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Chris Oth | Knuckle Junkies

Road to Bellator 145: Michael Chandler

By Brett Auten | Knuckle Junkies

Michael Chandler is back on track and back on familiar ground.

The High Ridge native returns to the Scottrade Center on Nov. 6 at Bellator 145: Vengeance.

Chandler's career in mixed martial arts soared from the beginning. He never competed as an amateur and won 12 straight as a pro and along the way claimed the Bellator lightweight championship in 2011. He lost his title in a split decision to Eddie Alvarez in November 2013. He dropped another split decision to current champion Will Brooks in May 2014 and then suffered his first knockout in a rematch with Brooks six months later. Chandler (13-3) snapped the three-fight skid this June, fighting in St. Louis for the first time in nearly four years, with a first-round submission win against Derek Campos.

Now Chandler finds himself back on Show-Me State soil, fighting in less than six months on home turf.

"It's even better now," Chandler said. "I'm back on the winning track. Last time I was trying to juggle the emotions of how excited I was to be back in St. Louis. But also the little bit of extra pressure that was on that three-fight losing streak. There was a lot of expectations in that I didn't want to let all of these people down who believe in me."

Chandler was dialed in for Campos, insomuch that he couldn't fully drink in the wave of love he received on that June night. Kicking off the main card. Chandler's walkout was one of the most talked about on the night. With Bellator's massive HD video screens behind him, Chandler walked underneath a model of the Arch to the cage to the largest ovation of the night. Behind him, images of the St. Louis skyline, massive flames of iron forging in a fire, and the Missouri flag danced about.

"I'm in tunnel vision mode. I have a task in front of me," Chandler said. "I can't really soak in how awesome the walkout is or how awesome the music was with the symbolism and the soft, sweet voice of 'I'm coming home,' and then right into a hard, 300-piece orchestra. People were going crazy and some even said they got goosebumps and got teary-eyed and got butterflies. It wasn't just about fighting that night. It was about a guy fighting in front of a lot of people who care about him and care about his success."

Rickels is one the more popular fighters in Bellator known not only for his elaborate, theatrical walkouts but also his ability to never quit in a fight.

"It's still a big challenge," Chandler said. "It's still another man, my size, who trains every single day. I'm training like he's the best Dave Rickels there has ever been. Let's be honest. If you don't knock Dave Rickels out, if you don't choke him out, if you don't break one of his limbs and make the ref stop it, the fight is not going to stop. He's not going to stop. He comes forward, he comes hard, he has a great gas tank, that's what I'm excited about. I get to fight someone who is a game opponent."

Also on Bellator: Vengance main card is Chandler's former belt, the lightweight championship between Brooks and Marcin Held (who Chandler submitted in 2011).

"You have a one-trick pony, in a sense, with Marcin Held," Chandler said. "He has slick leg locks but if you stay out of his leg locks he doesn't oppose much threat. Then you got the other guy, who isn't real flashy, he doesn't fight very hard, he doesn't really take many risks who just coasts a lot of the time and hats off to him, he wins a lot. I see Will Brooks coming out with a decision on that."

Chandler was born and raised in High Ridge, the second of four children. He finished second at the Missouri State High School Championships his senior year in wrestling. After leaving Northwest High School in 2004, Chandler enrolled at the University of Missouri, walking onto the school's wrestling squad. While there, Chandler was a four-time NCAA qualifier, collected 100 career wins, a fifth place finish at NCAA's and All-American honors.

Chandler is often associated with his former Missouri wrestling teammates Ben Askren and Tyron Woodley. The power trio were all All-Americans at Mizzou together and followed each other into mixed martial arts.

Each has been ambitious and has carved out their own path to success in the cutthroat game of professional MMA. Askren was a former Bellator world champion and is the current One FC champion who is enjoying both competitive and financial success fighting in Asia. Askren has also launched a string of wrestling academies in his home state of Wisconsin. Woodley has not only earned himself the No. 1 contender position in the UFC's welterweight division, and is himself a gym owner, but has earned bit acting roles in movies like Straight Outta of Compton and Olympus Has Fallen. Chandler has an eye for real estate, is embracing his gift for gab and ability to motivate and picking up speaking engagements as well as partnering with former Tiger, Marcus Hoehn, at Thoroughbred Wrestling Acamdey in Maryland Heights.

