Chandler Cole (4-1), one of the nation’s top heavyweight prospects, returns to MMA action following a successful boxing crossover this past May. This Friday, Cole will face Stephan Flanigan (0-2) at Showcase MMA in Johnson City, Tennessee.
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Cole has had a great start to his career, winning four of his first five fights by way of knockout. His only loss, a 2017 first-round knockout at LFA 17, is to eventual Dana White Contender Series veteran Tebaris Gordon (3-1). Yet, despite such a good introduction to the professional MMA ranks, Cole says he’s never come close to reaching his potential.
“My last couple fights, I really took for granted. I fought some tough guys, but my training was not good. I didn’t run; I really took it for granted,” Cole told The Body Lock. “I made my professional boxing debut [in May], and I was out of shape for that fight. Once I came out of the ring and I held my little girl for the first time, I told myself, like, ‘This is it. I really got to get back to where I was.'”
Cole believes that his talent and skill set are there, it’s just a matter of putting his nose to the grindstone and working for the results he hopes to achieve.
“I know that my skill level’s there, but I just need to get back in better shape,” Cole said in a thick southern drawl. “Do I need to be a 5’10”, 265 [pound] heavyweight? No. But I think if I can make my way down to 240, 245, I can do a lot of big things. I think that I’m a great athlete at that weight, and I think I’m gonna be hard to handle once I really get my weight down.”
His weight is a focal point for Chandler Cole at this stage in his career. Since turning pro in 2016, Cole has fought at light heavyweight, then a 220-pound catchweight, and now cuts to the heavyweight limit. Even more intriguing, in his final amateur bout, an undefeated Cole won the Valor Fights amateur title at middleweight.
“My last amateur fight I fought 185 [pounds], which is crazy,” Cole said with a laugh.
When asked about the reasons for the move up, Chandler Cole made no bones about it.
“Well, one, injuries. Injuries happen, weight gets gained, and I think the rushing back into fighting [contributed to the move up]. It’s like, when you weigh 255 and you’re like, ‘Okay, I just want to fight. I don’t care; I don’t want to cut 50 pounds before a fight, I just want to fight as soon as possible.’”
Even once the initial favorability of fighting without a weight cut subsided, Cole realized that he could bring a lot to the table by fighting at heavyweight. With the skill set and athleticism of a smaller, lighter fighter, Cole believes he is faster and more agile than his divisional counterparts.
“When I caught myself with a lot of success at heavyweight, it just felt like, you know – a lot of people want to talk about height or all that other stuff, but anyone that trains with me knows how athletic I truly am. I have a training partner that’s 6’5”, and I kick him in the head, and I’m 5’10”,” Cole said with a laugh. “I’ve always been able to do freakish stuff like that at all weights. I just think that heavyweight’s one of those things.”
Now, walking around at around a powerful 275 pounds, Cole is getting back into tip-top shape, something the former collegiate wrestler says is never a difficult proposition.
“I think a lot of people are gonna be surprised this fight because I started running again. Right now, I’m 275, but I was 285 running 2 miles. I’ve been running constantly; every day. So, I know I’m gonna be a problem for my opponent [Stephen Flanagan] coming up.”
Cole’s return to running religiously is perhaps the most direct example of his recommitment to a lifelong dedication to hard work, which he believes he strayed away from in MMA.
“I thought [success] was just gonna happen for me because I had a good story and because I felt like I was guaranteed greatness. But that’s where I messed up, because my whole life, I’ve worked for what I’ve got, as far as my accolades in wrestling or football or in track [and field].
“Anything I’ve ever done, I’ve had to put work in, and I kind of fell away from how hard I grew up working. Hard work’s got us to where we’re at, and I just realized that I shied away from that and I thought that greatness was gonna come just because of who I was. I forgot where my roots were, but I found them, and I’m super excited. I can’t wait to show the world how much better I’ve got,” said Cole.
Should Chandler Cole get past Flanagan, whose last fight was a TKO loss to a young Corey Anderson back in 2013, the newly-reinvigorated father is keeping all of his options open.
“Whoever, wherever. At this point, I know I know how big my dreams are, and I know how good I feel this fight, and I’m only gonna get better. I just push the pressure, and I’ve done that out of shape. My mindset is like, ‘What can you do if you really put your mind to it?’ Right now, I’m just back on that track. Having my daughter has motivated me more than anything, and I truly believe that it’s my time.”
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.