Coming off a bizarre loss to Brent Primus at Bellator’s massive New York City card in June 2017, former champ Micheal Chandler hopes to rebound with a win over the ever-dangerous submission artist Goiti Yamauchi at Bellator 192.
Growing up in rural Missouri in the town of High Ridge, Michael Chandler is no stranger to dealing with the pressure that comes with elite level competition. Beginning to wrestle at the age of 12 and having an off-and-on love with the always grueling nature of the sport, Chandler first got serious about his athletic career when he made his varsity wrestling team in just his first year at high school. After finding success on the mats against older, tougher competition at such a young age, Chandler knew his path to victory did not come exclusively from natural talent, but from his unwavering work ethic inspired by his blue-collar surroundings. Spending the majority of his time either on the mats or in the weight room, Chandler’s winning formula was beginning to brew in the walls of Northwest High School wrestling room.
As Chandler entered his senior year in high school ranked #1 in the state of Missouri, his heart was set on not only winning a state championship title, but also being recruited and wrestling for the highly esteemed University of Missouri wrestling program. Chandler entered the state championship as the clear favorite and blew through the majority of his competition in the first few rounds. As he reached the finals, his ambition for gold was never stronger as his dream of becoming a state champion was a match away from being attained. In a heartbreaking turn of events, Chandler ended up losing in the finals 4-2 and was never able to achieve championship status in his high schools years. Not only did he fall short in competition, but he feared his dreams of wrestling division 1 at the University of Missouri had also slipped from his grasp.
Upon graduating from high school, Chandler received generous scholarship opportunities and multiple offers to wrestle for a number of schools across the country. Despite his devastating loss at the state championship finals, Chandler kept his sights on wrestling Division 1 in the state of Missouri. After garnishing attention from University of Missouri head wrestling coach Brian Smith, Chandler was offered a walk-on spot with no scholarship to join the team. It was here at Mizzou as a redshirt freshman where Chandler not only developed his wrestling skills, but his leadership ability. Suddenly Chandler’s objective in his athletic career grew from becoming one of the best wrestlers in college athletics, to becoming a man of integrity, leading by example, and serving a greater purpose. Chandler finished his collegiate career with a 100-40 record with numerous accolades achieved along the way.
Nurtured by the likes of MMA champs Tyron Woodley and Ben Askren in the wrestling rooms at the University of Missouri, Chandler made the decision to advance his combat sports career to the next level and began training MMA at Xtreme Couture. After winning his first professional fight by TKO, Chandler debuted on the Strikeforce challengers card headlined by former teammate Tyron Woodley for the up and coming promotion led by MMA visionary Scott Coker. After two successful outings in Strikeforce, Chandler then transitioned into Bellator MMA after the acquisition of the Strikeforce by the UFC.
While making his start in Bellator, Chandler amassed an impressive undefeated record of 8-0 defeating the likes of Marcin Held and Patricky Freire, ultimately leading him to a title shot in the lightweight division against longtime MMA vet and underground king, Eddie Alvarez. In a fight where many considered him a sizable underdog with little chance of victory, Chandler shocked the Bellator fanbase and MMA community at large by not only beating Alvarez but finishing him via rear-naked choke. It was at this moment that the college wrestler turned MMA fighter gained his first title belt and became a much-needed star for the newly rebranded Bellator MMA.
After successfully gaining the lightweight title, Chandler went on to defend his belt three times, finishing all three opponents before a rematch was booked against former champion, Eddie Alvarez. In what many consider to be one of the greatest lightweight fights in Bellator history, Alvarez and Chandler fought five hard rounds with the victory ultimately being given to the “The Underground King”. Coming off of the first loss of his professional MMA career, Chandler looked to rebound against Bellator staple Will Brooks. Unfortunately, Chandler proved to be unsuccessful in his return and lost by decision. After the decision loss, Bellator booked an immediate rematch with Brooks where he then lost again this time via TKO. Coming off the third loss in a row, questions began to surround the former champ in Chandler as to if he would ever return to his former championship glory.
Unwavering in his self-belief, Chandler showed a return to form in his next bout against Derek Campos winning by rear-naked choke in the first round. Following his victory over Campos, and after a TKO victory over David Rickles shortly thereafter, Chandler was once again offered the opportunity to fight for the then-vacant lightweight belt against familiar foe Patricky Freire. Finishing Freire with a vicious highlight reel knockout, it seemed as if Chandler had returned to his champion level status and was once again making waves in the MMA community. Following the momentum of his illustrious knockout victory, Chandler successfully faced former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson at Bellator 165. Putting on a wrestling and suplex clinic, Chandler displayed in his decision victory over Henderson that he was not just a paper champion in a smaller organization, but one of the best lightweights in the world who could competitively contest with the UFC’s best.
A slight misstep
Looking to cement his legacy as Bellator’s best 155-pounder, Chandler took on up and comer Brent Primus at the companies flagship event of 2017 at Bellator NYC in New York City. As a heavy favorite, many expected Chandler to blow through his competition and retain his lightweight strap. However, in a bizarre turn of events, Chandler’s ankle gave out on him shortly into the match after planting his foot at a strange angle on the canvas. Forced to fight as long as permitted on one foot, Chandler displayed a tremendous amount of heart and even dropped his opponent all on the disadvantage of fighting with one leg. However, the fight was ultimately called off at the advice of the ringside doctor due to the injury, therefore leaving Primus with the lightweight strap.
Having concluded that the injury was caused by nerve damage, an understandably frustrated Chandler immediately looked to rematch Primus for the lightweight strap after healing his leg. After months of unsuccessful campaigning, it seemed as though the fight was not to be booked for time being. With a strong desire to return to the cage, a surprising fight announcement came when it was released that Chandler would be fighting submission superstar Goiti Yamauchi at Bellator’s first major event of 2018 at Bellator 192. Although not a big name yet in the sport, Yamauchi poses a very serious threat with his unique skill set when the two square off on January 20.
After discussing the booking with Ariel Helwani on “The MMA Hour” it seems as though Chandler is aware of his superstar power within the company and does not need the belt as a platform to promote his fights. Although the winner of this fight has been promised an opportunity to fight for the belt by Scott Coker himself, after a victory over Yamauchi, Chandler looks to take aim at a division above him and eventually face the big names at 170 lbs such as Rory MacDonald, Douglas Lima, and Lorenz Larkin. Chandler has climbed to the top of the mountain at 155 lbs not once, but twice, and is looking to cement his legacy as one of the best multi-divisional fighters on the company’s ever-growing talent-rich roster.
With a recent move to Nashville, Tennessee, and becoming a father to a newly adopted son, much has changed with Chandler’s life since his loss at Bellator 180. In a sport with constant title changes and trash talk style marketing, Chandler looks to separate himself from the pack by being a man of integrity and worthy of leadership. Looking to open up a wrestling facility in Nashville, Chandler is hoping to make an impact on those around him both inside of the cage and out. Chandler’s blue-collar work ethic and motivational response to failures and hardships provide a much-needed breath of a fresh air to the WWE style marketing campaigns of modern MMA.
With a victory over Yamauchi, Chandler will have the opportunity to then continue to display his skill set against the best that Bellator has to offer in both the lightweight and welterweight divisions. If victorious on January 20, we could very well see the beginning of a newly revamped Michael Chandler. One who hopes to affirm to the MMA community that he is certainly one of the top three competitors outside of the UFC and an integrity based role model in a sport filled with copycat trash talkers.
Bellator 192 takes place January 20, in Inglewood, California, on the newly rebranded Paramount Network.
Combat sports writer from Nashville, TN. Lover of BJJ, coffee, and all things sci-fi.