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Michael Chandler discusses upcoming title fight, Blackzilians, Eddie Alvarez, his Zebra and more

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I spoke with former Bellator Lightweight Champion Michael Chandler ahead of his vacant lightweight title bout against Patricky “Pitbull” Freire at Bellator: Dynamite II on June 24th.

The 30-year-old Division 1 All-American is looking to capture the title of what has been historically Bellator’s marquee division for the second time in his career, his first reign starting in 2011 in one of the upsets of the year when he defeated Eddie Alvarez. Chandler gets the opportunity to add to that legacy in St Louis, Missouri against the elder of the two Pitbull brothers, a win would help him on his way to once again be considered as one of the top lightweights in all of MMA .


You first fought Patricky “Pitbull” Freire back at Bellator 44 in May 2011, winning a lightweight tournament and securing a title shot against Eddie Alvarez. How long ago does that feel for you now and is there anything to be gained from re-watching that fight or is it so long ago now that it’s no longer relevant?

Michael Chandler: I don’t think it’s that relevant, I honestly haven’t gone back and watched the fight, I just keep going over the main components of it in my mind. Patricky Pitbull has a history of knocking people out, he’s got power in his hands so I need to be vigilant in my preparation and make sure that I keep my hands up and don’t give him anything. I performed very well in that fight, I out-struck him in the first round and beat him up in the second and third. If I were to have one more round or even one more half of a round I would have been able to finish him because he was on his way out. That was a three round fight, this is a five round fight and there’s no way he can last five rounds with me. I gotta be careful, but not over-cautious, show Michael Chandler’s style and put a whooping on him.

You spent the majority of the 3+ years following that first bout fighting in title fights, main events, going 5 rounds on occasion. Your last two bouts have been sort of out of that spotlight and obviously that’s gone well for you, 2 victories and 2 stoppages, but are you looking forward to fighting in that spotlight again?

MC: No man, I’m really indifferent honestly, the spotlight to me is an added nuisance. For me it’s all about showing up, stepping into a cage and fighting another man, whether that’s three rounds, five rounds, a title fight or a non-title fight, my hometown or Alaska. I gotta be prepared, and I’ve put the time in, I’ve put the work in then it’s time to just go out and reap the fruits of my labour on June 24th and come out the victor and become the new lightweight champion.

This will be your 4th rematch in 15 Bellator bouts. Do you enjoy fighting a familiar face and how does that preparation differ compared to a fresh opponent?

MC: It’s another one of those things where it doesn’t really matter, a new opponent or a rematch. Anybody who is anybody in this sport, anybody who takes their job seriously is constantly evolving and constantly getting better and constantly improving so I’d be fooling myself if I thought I was going to fight the same Eddie Alvarez as I did the first time, the same David Rickels I did the first time or now the same Patricky Pitbull. I gotta focus on myself, my own assets, my own power and my own techniques and be ready for certain things I think he’s going to come at me with, certain tendencies that he has.

What strategy do you expect Patricky to bring to the fight?

MC: He relies on his power, he’s got great power in his hands and he can knock you out with many different techniques so you gotta keep him at bay, you have to fight smart with an adequate amount of caution but still go out there and take the fight to him. That’s what I plan on doing, I plan on fighting smart but also with an extremely aggressive, extremely in-your-face type of style like I always do, and plan on getting my hand raised.

You’ve been preparing for this fight with Henri Hooft, is this a permanent switch to the Blackzilians? Was this a Neil Melanson link? And how has this fight camp differed from others?

MC: Yeah, the one and only reason I moved out here was for my long-time coach Neil Melanson. I know what I’m getting with him, he’s the best coach in MMA in my opinion. I’ve had the most success under him. He cares for me more than anybody else in the industry and I love, care and respect him more than anybody else in this industry, so we have that kind of bond, that fighter-coach relationship and it works really well for us. So that started out as the one and only reason I moved out here and then it turns out that Henri- I knew he was a good striking coach but I didn’t realise how good he was until I first came down here. He and I have been working together for months now and his striking mentality and techniques are phenomenal, they’ve been working well for me. The Blackzilians team is a good group of guys, it’s a great training situation for me, though in the MMA industry I’ve been around enough to know not to use the word permanent when you’re talking about training camps because just like the rosters and the talent pools change between different organisations, MMA gyms change all the time. Coaches are changing, going to different places. I was at Xtreme Couture then Neil left, I was at Alliance and Neil left again, you know? Nothing in the sport is ever permanent unless you do your own training camp so I’m not gonna use the word permanent but I am very happy with this last camp that I’ve had.

You’re fighting for a vacant title, would you rather beat a champ to become the champ, as you did in the past, or is fighting for a title satisfying regardless? 

