ST. LOUIS--There is no love lost between Michael Chandler and former Bellator lightweight champion, Will Brooks. That has been well documented.
Aside from having words back and worth several times via social media, Brooks took the title from Chandler at Bellator 120 and finished him in their rematch at Bellator 131. However, Chandler is not the least bit upset he's facing Patricky "Pitbull" Freire at Bellator 157: Dynamite 2 instead of Brooks for a third time and getting a chance to avenge those losses.
"Absolutely not," Chandler told MMAmania.com ahead of Friday's (June 24, 2016) co-main event, which takes place at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri. "If you follow this sport long enough. If you are a fan or a fighter or in the media and you follow this spot enough you understand that rosters change, promotions change, guys get cut, guys retire, guys fall off, guys come out of nowhere. These things happen and it is the story of the moment and in a week and a half everyone will forget out the situation that Bellator and the former champion had. The way I look at it man, is this is life granting you an opportunity, and it's your prerogative, your choice whether or not you want to capitalize on it or not. I was given the opportunity. I'm going to capitalized on it and become champion June 24th."
While the former Bellator lightweight champion said "it definitely was" surprising to see Bellator release Brooks, he added, "You can only bite the hand that feeds for so long before bad things happen. So I think that is what kind of happened. I wish him the best. I can care less honestly. I'm focused on June 24 and my future."
Chandler, 30, has faced "Pitbull" before, defeating him by unanimous decision back at Bellator 44 in 2011. Both have improved and changed as fighters respectively, but one thing has remained a constant, and that is Freire's punching power, something Chandler is well aware of.
"When you evaluate him as a fighter. He's kept his power ever since day one. He's got a crazy amount of power in his hands, in his strikes. We've seen devastating flying-knee knockouts. We've seen big overhand rights. We've seen big left hooks. We've seen him finish people with his hands and it happens and it happens fast. You have to be ready. You have to leave no stone unturned when it comes to preparation for a guy like that.
That being said, Chandler remains confident he is the better all-around fighter and that he will prove so on Friday night.
"Do I think I'm a better fighter than him? Absolutely. Do I think I'm going to win this fight? Absolutely. But I do know that everybody can get hit on the button and the fight ends pretty quick and when you are fighting a guy like him you have to be vigilant with your preparation. Keep your hands up, chin down, bite down on your mouthpiece and respect his power. And I, by no means am overlooking him. I just think that I have all the tools and abilities to be able to go out there and win on June 24th. I've improved leaps and bounds. I think he has continued to rely on his power because he's had success with it. We will see what happens."
The Missouri native has fared well whenever he's fought in St. Louis in front of a hometown crowd. This will be his third straight at the Scottrade Center, and while it will mean the world to him to hoist the belt over his head and show all the fans, he compartmentalizes those thoughts and just focuses on the fight itself.
"It will definitely mean something after the fight when I can look at and say ‘looking back it was a cool situation and a great night in front of a great city.' In my opinion the greatest sports fans on earth are right there in St. Louis. I'm excited to go out there and compete for them, and go out there and get a dominant win for them and hold up the belt for them. Leading up to it, you try not to think about it too much. Whether the fight is in St. Louis or it's out here in Florida or it's up in Alaska. No matter where it is you have to focus on the task at hand and not worry about the fans, and the venue. Try to rid mind and yourself of all the outside circumstances because if you try to control it all and think about it all it will wear you down. So, for me, I just focus on competing on June 24th."
Chandler recently made a full-time move to the Blackzilian camp. He went down to South Florida for the first time prior to his matchup vs. Josh Thompson, which never materialized due to Thompson pulling out with an injury, and he's put in about four months of work at the gym so far, he said.
His main reason for joining the Blackzilian camp? Chandler said is was for "one reason and one reason only, and that was to be reunited with my ground coach Neil Melanson, who I've been with the entirety of my career."
Chandler went into detail of why he loves to work with "The Ground Marshall," and why Melanson's grappling system has great success in MMA.
"There is a certain amount of comfort and confidence that comes with training with him and training under him," said Chandler. "The guy, he doesn't get enough respect and soon I think he is going to get it. The notoriety he's gotten since he's come down here. You see the wins these wins these guys are having down here. You see these guys ground game going to a whole other level.
"His grappling system just works for MMA, okay. "The sport of MMA started with the Gracies and with the jiu-jitsu and this and that, but there is a couple of different feelings on that. In my mind, that kind of ground fighting/catch wrestling/top game, rather than that jiu-jitsu mindset—in my mind-- is what really wins fights these days in 2016. You are really seeing guys with a similar ground game similar to Neil's prevail. It's great to be training under him and it was great that I met him in Vegas many, many years ago. I met him there by chance. I, by no means went to Vegas to train with him it just kind of worked out well and we've become great friends and it's a great fighter/coach relationship."
In addition to reconnecting with Melanson, Chandler was extremely happy with the rest of the highly-touted coaching staff, and his new teammates.
"And it just so happens that every single other aspect of this camp has been great. Henri Hoof and Evan Borest, their striking has been phenomenal. Greg Jones is a great wrestling coach. The roster of guys here is awesome to train with and it's a ‘no ego' kind of training room. It's been great, especially even myself coming in as the outsider new to the gym. They welcomed me with open arms and it was good."
Chandler was on a three-fight losing streak one year ago, and he was able to turn it around, win two straight, and is now on the verge of winning the lightweight title for the second time in his career.
As he heads into the seventh title fight of his seven-year career, Chandler explains how he turned it around and continued to improve as a fighter.
"I think it's just continuing to try to improve whether you won your last fight or you lost your lost fight. In my case I lost those three. You have to continue to improve, continue to believe that you are in this sport for great things, continue to believe that you were put in this sport for great things, continue to have that faith that your next big break through is right around the corner, and that is what I continue to do: continue to improve. I've had two very good wins. Now it's time to continue that trend, continue moving forward and continuing to win fights. That's me trying to become the best fighter that I can be. We will see on June 24th and I will show the world the new and improved version of myself."