Maynard is a big training partner of yours and your upcoming opponent Eddie Alvarez is actually a close sparring partner of UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. Do you see those parallels with you and Eddie fighting for the Bellator lightweight title with Frankie and Gray's fight for the UFC title?
Michael Chandler: Yeah, I know it's really crazy. We knew it was gonna happen because we knew that Gray and Frankie were gonna fight again and right after I won the tournament, I knew that I was gonna fight Eddie and it was pretty cool, just knowing that we had two wrestlers over here that were similar and then two guys over there. Frankie's a great wrestler and his boxing is up there so it's pretty cool knowing that two different sets of training partners were training for each other. That fight already happened and now mine and Eddie's is coming up so it was pretty interesting for the MMA world at least.
Matt Bishop: Alright Michael, Eddie Alvarez coming up, November 19th, Bellator 58, how do you see the fight going in your mind?
Michael Chandler: I will definitely be bringing [the Bellator lightweight title] home. I can't tell you how it's gonna happen. All I know is I'm going out there to finish the fight, keep pushing the pace and put pressure on him and it's gonna be an exciting show. Everybody tune in. Best case scenario, I go out there and I'm beating him up so bad that he gives up a submission or a TKO. That's my bold prediction. I just know it's gonna be a good show so everybody tune in.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Does Chandler have what it takes to dethrone Eddie Alvarez on Saturday night? Will his wrestling be the deciding factor?