Photo via Sherdog
Former University of Missouri wrestler Michael Chandler, this season's Bellator lightweight tournament is his big chance to make a name for himself in MMA. This season's tournament field is the organization's best thus far and the Xtreme Couture product is a big part of that.
After an impressive first round arm triangle submission victory over Marcin Held, Chandler want to make a statement that he was not to be taken lightly as he advanced to the next round of the 155 lb. tournament. I caught up with Mike Chandler and in his Bloody Elbow Exclusive interview he talked about his fight with Held, his upcoming matchup with Lloyd Woodard and why Eddie Alvarez and Bellator were the perfect motivations at this stage of his career.
"The lightweight tournament this year has a lot of solid names," Chandler explained "There is Rob McCullough, obviously he lost his first fight and is out now, but there is Toby Imada who has been in the finals twice in three years in addition to a lot of young talent. I'm excited for the Bellator tournament because it's a potential shot at having three fights in three months where it would normally take almost a year at the bigger levels to get that many quality fights. So it's possible I can put three solid wins on my record and at the end of the tournament fight Eddie Alvarez who is ranked Top 5 in the world. It's a situation where I sat back and compared all of the immediate benefits of fighting for Bellator and I compared that to the Strikeforce contract and the one or two other smaller contracts I was offered and Bellator just made the most sense. It's a young organization and I really have the chance to come in and grow with the organization that I'm fighting for. The UFC is already well established and Bellator was attractive because of the growth and potential to rise up quickly. I really like the tournament format and I really like the idea of getting that title shot against a guy who could absolutely skyrocket my career. Then of course there is the money ($100,000) and while that's nice that isn't my primary motivation."
While being a young organization, Bellator has continued to make strong moves in hopes making it one of the most visible mixed martial arts programs in the sport. A recent deal with MTV2 has pushed the Bellator brand to new heights and for a young fighter coming into the spotlight, that level of exposure can do great things for a young career."
"I wasn't aware of the MTV2 deal at the time I signed with Bellator but I knew they had some great things in the works," Chandler replied when asked about fighting on MTV2. "Obviously the exposure is incredible and Bjorn Rebney is a genius when it comes to the sport. He knows what he is doing and every single thing that he does you know he's taking the best possible route for the organization."
In the first round Chandler was matched up with Marcin Held, a fighter with twice the professional experience and a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Early in the fight Chandler scored a strong takedown but found himself caught in a knee bar Chandler was able to work his way free and regained the upper hand on Held.
"The only thing that I specifically modified in my preparation for him was leg lock defense," Chandler explained. "There is a little bit of footage out there on him and his record reflects that he's finished several of his opponents with kneebars and ankle locks. If you ask a fighter how often he trains leg locks and you'd likely find out that fighters only practice defending them every few weeks. It's a scary thing for sure but I'm fortunate that Neil Melanson my jiu-jitsu coach has trained a lot of places where they put a lot of emphasis on leg locks so we went over a lot of the defense. The plan was to stay out of the knee bar completely but obviously that didn't happen and just being able to rely on the defense that I practiced was huge. I was able to pull his legs open and slip out but he went right for the toe hold and I was ready for that as well."
Chandler locked into a submission attempt of his own as he used an arm triangle to claim victory in the first round. With this being Chandler's first fight on a bigger platform the impressive performance against Held helped send a message that the young wrestler was certainly someone to keep an eye on in this year's lightweight tournament.
"The thing about that fight with Held, it was the first time in my career that I had faced any kind of adversity and was able to work through it and get the victory," Chandler stated. "In my previous five fights I was basically able to take the upper hand and steamroll my opponent to get the win. In my fight against Held it was the first time I was able to show the people around me that I was able to get out of a tough situation, capitalize on it and keep my composure and be able to finish the fight. I was able to prove it to myself as well as a lot of other people who were kind of skeptical of my game. It felt really good. Especially with him being a jiu-jitsu guy and being able to finish him in the first round was pretty cool. Obviously it was an arm triangle, not the most technical of submissions, but I'm working on it. I plan on being great on the ground as well my feet because I want to be a well rounded fighter. It also felt great to get another first round victory and I'm ready to go 2,3,4 or 5 rounds if I have to but a first round dominate win was a big statement to the rest of the Bellator tournament field that I'm here and I'm looking to finish guys. I wanted to let the other fighters know that I'm here and I'm looking to win this tournament even if I'm a no name kid from Missouri. I wanted to show everyone that I can go out there and scrap."
Up next for Chandler is the undefeated Lloyd "Cupcake" Woodard, who also scored an impressive victory in the first round of the tournament as he knocked off Carey Vanier. Woodard likes to bring an aggressive style to the cage and Chandler feels that it's the perfect style for him to make another statement in the Bellator lightweight tournament.
"I think I line up well with Woodard," Chandler explained. "I think I'm a better fighter all around and I feel like I've been through deeper waters especially with the camp that I train at so even if the fight does carry into the second or third rounds I'm prepared for it. He's a kid that goes out there and scraps who is looking to put on a good show and that's exactly what I'm looking to do. I want to go out there against Woodard and make another statement. I'm excited to fight Lloyd Woodard and I think it will be another positive step in my career. He's undefeated just like I am so it's going to be two undefeated guys going at it with neither wanting to pick up that first loss. I have a lot of confidence going in and before Gil and I left Shreveport we were able to get some film on Woodard so we are already working on it and I want to keep this momentum rolling in the semi-finals. I'm looking to blow through him and get to the next round so I can win with this tournament."
Even with a tough opponent like Woodard as the next obstacle in his path, Chandler feels that he is destined for bigger things. Chandler came into the tournament looking to make a strong statement to the world of MMA and he knows that winning the tournament and an eventual matchup with champion Eddie Alvarez is exactly the type of introduction he is looking for.
"I don't want to sound cocky but I don't feel like I can lose," Chandler declared. "With the amount of training partners that I have and with my wrestling background I feel like I'm going to be difficult to beat. I hate coming up short and it happens all of the time in wrestling but it's the business that we are in. It's a business of winning and losing and I just feel that it doesn't matter where anyone else is training...they aren't training with the caliber of guys that I am and have the caliber of coaching that I have. It's an amazing feeling to know that no matter who you are standing across from that you are more prepared than they are. I'm 100% confident and I believe in my heart that I'm training harder than anyone else in this tournament so it's mind to lose. I'm not looking past Woodard but I'm looking forward to facing either Toby Imada or Freire. It's a tournament so I have to be ready to face any of the guys who are left. I'm just excited in general for the next two months."
Chandler continued, "I wanted to put myself in the best situation and going out there and running the table in front of 80 million homes is the best platform I could ask for. I am looking to explode my career and make the sky the limit. I want to continue to improve my skills and I'm at the greatest camp that I could possibly ask for in Xtreme Couture. I'm working to be the best mixed martial artist I can be all around because I've only been training for less than two years so I have a lot of improving to do in every area of the game. Gil Martinez is my MMA coach so he puts me through all of my conditioning and he does my mitts and Muay Thai pads as well and with the team that I have I feel that I can't lose. I don't want to sound cocky but there is nobody in this tournament that trains as hard and wants this as bad as I do."