MC: Yeah I think it’s satisfying regardless, I could care less. If you’re around MMA long enough, whether you’re a fighter, media or a fan, you’ll see the rosters change all the time. Guys are retiring, guys are coming through out of nowhere, the MMA industry is a very fast-paced industry. Titles are changing all the time, guys switch organisations, guys are testing free-agency and all kinds of stuff right now. In 2016 the MMA landscape is very volatile so to me it’s just about stepping in the cage with whoever they put in front of me, taking opportunities when they’re given and that’s what I have here on June 24th when I win that title.

It’s just been announced that the last owner of that belt, Will Brooks, will be fighting your former Alliance training partner Ross Pearson in his first UFC bout. How do you see that one going?

MC: It’s cool, I love Ross, he’s is a great dude. He’s one of the nicest guys ever, I’ve trained with him a ton and wish him nothing but the best and just hope it’s a good fight.

Benson Henderson joined Bellator earlier this year and had an unsuccessful debut at welterweight, would you be interested in facing him back at lightweight?

MC: Yeah absolutely, I think had the Josh Thompson fight happened, whether Ben beat Koreshkov or not I would have wanted that fight, I would have called him out to come down to lightweight, or if he had won the welterweight title I would have went up to welterweight to fight him. That’s a fight that I want, it’s a fight that I think Bellator definitely has their eye on. He’s a great talent, I consider myself a pretty good talent. The Ben Henderson and Josh Thompson fights are definitely on my radar, those are fights that the fans definitely want to see.

I’m sure you’re focused on your fight right now, but in just a few weeks your old nemesis Eddie Alvarez, who of course you defeated once, arguably twice in two incredible fights, will be facing Rafael dos Anjos for the UFC Lightweight title. How do you think this reflects on you and is it a vindication of your abilities at the highest level?

MC: Yeah I mean I think so, you can’t deny the fact that he went out there, he beat Gilbert Melendez who’s a top 5 guy, beat Anthony Pettis, who’s a top 5 guy and now he’s got the title shot. Styles make fights and I think Eddie matches up well with anybody at the top of the lightweight division in Bellator, the UFC or any organisation. It’ll be interesting to see, I’ve got Eddie winning that fight but that could just be because I have a bit of skin in the game. I respect him more than anybody else on any of these rosters because I’ve spent almost 50 minutes in the cage with him, I’ve felt his power and his never-quit attitude. I’ve knocked him out, then he’s came back to life and fought me for 20 more minutes. The dude just has an unbreakable will. It’ll be an interesting fight, I wish him nothing but the best and I think it will be Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler holding the lightweight titles in two different organisations at the same time so that’ll be cool.

You spoke recently about a trip you were taking to Jamaica on a medical mission with your wife and father-in-law. What did that trip entail and what was the experience like?

MC: It was awesome, I have no medical or dental experience but my wife is a physician’s assistant, she works in the ER and saves lives every day, and my father-in-law is a local dentist so we broke up into two teams, a medical team and a dental team and we went up into the hills in these tiny villages in Jamaica and just served for five or six days. It was a great experience, I plan on going back as often as I can, once a year as long as it doesn’t interfere with fights. The people of Jamaica were so kind and so appreciative and it helps you get out of this American bubble that you’re in and you look around and realise that people are doing so much more with so much less than you have. They have so much more happiness and contentment with so much less. It was a good reminder for me, and it was a phenomenal trip.

Finally, and most importantly, how is your zebra doing?

MC: He’s doing good man! He’s just hanging out with the horses and enjoying his life. Zeb is awesome and more alive than ever, he’s a good boy.

Watch Michael Chandler compete for the vacant Bellator lightweight title at Bellator: Dynamite II on June 24th

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Bellator: Selecting the Four Alternates for the Heavyweight Grand Prix.

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With an 8-man tournament bracket full of legends and former champions, join us as we chose four alternates for the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix.

Main Tournament Participants:

  • Fedor Emelianenko
  • Frank Mir
  • Chael Sonnen
  • Quinton Jackson
  • Roy Nelson
  • Matt Mitrione
  • Ryan Bader
  • King Mo Lawal

The alternate tournament bracket will consist of: two opening round fights (semi-final), and then two victorious fighters competing against one another at the finale (final). This will determine a worthy contender to step into the main tournament bracket, in case any of the main bracket fighters are injured in their semi-final bouts.

If a pull-out or injury occurs before the opening bouts, I believe Bellator have to select the most decorated fighter, and a natural heavyweight fighter. So in case of a pull-out occurring before the opening round, I would select my #1 alternate, and so on for any more opening pull-outs.

This structure covers all bases, and keeps the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament intense and prestigious.

So with the structure laid out, here is our selected alternate fighters.

