I’ve been a Michael Chandler fan for a pretty long time.
For anyone who was watching Bellator back in 2011 and witnessed Chandler’s run through the Lightweight tournament, it was easy to be excited about Chandler. That was a decade ago, when Chandler was just 24 years old, not all that far removed from his collegiate wrestling career.
The potential was so incredibly obvious. His athleticism burst off the screen before he even started throwing punches. In the opening round of that Lightweight tourney, Chandler endured an ultra deep kneebar from grappling ace Marcin Held. The Polish leg lock wiz torqued his leg in unpleasant fashion, but Chandler proved his grit in outlasting his foe and immediately answering with an arm triangle choke.
Next-level athleticism and iron will is a stellar combo for a young prospect.
The rest of the tournament saw Chandler demonstrate his wrestling prowess and set up a showdown with Eddie Alvarez. Still just 8-0 as a pro fighter, it was a classic case of too much, too soon. Alvarez’s skill set and experience simply dwarfed the young upstart.
No one told Chandler. He stormed out of the gate and trusted his lifetime of competition, a lifetime of hard work. He trusted his right hand, and it landed early, setting the tone. Alvarez is no quitter, and he tried to battle back, but Chandler’s will would not be denied that night.
And so Chandler earned his first Bellator title in one of the decade’s best fights.
The next two years saw Chandler eviscerate talented contenders before losing a pair of split-decisions to Alvarez and Will Brooks — two fights I always thought the judges got wrong! At the height of that peak, Chandler seemed nearly invincible, a terrifyingly violent ball of fast-twitch muscle and considerable heart.
Around the same time, Benson Henderson and then Anthony Pettis were UFC Lightweight champion. I engaged in many unpaid arguments in the comment section of this very site, stalwartly claiming that Chandler matched up well with those men and could easily be the best 155-pound fighter on the planet. Those fights didn’t happen back then, and there’s obviously no way to prove it now, so those debates died unsettled.
After that high point, Chandler ran into struggles. He lost to Will Brooks again, actually this time. He still won far more than he lost in the next six or so years, but Chandler also suffered two more stoppage losses in title fights. On occasion, his stand up looked decidedly flat, forcing Chandler to wrestle opponents who most would have considered beneath him.
His performances were no longer inspiring.
If there was ever a time Chandler was truly the best in the world, it seemed to have passed. Athletes who work as hard as Chandler can fall off at any age. There was no longer a real demand for UFC to track him down and pay up for his contract; Bellator seemed an appropriate permanent home. When UFC picked him up at the age of 34, not far removed from a knockout loss to a longtime Featherweight (even a great one), the general prediction was more along the lines of a Ben Askren-esque catastrophe rather than title dreams.
Fortunately, Chandler knew something the viewing world did not. By sparking Dan Hooker in just a couple minutes, Chandler proves himself one of the best Lightweights on the planet at this very moment. By doing so on a Conor McGregor card, he practically guarantees himself a title fight or title eliminator next.
Chandler waited for the perfect punch, time, and contract. Now, he’s reaping the rewards.
For complete UFC 257: “McGregor vs. Poirier” results and play-by-play, click HERE!