Following in the footsteps of his friends Tyron Woodley and Ben Askren, 25-year-old former University of Missouri Division I wrestler Michael Chandler (7-0) began his pro mixed martial arts career a year-and-a-half ago.
Seven fights and seven wins later Chandler finds himself in the unique position of fighting in the Bellator season four lightweight tournament finals, taking on very tough Brazilian Patricky “Pitbull” Freire (9-1) this Saturday night in Atlantic City.
ProMMAnow.com (www.prommanow.com) spoke with Chandler this week to get his thoughts on the hype surrounding “Pitbull” and to find out if he is motivated by the six-figure pay day if he wins.
We also discussed Chandler’s philosophy on finishing fights, why he is the antithesis of a “lay-and-pray” wrestler, and how, although he is from Missouri, he ended up training at Xtreme Couture.
PRO MMA NOW: Thanks for talking with us Michael at ProMMAnow.com. How are you feeling now just a few days away from the Bellator season four lightweight finals?
MICHAEL CHANDLER: I’m feeling good man, camp is going great. Over the last three fights since January we’ve had the goals to win this Bellator tournament. I came out unscathed in both my last fights and have trained hard the last four weeks since my last fight. Things are going good, the body feels great. I’m here with the best team in the world, with the best coaches in the world. I’m feeling good, have got a load of confidence and ready to go out there and perform in a fight I think a lot of people are looking forward to.
PRO MMA NOW: What do you think about all the hype surrounding Patricky “Pitbull” Freire right now – do you think it’s justified?
MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah, it’s justified. Any time you got a guy that goes out there and knocks out Rob McCullough and knocks Toby Imada out with a nice flying knee there’s going to be hype because people love to see that stuff. People love to see knockouts, love to see guys finishing fights. There should be some hype behind him. He’s got a good record and has had some exciting fights. But I’ve got a load of confidence. I’ve got a good gameplan and I feel like I know how to beat him and I’m excited to go in there and win on Saturday.
PRO MMA NOW: Personally, to me, this seems like a good style match-up for you. Would you agree?
MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah, I think any really good striker or really good jiujitsu guy, a black belt, kind of their kryptonite is being a tough wrestler, a good wrestler who can go out there and kind of impose your will and take him out of his gameplan and put pressure on him. And I’m a guy that likes to go out there and finish fights, and that’s what I plan on doing, go out there and wear him out, look for a submission or a KO and get the win.
PRO MMA NOW: What do you feel is Patricky’s most dangerous asset?
MICHAEL CHANDLER: Well I haven’t seen his ground game. You saw a little bit of it in the Rob McCullough fight; he took McCullough’s back, he wasn’t able to finish him. But he is a BJJ black belt. He is Brazilian. So I’m sure he’s been working jiujitsu for a long time. I’d say the best part of his game is his striking, but in my opinion I think we’re going to be able to neutralize it. We’ve worked hard, we’ve watched some film on how to really capitalize on some of the mistakes he’s making and how to stay away from his strengths which is him trying to land those knockout blows. Here at Xtreme Couture we’re confident, we’ve got a good gameplan, I’m in phenomenal shape and that’s how I’m feeling right now.
PRO MMA NOW: How closely have you been watching the other lightweights during the season and was there anyone else you may have really thought was going to make it to the finals or is there anyone else maybe you were hoping to face?
MICHAEL CHANDLER: No, I just wanted to win this tournament and knew I had to fight three of the other seven guys no matter what. So, I’m excited to fight a guy like “Pitbull”. He’s got some hype behind him, and after these last two fights he’s probably getting around the MMA world as one of the top up-and-comers. It’s good for myself too. I’m hopefully going to be looked at as a top up-and-comer with an undefeated record and a win over him kind of catapults me even further and I get that title shot to put myself in almost the top-10 range. I would have liked to fight anybody. I’m glad I fought Marcin Held, who in my opinion probably could have submitted anybody in this tournament with those leg locks. If he’d got that leg lock on any of the other seven guys they probably would have been forced to tap. It would have been cool to have possibly fought Rob McCullough because he was the biggest name in the tournament, but like I said, however it was going to play out I didn’t care. I just knew I had three guys standing between me and winning that tournament and getting the title shot.
