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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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Watch: Bellator 185 Prelims

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Gegard Mousasi takes on Alexander Slemenko live this Friday night October 20th at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville CT. This is the first appearance for Mousasi in the Bellator cage as he looks to secure a title shot with a win over the very tough former Bellator champion Slemenko. Joining these men of the main card will be a pair of welterweights as Neiman Gracie from the famous Gracie BJJ family takes on Zak Bucia in the co-main event.

Complete Bellator 185: Mousasi vs. Shlemenko Fight Card:

Middleweight Main Event: Gegard Mousasi (42-6-2) vs. Alexander Shlemenko (56-9, 1 NC)

Welterweight Feature Bout: Neiman Gracie (6-0) vs. Zak Bucia (18-8)

Women’s Flyweight Feature Bout: Heather Hardy (1-0) vs. Kristina Williams (Debut)

Lightweight Feature Bout: Ryan Quinn (13-7) vs. Marcus Surin (4-0)

Women’s Flyweight Feature Bout: Ana Julaton (2-2) vs. Lisa Blaine (1-0)

Preliminary Card:

Catchweight Preliminary Bout: Jordan Young (6-0) vs. Alec Hooben (5-3)

Middleweight Preliminary Bout: Costello van Steenis (8-1) vs. Steve Skrzat (8-9)

Welterweight Preliminary Bout: Vinicius de Jesus (5-1) vs. Joaquin Buckley (7-1)

Lightweight Preliminary Bout: John Beneduce (2-1) vs. Dean Hancock (2-1)

Featherweight Preliminary Bout: Timothy Wheeler (1-4) vs. Pete Rogers (2-4)

150 lb. Catchweight Preliminary Bout: Don Shainis (3-1) vs. Matthew Denning (5-6)

150 lb. Catchweight Preliminary Bout: Frank Sforza (6-0) vs. Vovka Clay (3-2)

Lightweight Preliminary Bout: Kevin Carrier (Pro Debut) vs. Jose Antonio Perez (Pro Debut)

Flyweight Preliminary Bout: John Lopez

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*Watch* Bellator 185 Weigh in: Live Stream, Results

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Watch the live weigh-ins for Bellator 185 here.

Gegard Mousasi takes on Alexander Slemenko live this Friday night October 20th at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville CT. This is the first appearance for Mousasi in the Bellator cage as he looks to secure a title shot with a win over the very tough former Bellator champion Slemenko. Joining these men of the main card will be a pair of welterweights as Neiman Gracie from the famous Gracie BJJ family takes on Zak Bucia in the co-main event.

Full Weigh-in Results: (Updated in real time)

Main Card:

Gegard Mousasi (185) vs. Alexander Shlemenko (186)
Neiman Gracie (170.5) vs. Zak Bucia (170)
Heather Hardy (126) vs. Kristina Williams (126)
Ryan Quinn (155.5) vs. Marcus Surin (155)
Ana Julaton (125.5) vs. Lisa Blaine (122)

Preliminary Card:

Jordan Young (200) vs. Alec Hooben (194)
Costello van Steenis (185) vs. Steve Skrzat (186)
Vinicius de Jesus (170) vs. Joaquin Buckley (171)
John Beneduce (154.5) vs. Dean Hancock (155)
Timothy Wheeler (144) vs. Pete Rogers (144)
Don Shainis (150) vs. Matthew Denning (149)
Frank Sforza (149) vs. Vovka Clay (150)
Kevin Carrier (156) vs. Jose Antonio Perez (153)
John Lopez (126) vs. Billy Giovanella (125)

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Bellator 185 Fight to Watch: Heather Hardy vs. Kristina Williams

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Heather Hardy will compete in MMA for the second time at Bellator 185 on Friday night, as she faces Kristina Williams in a strawweight contest. The fight takes place on the main card at the Mohican Sun Arena in Connecticut.

Potentially, what Bellator have in Heather ‘The Heat’ Hardy is a major draw that they can build their 125 pound division around. While relatively new to the organisation she is fast becoming one of the more popular names on the roster. Her career is in the early stages, but many have already started to draw comparisons with former boxer turned MMA star, Holly Holm. Holm’s UFC success partly inspired the native New Yorker to make the switch from boxing.

Hardy is already an established world champion in the land of the ‘sweet science’, holding a 21 fight undefeated professional record. She made her MMA debut in June this year with a victory over Alice Yauger, at Bellator 180. At 35, Hardy is a late starter in the sport, but proved at Madison Square Garden against the credible Yauger that she has a bright future.

Hardy’s first outing in the cage was disciplined and composed. Despite a slow start in round one, Hardy grew in confidence as the fight progressed and her cardio never faltered. She mixed in plenty of kicks that complimented her boxing and looked at ease in the clinch, even defending a couple of takedown attempts in the process.

Despite looking on course for a decision win, Hardy forced the TKO stoppage with just thirteen seconds remaining in round three. Even a large cut that required seven stitches from an accidental head clash could not deny her victory.

Hardy was fighting an experienced professional, competing for the tenth time in MMA, which makes the win over Yauger more impressive. However, her upcoming opponent Kristina Williams will be making her professional debut.

There is little known about Williams except that she is 3-0 at amateur level. One of those wins came by way of submission so there may well be a threat to Hardy if the fight goes to the ground. More importantly for Williams is how she copes on the big stage against a popular opponent, who is more familiar competing in high pressure combat situations. If Williams can produce an upset it will be a huge boost in her young career.

But in all honesty, this fight is about Hardy. It’s about getting the win and gaining valuable experience. The boxing career is on hold while MMA takes centre stage. Beating Williams will mean she likely continues fighting inside a cage rather than a boxing ring.

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