  • #1: Vitaly Minakov
  • #2: Linton Vassell
  • #3: Attilah Vegh
  • #4: Emanuel Newton

Alternate Opening Round [Semi-Final]:

  • Bout 1: #1 Vs. #3
  • Bout 2: #2 Vs. #4

Alternate Final:

  • Victor of Bout #1/#3 Vs. Victor of Bout #2 Vs. #4

Linton Vassell vs. Emanuel Newton would be a trilogy that needs to be completed. Linton dominated on the ground for the most part of their first bout, but felt he gave up positions he felt he could have held longer, and took needless transitions and risks; allowing for a very sneaky Emanuel Newton to escape the clutches of ‘The Swarm’, and when the gas tank begins to empty – a scrambling Emanuel Newton is not what you want!

Fighter bios:

Vitaly Minakov: A former Bellator tournament winner, and former Bellator heavyweight champion. A Judo black belt, and multi time Sambo world champion, there’s no denying this man’s resume as one of the best put forth out of these 4 fighters.

Linton Vassell: A man who really lives up to the moniker – ‘The Swarm’, Linton Vassell has dominated and dispatched various opponents Bellator have put across from him. Having fallen short in two title fights, and a close decision loss to King Mo, Linton has shown that he’s there with the best Bellator has to offer, maybe the Heavyweight Grand Prix might see the dark-horse finally come into the lime-light! Currently contracted to Bellator with a 7-3 record for the promotion.

If you would like to follow the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament, you can check out the opening round bouts on the following Bellator MMA events:

Emanuel Newton: Already holding two victories over King Mo, who’s allocated in this Heavyweight main tournament bracket – that alone is just cause to enter Emanuel. An exciting and unpredictable entry this would be. Bellator parted ways with Emanuel in 2016. Currently, Newton is not on the best of runs, but this tournament needs a ‘wild-card’, and Emanuel owns that title.

Attilah Vegh: A former Bellator LHW champion. Not currently signed to Bellator. Was strangely released in 2014 after having a record of 5-1 with the promotion, and some victories over some very reputable names. Currently on a 2 fight win-streak outside of Bellator MMA.

If you would like to follow the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament, you can check out the opening round bouts on the following Bellator MMA events:

 

Bellator 192 at The Forum – Jan. 20, 2018: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (37-12) vs. Chael Sonnen (30-15-1)
Bellator 194 at Mohegan Sun Arena – Feb. 16, 2018: Matt Mitrione (12-5) vs. Roy Nelson (23-14)
Bellator at Allstate Arena – April, 2018: Fedor Emelianenko (36-5, 1 NC) vs. Frank Mir (18-11)
Bellator at SAP Center – May, 2018: Ryan Bader (24-5) vs. “King Mo” Lawal (21-6, 1 NC)

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Exclusive: Hisaki Kato: “My priorities are in MMA”

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French-Japanese middleweight Hasaki Kato returns to the Bellator cage Friday as he takes on former welterweight Chidi “Bang Bang” Njokuani. Ahead of the high-level striking match-up, Kato took the time out of his busy schedule to speak with MMA Latest.

Rangy striker Njokuani makes his middleweight debut Friday as he looks to erase his loss to Andrey Koreshkov from recent memory. It isn’t lost on Kato just how tall and lanky the 6’3 striker truly is. “Well he’s very tall,” Kato tells MMA Latest. “He was a welterweight but even for a middleweight he’s really tall he’s like 6’2, 6’3 taller than me, longer reach than me. Obviously, I was watching his fights, he’s fighting with range and using his reach to fight so that’s his number one weapon.”

In Njokuani’s last fight, Koreshkov, the former welterweight champion, held Njokuani down and elbowed him until the ref stepped in. So what exactly went wrong in the fight? “Well, first I think Koreshkov is really, really strong,” Kato explains. “Chidi Njokuani normally escapes the ground part or at least he’s on top of his opponent. But Koreshkov has good pressure and good grappling and he could take the top position. Obviously, Njokuani is not comfortable when he is on the bottom. So yeah, I think he couldn’t play his game during the last fight because Koreshkov was putting too much pressure on him.”

Former UFC fighter, Gegard Mousasi, recently made his debut against Alexander Shlemenko back in October. The Dutchman had a tough debut that resulted in a controversial decision win, Kato weighed in on whether or not he’s eyeing a fight with him and what he thought of his Bellator debut. “If I have an offer I will fight him,” he says without any particular enthusiasm. “I will fight everybody in the division. Yeah, for the last fight, well, I think luckily for him it was a three-round fight. I think if it was a five round fight the victory would have gone to Shlemenko. I don’t know maybe he had a bad camp, I don’t know but he was doing terrible.”

Kato also believes a title shot isn’t far away. “I believe I’m really close to that (a title shot),” he says. “After the win, after the Gracie fight, even if it was a decision win, the Gracie is a big family name so I was expecting a title fight. I didn’t have it so I guess if I win this time I have a good chance to have it.”

