Few fighters in UFC history have been able to raise their profile to such heights in as little as two fights as Michael Chandler has. Ahead of his third UFC fight, expected to be a fight of the year contender in Justin Gaethje with title implications on the line, it’s fitting to take a look at what exactly brought Michael Chandler into such a fascinating position in his career.
Chandler first made his name in the combat sports world competing for the University of Missouri, earning NCAA D1 All-American honors. It’s this solid foundation in wrestling that has allowed him to become a staple as one of the best wrestlers in MMA and likely the most dangerous wrestler in the current UFC 155lb division. With his wrestling pedigree and an impressive MMA debut in First Blood OFC via first-round TKO, Chandler found himself in the big leagues fast. In just his second fight he was performing for Strikeforce where he won twice between 2009 and 2010.
After his time in Strikeforce, Chandler made the move to Bellator where he would spend the bulk of his career and really solidify his name in the world of MMA. After four wins against decent competition, Chandler was pitted against Patricky ‘Pitbull’ Freire, the elder of Bellator’s two Pitbulls, both of whom would act rivals for Chandler. After defeating Pitbull, Chandler fought Eddie Alvarez, the “underground king” and arguably one of the best lightweights outside the UFC, for Chandler it was a step up in competition and a chance at gold in his first major promotion. He proved ready for it, winning by fourth-round submission. By the time Chandler had defended his belt twice, Alvarez had clawed his way back to a title shot and the duo would rematch in one of the greatest lightweight fights of all time across the MMA landscape.
The loss would put Chandler in unknown territory in his career, his following bouts were equally disappointing, losing to Will Brooks twice. However, he would regain his footing in 2015, winning three in a row including beating Patricky ‘Pitbull’ again to squash their rivalry in the rematch.
Around this same time, one of the first former UFC champions had made the move over to Bellator. At this point, there was little movement between the two promotions, but Benson Henderson represented UFC caliber testing himself in the Bellator ranks and to many would finally demonstrate where exactly Bellator talent belonged. Henderson had most recently defeated Patricky as well, so a showdown between him and Chandler was a big stage. Chandler defeated Henderson in a hard-fought split decision and discussion about when Chandler may grace the UFC began.
Chandler would win three of his next four before losing to Patricky’s younger brother, Patricio “Pitbull” reigniting his rivalry with the pitbulls. The rivalry that looked to blossom did not come soon enough however, as two more wins later and now in free agency, Chandler was signed to the UFC after so many years. Few would have predicted him living up to the hype with a first-round KO of contender Dan Hooker that earned him a vacant title shot against Charles Oliviera. Few more would have predicted how close he got after just one fight in the promotion to defeating Oliviera, who has spent a decade amongst the UFC. It’s time now to take a look at the fight style that took Chandler so far.
Michael Chandler has long been a figurehead for sticking to the fundamentals. The All-American wrestler has long advocated for the ‘all you need is a good jab and a double leg to win’ mentality and his sharp, powerful, and fast basics speak to his point.
However, it is important to note that this philosophy suits Chandler especially as he has the physical attributes necessary to emphasize the effectiveness of a ‘basics’ style game. Chandler is extremely talented in the sense of explosiveness, and his body type is very stacked on a wide frame. His years of wrestling have conditioned him with great cardio which helps as well, but these three factors are what his style is built around. He uses his jab first and often, and because he is so much faster and more explosive than most of his opponents he has an ability to get in with the jab and get out and make reads on his opponent’s reactions early in the fight. When he deciphers where they slip or Flinch, he utilizes his power punches behind the jab.
His explosiveness often means he is throwing with KO power behind each punch, which cannot carry over if you throw long combinations as is the case with someone like Nick Diaz or Colby Covington. Instead, Chandler maintains short combinations 1-3 punches but throws a lot of combinations. For the most part look for the jab-hook-cross, jab-jab-hook, and many variations of similar combinations with the overhand also thrown in. He is powerful and accurate so it doesn’t usually take more than a clean crisp short combination to get the job done.
His stacked frame is used in his grappling style, where he is a master of using the clamping gable grip over his opponent’s chest and shoulders in order to muscle them around. He likes to frame off his opponent’s ‘whizzer’ overhooks in order to squash their back to the mat and maintain control where he can look for ground and pound or get to their back. However because he is so powerful with his upper body and particularly his shoulders, he is able to put a massive amount of pressure with this grip and these sorts of positions.
For the most part, sticking to the basics that emphasize his physical advantages in the fight game carry him very far, however when the fight carries past these basics he has found himself in trouble. One of the elements of his game that allows him to emphasize his speed advantage is he works in a very long stance, almost like a sprinter so as to explode forward with the jab or power double. Against fighters who have a wide variety kicking game and can catch Chandler’s timing with a leg kick, that lead leg of Chandler’s is very heavy and he has paid in fights as that multiplies the degree of damage he takes. When he can comfortably land his powerful combinations and exit range which he does so well he is in great shape. However because he cannot necessarily maintain that style in long exchanges, he has been caught on the end of his own combinations if he is close to the fence or cannot exit quickly for whatever reason, therefore his lead leg is a dangerous tool against him both in the sense that it accumulates damage quickly but also in the way it can serve to slow him down, and he leans on his speed advantage often.
However taking advantage of this is so much harder than said, he is sharp and as he sticks to the basics he leaves little room to exploit. His fight this weekend against Justin Gaethje will be a big question answerer as Gatheje, with his signature leg kicks and volume potentially offer Chandler a chance to overcome his greatest stylistic obstacles.