"It's about balancing it and realizing that so many people put all their eggs in one basket," Chandler said. "Me? If fighting got taken away from me tomorrow I know I am going to be successful in the business world, be successful in the real estate world, be successful as a husband and as a father to my future children because of what wrestling and the hard work of wrestling and now MMA, what its turned me into.

When the roar of the crowd stops and the house lights dim for the last time, Chandler has already established real estate as his next adventure.

"I've always wanted my money to work for me," he said. "I don't want to have to work for money, I want my money to have to work for me. I have real estate in California, real estate in Las Vegas. I will probably look to get some real estate here."

Chandler is nearing his 20th pro fight. When it comes to the hot-button topic of sparring and more specifically, how much sparring is needed, he, along with a lot of other veterans, has had to change his course.

"Your body can only take so much and more importantly your brain can only take so much and how do you minimize that? Don't spar so much," Chandler said. "You hear a lot of guys talking about it and I've tried to take a step back and not go too crazy with it even on the days when there are guys trying to go crazy. You get into this sport and it's a sprint, sparring two or three times week and taking all kinds of damage. You have to be OK with not going crazy and realizing that it's a marathon, not a sprint.

"There's times to go hard," Chandler continued. "There's times to get that man-to-mano, hard sparring. But, more often than not, it's about learning. Learning how to fight, learning the distance, drilling, and having fun with it. There has been times when I've been about to spar and I'm so nervous and I'm literally about to pee my pants and I would be like, man, I don't want to do this. This is going to be so hard. This guy is going to try and knock me out. He's not only going to try and hit me, he's going to try and kick me or pick me up and slam me."

With six years and 16 fights on his engine, Chandler has been the perennial No. 1 contender in the organization's lightweight division. As far as his future, Chandler recently switched camps from Alliance MMA in San Diego to Power MMA in Gilbert, Arizona and has called for a fight with Josh Thomson, a recent Bellator roster addition, in the future.

Top billing at the November 6 event features two world title bouts when Patricio "Pitbull" Freire (24-2) defends his strap against Daniel Straus (23-6) and Brooks (16-1) vs. Held (21-3) with the 155-pound belt on the line.

Tickets for Bellator 145: Vengeance, which start at just $30, are on sale now on Ticketmaster.com and at the Ford Box Office at Scottrade Center. Doors for the event open at 5:00 p.m. CT local time, and the first contest takes place shortly after.

Bellator 145: Vengeance airs live on Spike at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT, while preliminary bouts will stream on Spike.com at 7 p.m. ET.

Full card: (Subject to change)

Featherweight Title:
Patricio Freire (24-2) vs Daniel Straus (23-6)

Lightweight Title:
Will Brooks (16-1) vs Marcin Held (21-3)

Emmanuel Sanchez (11-2) vs Justin Lawrence (7-2)
Michael Chandler (13-3) vs David Rickels (16-3, 1 NC)
Bobby Lashley (13-2) vs James Thompson (20-14, 1 NC)

Prelims
Alex Huddleston (6-1) vs Augusto Sakai (8-0)
Garrett Mueller (2-0) vs Scott Ettling (3-0)
Kain Royer (1-2) vs Clay Mitchell (1-0)
Adam Cella (6-4) vs Chel Erwin-Davis (2-1)
Steve Mann (11-2) vs Hugh Pulley (5-2)
Garrett Gross (6-4) vs Luke Nelson (2-1)
Adam Meredith (4-1) vs Jordan Dowdy (2-0)
Brandon Lowe (0-0) vs Rashad Lovelace (1-0)

Bellator 145: Vengeance
Friday, November 6th
Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO

Photo courtesy of Jimmy Range Photography

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