Michael Chandler is another face in the long line of wrestlers that have dominated in Bellator.
The former Missouri Tiger has blitzed through the first round of Bellator's season four lightweight tournament. Michael knocked off dangerous submission prodigy Marcin Held in the first round and outworked previously undefeated Lloyd Woodard to earn his spot in the finals.
He'll be fighting for the right to challenge Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and earn $100,000 in prize money.
The Xtreme Couture product credits his wrestling base and the incredible work ethic that was instilled in the five years he spent with the Tigers. He walked on to the wrestling team as a freshman and left as an All-American and team captain.
He'll have his work cut out for him this Saturday night (May 14) at Bellator 44 against the extremely dangerous Patricky Freire. The Brazilian has knocked out both of his opponents in highlight reel fashion and has massive power in both his hands and knees.
The former wrestling All-American is beaming with confidence and he tells MMAmania.com that he's not afraid of the "Pitbull."
"I never go into a fight concerned about what the other guy's got. With my wrestling background, I think I'm one of the most mentally tough and I'm more physically capable than most. I really think I have a lot to bring to the table. His power is something I acknowledge and respect but it's really the only thing he has. Everybody's got a puncher's chance, the possibility of knocking someone out. Obviously, I'm not going to go in there and test my chin but I'm also not going to be afraid of his striking because I know what I'm capable of."
In the semifinals of Bellator's season four lightweight tournament, Chandler was taken the distance by Lloyd Woodward for the first time in his young MMA career. While the talented wrestler was disappointed with the result, he also took away a plethora of knowledge about himself.
"You could see it on my face when the fight was over. I was disappointed. All throughout your competition life, people are saying 'you did your best, you got the win' but I'm my biggest critic. Having finished six fights prior to that, I really wanted to finish that fight. It kinda helped me mature as a fighter and made me realize that I'm not going to win every fight with a stoppage in the first round like I had in pretty much every fight before that."
"I really think, after talking to my coaches and some of the veterans on the team who's been around for a while, you get the confidence that 'man, I just went through a 15 minute war and I know I can go balls to the wall for 15 minutes.' It was a maturation process. I was disappointed at first but now that I look back at it, I'm glad I have a three rounder under my belt because now I'm that much more prepared to take Patricky into the deep waters. That's where I really feel I'll shine, not just against Patricky but against Eddie Alvarez after that. Whoever else Bellator puts in the cage with me after that. I'm glad it happened in that fight and not this upcoming fight. Now if this next fight goes 15 minutes, it won't be the first time in my career so I now know how to adapt to it and how hard I can go. I realized that I can actually go harder than in my last fight so now I know i can push my body even further in my fights from here on out."
At the end of the second round, the Missouri native was pushed to the brink when Woodward took his back and attempted a rear naked choke. He came out in the third round a man possessed and willed his way to victory.
"I knew I had to go out there and put an exclamation point on the fight. In my opinion, I knew that within the first minute of that third round I was going to break him, break his spirits and that's what happened. After that first minute, he was just laying his head on the mat, defeated. He knew he was going to lose and he kinda gave up."
"I feel like I'm going to be able to do that to a lot of people in my career because that's my mindset. I'm always going to be able to go harder than you no matter what. No matter how tough you think you are, no matter how good you think your hands are, no matter how good your submissions are, I'll always be able to go harder than you. Every single day I'm training to be the best mixed martial artist."
Chandler didn't even win a state title in high school as a wrestler but he wanted to be a Missouri Tiger. Despite having offers from several smaller Division one and Division two schools, he walked onto the Missouri wrestling team. He credits everything he's accomplished to those five years he spent at the Big 12 school.
"I can't say enough about Missouri wrestling. Ryan Smith, what he did for that program and how he took me in and basically changed my life and made me the man I am today. I always want to give credit where credit is due. That's where I made my home for years. Wrestling in general shaped me. If kids come up to me today and say 'I want to be a world champion some day, what do I have to do?' the first thing I'm going to say is 'wrestle.' Don't worry about rolling jiu-jitsu right away or going to the boxing gym and hitting mitts, even if it's with Freddie Roach. Don't waste your time. I know where I'm at because of my wrestling background."
"You talk to Gray Maynard, Rashad Evans, any of the big name guys who are wrestlers, they're gonna credit wrestling for their success. It's not just the ability to pick people up and slam them on their heads. It's the mental toughness and the discipline that you gain. Having the wrestling base is the biggest gift in my opinion. I'll bleed black and gold until the day I die. Wrestling is going to take me to the world titles."
While Michael was wrestling in college, he developed a bond with fellow wrestlers turned MMA fighters Ben Askren and Tyron Woodley. Chandler now trains in Las Vegas with Xtreme Couture alongside some of the best mixed martial artists in the world. With Xtreme Couture wrestler Jay Hieron winning the Bellator season four welterweight tournament, he'll be matched up with one of Michael's best friends from college in Askren.
"Ben knows I love him and he's like a big brother. I attribute a lot of success to him. I would not have become the wrestler or All American without him. At the same time, I made the decision to move down to Xtreme Couture. This is my home now. I love every single one of my training partners and Jay (Hieron) is one of my main training partners in the gym every single day ... We're becoming closer friends. Ben and Jay both bring a lot to the table. We're all professionals and this is going to happen. I don't feel like I'm stuck in the middle. Ben knows where I stand, Jay knows where I stand. Jay's my training partner so I'm going to be helping him every day for his fight."
Chandler closed out the interview by offering his prediction for his fight with Patricky "Pitbull" on Saturday night.
"I see him trying to knock me out in the first and when it doesn't happen, he's going to go downhill after that. Whether I finish him in the second by TKO or submission or in the third, or just get a unanimous decision. If it is a decision, it'll be a dominant unanimous decision."
There's no doubt that this kid believes in himself. Now to the big question. Do you think he can put a roadblock in the Pitbull brothers' dreams of winning two tournaments?