PRO MMA NOW: Okay, so if you win this fight you will not only get a shot at the champion Eddie Alvarez, but you will win $100,000. What would winning that type of money mean to you — and does that motivate you when you’re training, do you ever think about that big payday?
MICHAEL CHANDLER: No, I don’t really think about the pay day. Obviously it’s great to make money but I’m not in this sport to make the money. I know the money is going to come and I’m going to be blessed and I’m going to make a fortune doing what I love, but right now I just know I’ve been put in this sport for a reason and that’s to be a world champion and be put on a platform and reach a lot of people. That’s pretty much what motivates me, just knowing that I’m so blessed to have two capable legs, that I’m able to go out to the gym twice a day everyday and do what I love, get paid doing it and still be able to compete after my college wrestling career is over. The chunk of money would be nice. I’m looking to buy a house here in Vegas and really get my life started so…
PRO MMA NOW: What do you think about the champ Eddie Alvarez?
MICHAEL CHANDLER: You know, he’s ranked top five in the world, and rightfully so. He’s fought everywhere, he’s got a lot of fights, a lot of wins, he pretty much demolished Pat Curran, the last tournament champion. He wasn’t able to finish him but he got the unanimous decision, he won 50-45, so he’s on the top of his game. Do I think that I’m going to beat him when I get that opportunity, yes. I think he’s a great champion. He’s got a lot of tools, he’s got great hands, he’s got a wrestling background, he comes at you, and he’s a guy that pushes the pace. I can never said a bad thing about somebody who goes out there and keeps coming forward and presses the action and keeps the fight entertaining. That’s something he does. He’s the type of guy we need in this sport, myself included; guys who want to go out there and keep coming forward and trying finish fights and put on exciting fights. At the end of the day that’s what the fans want to see and what’s going to grow the sport.
PRO MMA NOW: You finished all of your opponents up until this point except your last fight, against Lloyd Woodard. Was he your toughest opponent so far?
MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah, I don’t know. Even before that, the fight with Marcin Held, if I don’t put him to sleep there in the first round, I think he poses threats, big time threats any second you’re in the cage with him. He’s a tough kid. His leg locks are ridiculous. But yeah, Lloyd Woodard was the only one who has taken me the distance so I will take my hat off to him, and I have said it many times, I was going to have to really beat him to beat him because he wasn’t somebody that was going to back down for a second or take a backwards step at all during the fight. He was always coming at me on the feet. If I took him down, he was always crawling away and really working to his feet every single second. It’s guys like that who their heart is just so big they don’t really have that conscience in their head that kind of says, “Hey I’m kind of tired let’s take it easy.” He’s a guy that just keeps going and going and going. I talked to Lloyd after the fight, he’s a great guy. So yeah, I would say he was. He’s the only guy who’s taken me to a decision. I continue to look forward to continue fighting better and better and better opponents. That’s what I’m in the sport for.
PRO MMA NOW: A lot of wrestlers don’t look for that finish like you do. Was that a conscious decision you made to be different?
MICHAEL CHANDLER: I don’t think it was a conscious decision. It was just a decision if you are a baseball player, your goal is to hit home runs. Your goal isn’t to get a single, you want to get the home run. If you’re a football player, you want to score a touchdown or get the most tackles in a game. If you’re a mixed martial artist, you don’t want to go out there and just get the “W”, you want to go out there and you want to dominate. At the end of the day, just like wrestling, this is a one-one-one, mano a manna combat sport, hand-to-hand combat. It’s a war of attrition, who’s the better man, who’s the better fighter, who’s the tougher guy, who’s got the bigger heart and who wants it more. Just going out there and being able to finish guys is kind of the ultimate feather in your cap. You can get the win, but if you get the finish, that’s what sets you apart. That’s kind of how I always want to be. That’s how I was in wrestling. I didn’t just want to get the win, I wanted to get bonus points, whether it be a pin, a tech fall or a major decision and score extra points for the team. That’s kind of my mentality with mixed martial arts. I want to go out there and finish the fight. That’s what the fans want to see and that’s what I train to do. I don’t train to win, I train to dominate, basically.
