Michael Chandler, MMA fighter

12 to watch in 2012

Michael Chandler has worked his way from All-American wrestler to Bellator lightweight champion.
Photo: Eric Coleman
Case Keefer

Michael Chandler overflowed with emotions—ranging from joy to graciousness—after he won the Bellator lightweight title last November. Perhaps more telling, however, was one feeling the 25-year-old never conveyed: surprise, at having overcome long odds to defeat Eddie Alvarez in Hollywood, Florida.

Chandler, who lives in Las Vegas and trains at Xtreme Couture, began his mixed martial arts career two years ago after an all-American wrestling career at the University of Missouri. He had one goal in mind—to become the best fighter in the world. If he continues his rapid progression, 2012 could be the year he joins that conversation.

Chandler has won all nine of his MMA fights, finishing five opponents within the first round and overwhelming Alvarez, whom most pundits considered one of the world’s top five 155-pounders. Since relocating to Las Vegas, Chandler has developed the all-around game to match his world-class wrestling skills. Xtreme Couture striking coach Gil Martinez has helped Chandler bring his boxing to a high level. That much was evident in the way Chandler dropped Alvarez, an eight-year MMA veteran with a 22-3 record, with a right hand in the first round of their bout. During the same fight, Chandler showcased a vast evolution in his Brazilian jiu-jitsu, for which he trains with grappling coach Neil Melanson.

Chandler is expected to fight three or four times in 2012.

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