Michael Chandler is wisely using his training time at Las Vegas-based Xtreme Couture to become the most well rounded fighter he can be. But Chandler, a former captain at the University of Missouri, is a wrestler, and he’s not going to shy away from that fact.
“I think the main thing is obviously the work ethic (of a wrestler),” Chandler told MMADiehards. “If you throw a wrestler in an MMA gym for a couple months and throw a guy from another martial art in there for the same time the wrestler will outwork any other sports guy, professional or amateur, every time, in my opinion.”
That’s the attitude Chandler has taken with him in his quest to become an elite competitor in the mixed martial arts world. The newly inked Bellator lightweight is 5-0 with each win coming via stoppage, and all but one ending in the first round. After a pair of wins in Strikeforce, Chandler was signed by Bellator in September and is already 2-0 in his new promotion. Currently, he’s preparing for the Bellator Season 4 Lightweight Tournament, which will get underway in February.
Chandler’s progression from college wrestler to fast-rising prospect began at the University of Missouri where he captained the Tigers during his junior and senior seasons. Fellow Tigers wrestlers Tyron Woodley, an undefeated Strikeforce welterweight, and Ben Askren, the current Bellator welterweight champion, sparked Chandler’s interest in becoming a fighter. Suddenly, he was following the same path they had laid out.
“I wasn’t even a big fan of the sport until Tyron started fighting, and then, working with him, I started liking the sport more and realized that, for whatever reason, it was kind of the same training as wrestling,” Chandler said. “It’s hard-nosed and it’s fun training, and it can be a lucrative profession, as well. I accomplished all I could in wrestling, and as I continued to train with (Woodley and Askren) and see the success they were having it made me really interested. I was fighting a couple months after nationals my senior year.”
Through his training with Woodley, Chandler become more involved in the scene and ended up hooking up with MMA veteran and current UFC lightweight Yves Edwards. Chandler helped Edwards with his wrestling in exchange for some striking training. Once Chandler made the decision to devote all of his time to MMA training, he went out to Las Vegas and then to the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose. Eventually, Chandler made his way back to Las Vegas where he now calls Xtreme Couture his home.
“I coached at Missouri, but I got to a point where if I was going to do this I had to do all in,” Chandler explained. “I couldn’t be a wrestling coach who fought on the side. I realized I had to be some place other than Columbia, Missouri, where the training isn’t as consistent. When I finally made the move to commit to fighting full time it was going to be one of those two places (Vegas or AKA) and Vegas was the perfect fit for me.”
At Xtreme Couture, Chandler gets to work with a bevy of big-name fighters such as Evan Dunham, Jay Hieron, Tyson Griffin, Martin Kampmann, Vitor Belfort and Gray Maynard. It was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up, and Las Vegas just felt like the right place to be while attempting to kick-start an MMA career.
“The fighters in that gym speak for themselves,” he said. “The guys love to work hard and be in the gym. I came out there for a week when Gray was training for the (Kenny) Florian fight. I worked out a couple times and felt this is where my heart is and I haven’t looked back since.”
Like many wrestling fans and analysts, Chandler believes the skills acquired as a wrestler translate very well to mixed martial arts. From areas like work ethic, footwork and endurance, the two sports are very similar. The intensity of the training was also a draw.
“Even when you’re a wrestler, you’re a fighter at heart,” Chandler said. “You’re out there to dominate.”
Unfortunately, being a wrestler means you can get caught up in the stereotype of being a boring fighter. Criticism has come from all angles on the “lay and pray” fighters, who hope to win on points while taking few risks. Chandler is out to debunk that myth. There are certainly fighters out there who justify the sweeping claim, but Chandler promises not to be one of them.
“I welcome the challenge with open arms,” Chandler said. “My goal is to be in that cage as little as possible. I know I’ll have some tough fights that will go the distance, but I’m always going to be out there trying to finish fights. The main thing is to go out there and try to break people, just like in wrestling. The stereotype will stick because there are some guys that do that, but I don’t ever intend for that to happen to me.”
“Critics will have that perception of wrestlers, but I’m going to break the mold.”
With a professional resume that spans just five fights starting in August 2009, Chandler has been hailed as a fighter with great potential. He’ll put his skills to the test in the Bellator Season 4 Lightweight Tournament with the hopes of earning a title shot against current champ Eddie Alvarez. Echoing statements from several Bellator competitors, Chandler was drawn to the promotion in part because of the tournament format.
“First and foremost, I love how it’s set up,” Chandler said. “I can get a bunch of fights quick and really make an impact in the MMA world.”
He’s only 24 years old and is still building his credentials, but Chandler is a fighter we could be hearing a lot about in the years to come. He has a great base from his years as a high-level wrestler, a fantastic set of training partners that offer plenty of knowledge and experience, and confidence to match. His next set of fights in the tournament could very well be his coming-out party.
“I’m to the point where I may be young and new to the sport, but I can’t see myself losing with the training and preparation I’ve had with the 12 years of wrestling leading up to my MMA career,” Chandler said. “Nobody will be able to match my pace. There might be guys with more experience and better technique, but with my competitive edge and knowing how to win, I don’t think anyone in the tournament can match up.”