Whatever you do, don’t expect to see Kato back in a kickboxing ring anytime soon. Does it interest him to return? “Not really,” Kato replies after giving the question some thought. “If the offer is good then why not, for now, I feel more comfortable in MMA so my focus, my priorities, are in MMA.”

Many fans were very disappointed with the way his last fight turned out. Paired up against jiu-jitsu fighter, Ralek Gracie, Kato ended up going to the judges for the first time in his career. “Yeah the fight itself was really frustrating,” Kato admits. “I couldn’t do what I wanted and after two rounds, I knew I had done enough to win, and I knew he would push more. So I decided ‘yeah ok then it’s going to a decision’ but at the very least I had to win that fight.  That’s why I didn’t take too many risks in the third round. During the first and the second, I really wanted to end that fight like I always try but I couldn’t do it.”

So why hasn’t Kato fought since January? “I had an offer in September,” he says. “But I got injured during the training and had to go into surgery, and after the surgery, the process is really long to recover so that’s why.”

So what does Kato predict for the fight? “Obviously his nickname is ‘Bang’ you know, he likes to fight and that’s all I like doing too,” Kato laughs. “I’m really thinking about having a big knockout with my hands.”

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Exclusive: Fernando Gonzalez talks Paul Daley and Michael Page fights

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Long-time Bellator welterweight contender, Fernando Gonzalez, has made a career out of fighting the best fighters his promotion had to offer. The always tough Californian has displayed this willingness to fight the best when he took on Paul Daley in a kickboxing match and when he took on Michael ‘Venom’ Page, in what was supposed to be Page’s coming out fight.

The kickboxing match with Daley happened back in 2015 at “Bellator MMA and Glory: Dynamite 1” in an event that featured both Glory kickboxing as well as its fair share of intriguing Bellator MMA fights. Gonzalez would go on to lose the fight in what many fans called a ‘lackluster’ contest. Speaking to MMA Latest, Gonzalez was asked if he had any interest in returning to the kickboxing ring and why he participated in Glory kickboxing.

“No. Honestly, that kickboxing match was more just to get Daley; because they kept trying to give him to me on short notice and one was on an injury,” Gonzalez told MMA Latest. “So I was like, ‘no I don’t want to give him an easy win’, but the only thing they came up with was that kickboxing match in that time. So ever since that fight, I was like ‘listen dude lets do this MMA’. I’m an MMA guy, I know how to kickbox and I’m good with it but I prefer MMA. I love doing MMA. I don’t like to have too many rules put on me. I like being able to go out there and flow freely. Honestly, I want Daley in an MMA fight so he gets the real fight.”

Gonzalez’ fight with Michael Page was booked as the veteran getting fed to the younger up and coming contender. The fight was Page’s opportunity to add another highlight reel knockout to his collection. Obviously, someone forgot to tell Gonzalez. Gonzalez went out and made sure he never gave Page any openings, unfortunately, he would go on to lose the fight by split decision. Fernando explains what went wrong in his only Bellator loss.

Honestly the only thing that went wrong in the fight is how people viewed the fight”, Gonzalez explains. “If you really look at the fight he really didn’t land anything. The whole first round they’re talking him up, how he’s dancing and how it’s putting me into a lullaby and this and that. I was never in danger. He was not throwing a single punch. This is MMA, you cant just take on the fight with one style, you have to fight different styles for different people. If it was just boxing, you would fight a boxer just one way realistically, but Michael Page has the karate style. So you have to come up with a different formula if you’re going to fight somebody like that.”

“So my style with him, I knew that he’s used to everybody rushing him and trying to take him down. I’m a striker so I don’t mind striking. If I’m not in danger then I’m going to keep it striking. So what I did was I circled, I kept him at arm’s length, so he constantly had to throw long arms where he’s having to reach out and grab you. He’s throwing those arms out, that makes him have to basically hold his arms out a lot longer than he’s used to. He’s used to guys rushing in on him. So with me playing that outside game, obviously my legs are a lot longer than my arms, so I had to throw a lot more kicks, there was a lot of head kicks to take away his power-punch where he leaps in. By doing that, that made him work a lot longer in the second and third round where he’s normally finishing guys. By that third round, he was completely exhausted and couldn’t throw. He said his timing was off and this and that, but he was just exhausted. I had already gassed him out and he had just enough to stay away from me.”

“Really it’s just how you see the fight. They automatically assumed I had to take him down to win and that’s not necessarily true. If I’m not in danger, and I’m landing kicks, and I’m landing good shots, and he’s hitting my arms. Realistically most of the shots he landed were on my arms and that really doesn’t count. So it’s really just how you see it and that’s why one judge had it 30-27. It’s just how you’re seeing the fight. If you’re a striker you would know what you’re looking at, but if you’re a ground guy, of course, you’re going to say ‘oh I got to get it to the ground’ which is what the commentators were; two ground guys talking about what I should’ve done.”

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