PRO MMA NOW: At what age did you start wrestling?
MICHAEL CHANDLER: I wrestled from when I was about five til I was about nine, then quit, then started back up as a freshman. I kind of missed those most important years, kind of at middle school and all that stuff. Basically, I say I started as a freshman. I missed pretty much all the important years. When you’re five, six, seven and eight years old you’re just rolling around on the mat and laughing and don’t really know what you’re doing.
PRO MMA NOW: When did you first start thinking about possibly going into MMA?
MICHAEL CHANDLER: It was about my junior year of college. Tyron Woodley, who I wrestled with for a year, he coached me for two years, he was into it. He was fighting some amateur fights and ended up signing with Strikeforce and I just kind of started messing around with him and hitting mitts and rolling around with some jiujitsu, nothing real serious. I wasn’t even a fan of the sport at all. I had a roommate who loved it and I’d watch it every now and then but I didn’t know names, I didn’t know techniques, I didn’t know anything. I wasn’t a boxing fan growing up. My junior year, getting in with Tyron and with him and Ben [Askren] starting fighting, that’s when I really started realizing this is a good transition to make and I like the sport now, and it’s good.
PRO MMA NOW: Do you still keep in touch with Tyron?
MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah, every week we talk pretty much. He’s like a big brother, mentor to me, same thing with Ben. They’re kind of the guys who have helped me along the way. Everybody’s got those guys that really helped them and they are indebted to because they owe them so much for just how much they’ve done for them and how much they’ve helped them succeed and that’s how Tyron is and Ben is for myself and my wrestling career and my MMA career. Yeah he’s down here right now at the UFC Summit, so I got to see him the last couple of days, so that’s been good.
PRO MMA NOW: How did you end up at Xtreme Couture?
MICHAEL CHANDLER: I met the guy who is now my manager, Randel Aleman, a couple years ago wrestling down at ACU over the summer or on Spring break or something, and then he got into management, and I was fighting and we had a mutual friend that said, “Hey give Randall a call, he’s in Vegas and this and that.” I never thought too much about it. I never thought I’d move to Vegas, but I came out here and spent the week kind of training. Gray was training for Kenny Florian. He was in camp, and I was able to come in and hit some mitts with Gil Martinez and drill with Gray a little bit and really just kind of see the gym and see how hard these guys go and see how they all try to take each other’s heads off during practice, but then at the end it’s all smiles, they’re all humble and really nice guys. It’s just a good fit for me. There’s a good schedule. There’s a regimen and schedule where there are always practices. There’s always guys wanting to get better. There’s always guys with the goal of being world champion. And that’s what makes a good gym. It’s not just the gym, it’s all the guys in the practices sweating and the coaches teaching. Xtreme Couture was the perfect fit for me.
PRO MMA NOW: Who are your main grappling and striking coaches?
MICHAEL CHANDLER: My main boxing coach is Gil Martinez. He works with all the big name guys here pretty much; the Pyles, the Hierons. And then Neal Melanson is my grappling coach here.
PRO MMA NOW: Alright. Well, best of luck to you this weekend. Would you like to thank anyone or send any shout outs?
MICHAEL CHANDLER: I want to say thanks to my sponsors Clinch Gear, HiTech Pharmaceuticals, Raw State Energy Drink, MTX Audio, MMA Warehouse. I want to thank Martin Advisory Group, Randel and Dave for management. They’re the best team in the world. I want to thank my coaches and training partners at Xtreme Couture. And I love you Mom and Dad.
You can keep up with Michael through is website www.michaelchandlermma.com.