Michael Chandler (right) hopes his extensive collegiate experience can compensate for a thin professional resume. (Tim Vizer/Icon SMI)
Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez (22-2) is known as one of the best mixed martial artists in any weight class that isn’t currently fighting in the UFC. Michael Chandler (8-0) is just known as the opponent Alvarez is fighting to retain his belt Saturday at Bellator 58 (9 p.m. ET, MTV2).
That could change soon. The undefeated Chandler burst onto the MMA scene by winning the Bellator Season 4 Lightweight Tournament. He’s now one of three former Missouri wrestlers with a perfect record in MMA. (Bellator welterweight champ Ben Askren and Strikeforce welterweight Tyron Woodley are both 9-0). Winning the Bellator title Saturday would make Chandler the third Missouri wrestler to start his MMA career with nine straight wins.
“We’ve all got a streak going and we all want to continue that,” said Chandler, who still keeps in touch with his former teammates as if they were older brothers. “Missouri’s always been a blue-collar school. It’s always been about hard work.”
Lots of wrestlers have successfully transitioned to MMA, including four from Arizona State, but Chandler says he owes his success to Mizzou’s work ethic as much as his wrestling background. The former All-American wrestler could have taken a scholarship offer to a smaller school, but instead chose to walk-on to Missouri’s program. Askren and Woodley -- who were both team captains during Chandler’s freshman year -- were immediately impressed by Chandler.
“I took him under my wing,” said Askren, a two-time NCAA champion who was impressed by the walk-on's work ethic.
Chandler became a four-time NCAA qualifier at 157 pounds -- don’t get Askren started about a bad call in the quarterfinals that may have coast Chandler a national championship -- and now few doubt his wrestling pedigree. The 25-year-old from High Ridge, Mo. (pop. 4,598), who wasn’t supposed to make it at Missouri, is now one of Bellator’s top young prospects.
Although Alvarez is only two years older, he has 16 more professional fights. Still, Chandler isn’t worried. When you talk to him about the pressure of competing for a title so early in his career, he talks about wrestling at NCAAs four times. When you talk to him about his lack of experience, he talks to you about how much he’s already overcome to become only the 16th wrestler in Missouri history to record 100 collegiate wins.
“Expect to see somebody who doesn’t care that he’s fighting Eddie Alvarez,” Chandler said. “You’ve got to have faith not fear.”
Faith is something Chandler is full of. He has “Blessed” tattooed to his left pectoral muscle because he believes he has the God-given athleticism and work ethic to be the best lightweight in the world. His goals outside of the octagon are just as ambitious.
“I don’t want to just be a great fighter, but also a great man,” Chandler said.
-- Stephen Boyle