On Saturday Michael Chandler hits the milestone 20-fight mark for his MMA career, and it comes on the biggest stage yet.
Performing in a historic venue such as New York City’s Madison Square Garden can carry different meanings for different fighters. For some, it may just be another stage. But for Chandler (16-3 MMA, 13-3 BMMA), who defends Bellator’s lightweight belt against Brent Primus (7-0 MMA, 5-0 BMMA) in a pay-per-view main card affair, the accomplishment is nothing short of amazing.
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“I was there promoting the fight a couple of months ago, and you walk into that place – the air is different, the lights are different, the scenery is different,” Chandler told MMAjunkie Radio on Monday. “The energy is just different. It’s crazy to sit here and think that just six days from now I’ll be fighting in that arena. You try not to think about it too much, because you’ve got a big task ahead of you, and you don’t want to focus on the arena.
“You don’t want to focus on the pressure of the situation, you just want to focus on the task at hand. But as soon as I get my hand raised and knock Brent Primus out, that weight will be lifted and I’ll finally be able to take a deep breath and look back. And someday, I’ll be able to tell my kids that dad fought at Madison Square Garden.”
Chandler looks to spoil Primus’ undefeated record in what will be his second title defense since reclaiming the 155-pound crown with the Bellator 157 highlight-reel knockout of Patricky Freire. The champ rides a four-fight streak, capped off by a decision over former UFC titleholder Benson Henderson last November.
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After so many years of a mostly winning formula, Chandler says there were no major changes in the camp ahead of Primus. The key, he says, has always been putting 90 percent of the focus on himself, with the remaining 10 percent going into fighter-specific preparation.
And the focus on his own rehab, sleep and nutrition has certainly paid off. Chandler can’t overstate how glad he is to walk into a fight entirely healthy.
“It gives me chills thinking about where I am now,” Chandler said. “And how confident I am in my abilities. When I look in the mirror, I truly see the best fighter I’ve ever been.”
What has changed as of late, however, is Chandler’s approach to the fights in themselves. After years of getting by with a somewhat carelessly aggressive approach, with fight-finishing power put into every blow, he now sees himself more capable of gauging his opponent’s reactions in order to place proper strikes.
While Chandler did have success with his overly reckless style on numerous occasions, such as the Bellator 58 scrap with Eddie Alvarez that first gave him Bellator’s lightweight title, Chandler points to the beautifully timed punch that dispatched Freire as the example of the benefits of taking his foot off the gas.
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“I used to just be like, ‘Here goes nothing, let’s go hard and let’s put on a show,’” Chandler said. “Now it’s just cool to finally see myself – it only took me 16, 17, 18 fights in this sport and a couple of dozen sets of stitches to realize that you can still be exciting and dominant, and still let the fight materialize. I definitely started to step things more now and knowing that little pop shots here and there are going to pay dividends later on in the fight.
“In these last couple of fights, being able to be veteran enough to not rush in and not go 1000 miles an hour, I still might be going at 999 miles an hour and faster than a lot of people, but I’m not going at that pace. I still keep that high pace, but it’s a calculated pace. There’s more of a veteran riding the ship the whole fight, throwing almost little traps out there. Almost experimental punches, if you will.”
The big stage, the pay-per-view appearance and the 20th fight in a highly successful career are certainly enough reason for Chandler to celebrate. But he wants more out of Saturday’s mega-event.
“I’m excited to go out there and show how hard I’ve been working and how big of a calling I truly have in my life,” Chandler said.” It’s good, man. I’m going to go out there and dominate. I’m going to put on a great performance. I will steal the show, as I always do every single time I step into that Bellator cage.”
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