MMAmania spoke with former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler ahead of his Bellator 120 match up against Will Brooks tonight (Sat., May 17, 2014) at Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi. The near-perfect (12-1) Team Alliance-trained fighter opened up about the disappointment of not facing Eddie Alvarez for a third time, losing the title last November, his thoughts on preparing for new opponent, Will Brooks, on short notice and much more.
Bellator's first foray into pay-per-view (PPV) was supposed to happen in Nov. 2013, but an injury to Tito Ortiz foiled those plans and the much anticipated rematch between Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler.
Even though most experts felt it was the true main event -- not the ill-fated Rampage Jackson vs. Tito Ortiz bout -- the sequel was promoted to headline Bellator 106 ... on Spike TV (not PPV).
The two fighters delivered another all-time classic. It was a back-and-forth battle that almost ended in the fourth round if not for Chandler somehow miraculously escaping a rear-naked choke attempt. It would go to the judges for a decision, with Alvarez narrowly winning back his title via split decision.
"I've said it before, I proved how tough I was that night, but I didn't show the technical aspect of the fighter I am that night," Chandler recently told MMAmania. "So, it was a little disappointing, but I'll get it next time."
The swell of reaction from the rematch set forth the decision for the promotion to once again head into the uncharted PPV waters with the rubber match between the two lightweights as the headliner. So one could only imagine Chandler's disappointment when he heard the news that Alvarez would be dropping out of the Bellator 120 trilogy showdown at Landers Center in Southaven Miss., only several days ago from suffering a concussion during a wrestling practice.
"Of course," Chandler said, admitting the bad news was tough to hear. "You train specifically for a certain guy for a whole training camp and then the rug was kind of pulled out from under me right before it. Of course there was a little bit of disappointment right away, but immediately that was taken over by the other opportunity. You take it for what it is and acknowledge it and basically forget about it. I haven't really thought about Eddie since he pulled out of the fight and I've been focusing on Will Brooks."
The two did have some back-and-forth in the media earlier in the week, but the 12-1 lightweight wouldn't stoke the fire about a rivalry existing outside of competition. He admitted it was tough to digest the news that he wouldn't be getting a chance to win back the title he lost in Nov. 2013.
"I respect Eddie as a fighter," Chandler said. "He is a great competitor. There's not too many fighters out there that have had the same guy pull out of multiple fights with him. I took that to heart. This is my life. This is what I do. To train a whole training camp to fight him and have him pull out the week before is not easy to deal with. I don't think there is too much bad blood. I just hope the Blackzilians take it easy on him next camp so he can step in the cage."
Instead of the fight being scrapped, Brooks -- who won the Season 9 lightweight tournament and was originally scheduled to fight Nate Jolly -- has stepped up to take on Chandler this coming weekend. And he, along with the former Missouri Tiger, deserve a great deal of credit because it is not easy to prepare for a new opponent little more than one week before stepping into the cage.
"There's been times in the past where different fighters in different organizations pull out of fights the week before and those fights end up not happening," Chandler says. "It's not easy. It definitely isn't something that is a favorable situation. You don't want the opponent to change -- the one you've been training for seven weeks straight to change the week before.
"At the end of the day it's where the chips fell and the cards I've been dealt. Luckily I had a great training camp and I was training for a great fighter in Alvarez and I'm prepared. Will Brooks is young and hungry and he has a great opportunity on his hands, so will see what he makes of it on Saturday night."
What does the 28-year-old from Team Alliance think about his opponent's attributes?
"I think he has wrestled a lot of guys," Chandler said. "Obviously that's not going to work on me, but I think he has wrestled a lot of guys and he gets on top with that control game. We will see what he brings to the table on Saturday night. Hopefully, I can just make the adjustments and go out there and finish the fight. He is a young, and he is a strong, athletic guy. He trains at ATT, so he should prepared and I'm just excited to do it."
This fight against Brooks puts the former lightweight champion in a tight spot. A loss to a fighter who is considered a big underdog would be a horrible setback for Chandler. Let's face it, he has run over all other competition he has competed against in Bellator not named Alvarez. In fact, no one aside from the man who took his title at Bellator 106 has even made a fight remotely competitive. Patricky Friere went the distance in the tournament final at Bellator 44, but Chandler controlled the entire fight with his wrestling.
Chandler -- who put the title-fight loss to Alvarez on himself and not the judges because he "didn't finish the fight" -- doesn't put much stock into pressure, saying he isn't "really worried with other peoples expectations."
The fight will undoubtedly be Brooks' toughest test of his career and Chandler is confident he is the better fighter. And when the fight unfolds, he will just do what he normally does and "let the fight take care of itself."
"It's all about just going out there and fighting," Chandler explained. When it ends, it ends. If it doesn't end by finish, it doesn't end by finish. There is not extra pressure. It's just the way I train. When I've been inside the cage finishes happen more often than not, and I've been very fortunate in that aspect.
"So that's what I'm going to be looking for Saturday night. All I'm focused on is keeping the main thing, and that's going out there and executing on Saturday night and by doing that I will definitely be putting on a good show and probably get the finish."
Should he prevail against Brooks, as most pundits expect, the trilogy fight will once again be on the table; however, with Alvarez's health concerns, Chandler revealed he wouldn't be against fighting someone else before he faces Alvarez for a third time.
"It is all up to his (Alvarez) health," he said. "Whenever he is healthy. So we will see. I don't know if I'll fight him next. Dave Jansen has been waiting a year -- more than a year now -- to fight me. After I win this fight, I wouldn't mind going out and fighting him and making sure Eddie is really healthy and give him some time to heal up."
Chandler said he has had a "great training camp" heading into Bellator 120, and there is a "great group of guys around him" at Team Alliance, including the newest addition, head grappling coach Neil Melanson, who he has worked with since he was at Xtreme Couture.
"It's been a great addition to the team, to have him not only as a grappling coach but as another leader on our team," Chandler said. "To have him and Eric Del Fierro at the helm and a great supporting cast of strength and conditioning, boxing, and all kinds of coaches and just the roster of guys we have there from champions to veterans to new guys."
It sounds like he is feeling good, taking the last-minute switch in stride. And even though he was disappointed in Alvarez dropping out of the fight, he didn't want to let a good fight camp go to waste, eager to return to top form at Bellator 120.
"I'm in shape. I'm hungry, healthy and happy and ready to do this thing."