Michael Chandler, the Bellator lightweight champion and long-serving fight league standout, has been keeping it under wraps all this week in Chicago. In fact, he has held it in for three and a half months since his champ-champ fight was signed with Patricio ‘Pitbull’ Friere, the incumbent Bellator featherweight king.
Chandler knocked out his brother Patricky half a dozen fights ago, torquing his head and dropping him like a brick with a brutal right cross. The Pitbulls have been gnashing at Chandler. Spewing bad blood. ‘Chandlerone’, ‘mother-f—-‘, ‘You’re going to get killed’ – the kind of abuse and insults that do not resonate with him; that make an ordinary man’s blood boil.
Chandler likes to carry himself upright, a proud gentleman pugilist. “I’ve got to do all the requisite stuff that the fight week entails. All part of it. It’s all a bunch of bluster man. I’m not going to say it, because it’ll end up in a headline, but he’s not who he says he is,” Chandler told The Telegraph just after facing down with the opponent who says he wants “to kill him”.
When they faced off on Friday in Chicago, an inch space separating nose to nose, Chandler screwed his face, flared his nostrils, as if sniffing his fellow belt holder. The truth is that they share one thing: the most wins in Bellator MMA history. Sixteen apiece. But that is where the similarities end.
“He’s not who he tries to project,” added Chandler, reminding us that Pitbull’s belt is not on the line, yet his is. “There’s a lot of advantages to being the little one. Look at Frankie Edgar. He was faster than everyone else and had better cardio than everyone else. The problem with this match up is I’m better in every aspect”
“I am faster than him, as a 145er and a 155er. I’m much stronger than him. My submissions are much better than him. My submission defence is impregnable. It’s a scenario in which he’s good in a lot of areas, but in the bigger man and better in every area.”
What does he make of the theory that Pitbull is carrying more weight into this showdown, that it may slow the senses. “I think it’s a huge advantage for me to be cutting weight. I’m in the best shape of my life, and I know everyone says that, but when you see the way I perform and if you knew how well my weight cut is going right now, it’s absolutely perfectly.”
“That gives me confidence. I’m explosive, lighter and strong with the weight I’m at right now. He didn’t have to put in any extra time, hours, dieting or focus on the weight cut. He’s just focused on beating me up.”
Is Pitbull too emotional ? Chandler’s reading of it is intriguing. “Yeah, it’s very apparent. But I think that’s normal for him. I think that he’s emotional and I won’t sit here and say he’s flustered or out of his element, that’s how he motivates himself.”
“He’s motivated by anger and by fear, and I don’t say that in a negative way. He’s motivated by the fear of losing and also I think of going back to where he came from. The man came from very humble beginnings and looking at what he’s accomplished, it’s very admirable. I respect that.”
“He very much fights from the ‘I don’t want to go back to life I was brought up in, so therefore I need to fight and win’. He wins 90 per cent of the time so I’ve got to be on my Ps and Qs.”
The allegations that Chandler is not clean – the ‘chandlerone’ name-calling – brings an equally resolute response from the 33 year old, originally from Missouri. “I couldn’t care less,” he says.
“You just know that when you find what your passion is and you’re fortunate to find your calling, you jump head first into it and put your whole self into it. That’s what I’ve been doing since 2009. Now I have a son and a wife, both of whom have made me a better man and drive me on. Both of whom wake me up every single morning with a new attitude. That drives me. I’m excited to put on a show for the fans on Saturday and bring home the cheque.”
Chandler has his own inspiring back story. Deeply religious, he admired the openness of fellow fighter Rory MacDonald, the 170lbs champion, two weeks ago who said his closeness to God was making it “difficult to hurt” opponents.
“It’s fascinating, I love the honesty. I’m on record saying I talk to my God everyday and he’s with me when I’m in the cage. I think that was not me at all judging anyone’s convictions. We all have different convictions, we all have different relationships with our saviour. We all have different seasons of our life and it sounds like he’s going through a different season.”
“A moment of epiphany, a moment of growth or maturity. Maybe even a moment of murky waters. It’s interesting. We’ll see. All I know is it doesn’t matter what religion you’re serving or what God you’re serving, everyone has their own convictions and the way they want to lead their life. They have their own yearnings for something more. For some people it’s enlightenment, for some people it’s a relationship with Christ.
“The next 25 people it could be a relationship with some other deity or just their own personal self, or just the universe. None of us should have the liberty to look at and judge anyone’s spiritual journey. I’m just very happy that I feel no conviction stepping in the cage and doing harm to another man.” Pretty interesting for a fighter.
But then Chandler is focused on the theme of the weekend again, in no uncertain terms. “Saturday night – I am the dog owner.”
“It could be one of the greatest battles you guys will see in the history of Bellator,” reckoned Scott Coker, president of the fight league. It’s hard to disagree with those sentiments.
Remember the old adage that ‘a good big ‘un beats a good little un’ ?
The prevailing feeling is that Chandler’s power will be telling in the early skirmishes. Yet the longer it goes, the better for the Brazilian. But who knows, it may not even last that long.