This Friday night, Bellator 138 will be bringing a heavy-hitting card to the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, MO. The event's headliner, Kimbo Slice vs. Ken Shamrock, is a lesson in the "never too late" philosophy of match-making, and that freak show factor has been netting a good portion of MMA media attention over the past few weeks.
The fight line-up is a solid one, with the featherweight title on the line as part of the festivities. Of the many intriguing bouts on the card, former lightweight champion, Michael Chandler vs. Derek Campos will likely draw plenty of interest. Chandler went 12-0 and secured himself the LW strap along the way before losing a close split decision to Eddie Alvarez, almost 2 years to the day after he took it from him in their first battle.
Since then, he's experienced a back slide, dropping his next two fights to current lightweight champ, Will Brooks. He's had 15 fights over the last 6 years, and has fought (and defeated all but one) a who's who of the finest lightweight talent that Bellator has to offer. One would think that the pressure level to break the slump would be at an all-time high, but that is not the case with the 29-year old Missouri native.
In a recent interview with Bloody Elbow, Michael discussed the changes he's made in his camp, what it's like to not be fighting in a title bout (every fight since November 2011 has been for the LW belt), whether he's considered changing camps and if he's begun making any preparations to secure his future outside the cage. Here's what he had to say:
Bloody Elbow: From your last few fights to this one, have you changed things up in your camp at all, or have you decided to focus on the fundamentals you built your career on?
Michael Chandler: You know, I think it's been a combination of both. I've realized that I have all the necessary tools to beat the best and be the best in this game, but I also realize there's a game plan or a blueprint that I can implement that will be more tailored toward my strengths and put me in the best possible situation to win. I've kind of done that this camp; focused a lot on myself and my strengths, as well as where Campos is weak, or where we think we can win this fight.
Every single day, I'm constantly striving to get better, in every aspect of my game. The key is to focus on success, not perfection. Nobody's perfect in this sport and nobody is going to be undefeated forever. Once you realize that, it takes a little of the weight off your shoulders and helps you to realize that this sport, at least for me, is about chasing your dreams and trying your hardest to fulfill them.
Really, I'm not competing against anybody but myself. I'm trying to out-perform my best self, and I think that the best version of me will show on June 19th. There's going to be ups and downs in everyone's career. Right now, I'm on the tail end of a down area in mine, so I'm excited to come back with a little chip on my shoulder and a smile on my face to put on a great show for the fans.
Bloody Elbow: I'd like to backtrack to the last Will Brooks fight. Did you lose the vision in your eye there for a bit?
Michael Chandler: I don't really remember, but I think it was more of a classic example of a flash knockdown. My body was too tough to go down, so the lights went out a little bit, even though my body was still moving and working fine. I made that gesture with my hands and whatnot, but right before that I had thrown an inside leg trip, almost judo throw, came down and hit my head off the canvas and as I was coming up, I got hit with the hook, too. I think it was a combination of hitting my head on the canvas and getting a little dazed, then coming up and getting hit again with that hook.
I wasn't out, by any means, but I was definitely dazed a little bit. The way the fight ended, I think it was the right call and I think Jason Herzog is a great referee. If the fight had gone on for 10-20 seconds more, I could have gotten seriously hurt, or it might have gone the other way, and I might have recovered. It's one of those circumstantial things, but in the end, I think it was the right call to stop the fight.
Bloody Elbow: You've been a fairly active athlete over the entirety of your career, but your last seven fights have all been title affairs, with four of them going to the 4th or 5th round. Do you feel any differences in this camp, as opposed to your others?
Michael Chandler: I've really had a good camp this time. If you think about it, I've fought the toughest guys that Bellator has and I fought them all having to train for 5-round fights. I did the math, and it was like 43 or 44 months that I was basically training for 5 rounders. I finished Rickels pretty quick. I finished Hawn pretty quick, and Gono, too. Even though I got out of those fights fairly unscathed, I still put my body through 10 or 12 weeks of rigorous training, not to mention all the regular gym time I put in between fights. I've put my body through the ringer, so it's pretty nice to be able to get a little time off. It's also nice to train for and fight a 3-round fight.
