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From Walk-On to Champion: Bellator’s Mike Chandler On His Quick Rise to the Top

As the year comes to a close, many MMA websites will look back on the year with topics such as “Fight of the Year,” “Upset of the Year,” and “Fighter of the Year.” When it comes to a fighter that can include his name in each of those discussions, look no further than Mike Chandler, who recently won the Bellator lightweight championship.

Chandler took on champion Eddie Alvarez, who has long been considered a top five lightweight in the world, regardless of organization. On November 19th, Chandler shocked the world by defeating Alvarez. Perhaps most surprisingly, Chandler defeated Alvarez at his own game. From the beginning, Chandler was repeatedly connecting with his strikes against the strong boxer. Chandler nearly finished the fight in the first round, dropping Alvarez within the first fifteen seconds of the fight.

But Alvarez had been in that situation before, and Chandler knew that. He trained for Alvarez to recover and fight back strongly.

“We knew Eddie could be dropped,” said Chandler. “But he has always fought back after getting dropped, so I knew I had to stay calm.”

“The fight is still twenty five minutes, so I had to keep my composure and not go for the finish too quickly.”

Chandler credited his trainers for helping him stay calm, which he needed, especially after Alvarez had a strong third round.

But in the fourth round, Chandler came out much like he had in the first round, standing and trading with Alvarez. Halfway through the round, Chandler threw a looping right hook, stunning Alvarez, and it was not soon after where Chandler was able to finish him off with a rear naked choke.

With nearly twenty minutes of exhausting work put in during the title fight, Chandler says that is nothing compared to how hard he trains.

Chandler credits all of that hard work to his head trainer, Gil Martinez, stating “Gil is the only one who works as hard as me before a fight.”

He added “I am always moving forward, no matter what. And there is no way that anyone who steps into the cage with me has worked as hard as me.”

That devotion goes back even further than Gil Martinez and the training staff at Xtreme Couture. Chandler walked on to Missouri University Wrestling team. It was there where he learned just how hard he had to work to get where he wanted to be.

“I wasn’t highly recruited coming out of high school,” said Chandler. “I had scholarship offers from Division-2 colleges, but I wanted to wrestle at a top wrestling school.”

“It was there I learned I had to work harder than everyone else. I had to prove myself.”

One person there that he had to work with was Ben Askren, current Bellator welterweight champion. Askren, along with fellow Missouri wrestling product, Tyron Woodley, advised Chandler to work his way into mixed martial arts. Coincidentally, all three are undefeated, with a combined 27-0 record between them.

From the beginning, Chandler was able to make a smooth transition to MMA, finishing his first six opponents, as not only his competition improved, but he did as well. But even after defeating Patricky “Pitbull” Freire, his impressive start was expected to come to a close against the champion in Alvarez. But for all of those that were stunned after defeating Alvarez, Chandler does not blame them.

“You can’t expect people to think I am going to defeat Eddie,” said Chandler. “Eddie is a great fighter, so I didn’t take it personally.”

And now, as the year comes to an end, Chandler is certainly enjoying the holidays this year.

“It is obviously amazing to win the belt,” Chandler said. “But if I didn’t have my family and friends to enjoy it with, it wouldn’t mean a thing. I look forward to continue fighting for them, while enjoying the time off”

“But make no mistake, I am already looking forwarding to getting better.”

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