In this camp, there were days where I went extremely hard in the mornings, and then took the evening off. I used to never take nights off. I took the whole day off on Sunday and half the day on Saturday. I'd get a massage every Saturday. I stretched more, I used my roller more, I used my lacrosse ball more. I'd get in the sauna more frequently, I stayed hydrated, I supplement right and take all my amino acids and protein shakes-all the things I used to not do, I'm doing.
I look back now, and I'm honestly a little embarrassed that I was a professional athlete not taking protein supplements or amino acids and that kind of stuff. I've really stepped up my nutrition and conditioning game, so my body is feeling great. I've put on a little muscle, but I'll still be able to make 155...barely [laughs]. I've learned that sweet science of not being too small, but also not being too big.
Bloody Elbow: Some athletes take root, so to speak, and others like to spread their wings, as far as traveling to other training camps. Which category would you fall into?
Michael Chandler: I think there's a fine line between the two. I think there's people who will listen to anybody and take advice from anybody, because at the end of the day, when you get to where I'm at-you're a professional fighter that's been in the spotlight a little bit and you're one of the guys in the sport that people look at-people love to give their opinion; they love to say, ‘Hey, come train with me and do this and that.'
There's definitely some camps that I've visited. I went up to New York after this last fight and trained with Weidman and Al Iaquinta. I love Ray Longo and Matt Serra. They've got a great thing going there. I like taking little trips like that. This last training camp, I've gone to Vegas two different times to train with my old boxing coach, Gil Martinez, who I started this sport with. I still train with Neil Melanson, like I've done since Day 1.
I think I've kind of flirted with that fine line of sticking with the people that put me in the best situation possible to win, but also picking up tidbits here and there. I don't ever want to be put in a box; I never want to look back on this sport and my career and say, ‘Man, I wish I would've went to train with those guys,' or ‘I wish I hadn't been afraid to hurt this one's feelings so I could go train with this guy or that coach.'
At the end of the day, I'm not afraid to hurt people's feelings or ruffle some feathers if I need to. I'm a pretty likable guy, I think, so a lot of people welcome me in their camps and to come hang out to train for a week here or a week there, but Alliance is my home. I have gone back and forth a little to Vegas, but this is my training home. San Diego is a great place and my wife and I love it.
Bloody Elbow: With brain injuries becoming more and more common in this sport, and Jeff Curran being the latest guy to have to call his career quits after doctors refused to clear him to fight, does that make you sit back and take a long, hard look at your own career, and maybe re-think the way you train or start working out an exit strategy for when you decide to hang up your own gloves?
Michael Chandler: Um, no, I don't really think so. You hear things like that, and you feel for people, but I live under the belief that I was put in the sport for a reason, and if it was becoming too much, physically or mentally, I would be able to step away and move on to other aspects of life and be successful at those. I think this is a calling for me. It's fun and exciting and it's a great way to make a living.
I have taken a lot of steps in the past year towards making sure my body is in tip-top shape. I'm taking care of myself and I'm constantly looking at literature with my wife who works in an emergency room and has a doctor there that is very into anti-aging and head trauma and all that kind of stuff.
We were looking up concoctions and medications or supplements that are great for brain health. We've been trying to really educate ourselves on all of that so we're not blind and ignorant to it, because we realize that fighting for a living and sparring daily, there's going to be some damage done, but like I said earlier, I operate in the faith that I was put in this sport for a reason, and I'll know when it's becoming too much and when it's time to hang it up.
Honestly, right now I feel like I'm 18 years old with the whole world in front of me. I'm looking forward to getting that title back, and however long the good Lord lets this body hold up, I'll be pursuing this dream whole-heartedly.