LOS ANGELES -- Michael Chandler is no wet-behind-the-ears newbie. The Bellator lightweight champion has been around the mixed martial arts game long enough to know, by now, that promoters can have a tendency to promise the moon and deliver something less.
But after a weekend in which Chandler and fellow Bellator stars "King" Mo Lawal and Pat Curran made the Hollywood rounds, including red-carpet treatment at the MTV Movie Awards, Chandler is the starting to think maybe company CEO Bjorn Rebney's vision is going to pay off after all.
"One of the biggest things in fighting and in life is that you want to be a man of your word and a person that, whenever you speak, other people believe it," Chandler said. "Bellator has delivered what they've promised to us."
The year 2012 is one that finds the company in something a holding pattern as it prepares for a shift to Spike TV next year. But with the wheels in motion for Bellator to move from one Viacom property not known for sports programming, MTV2, to another, Spike, which has a proven track record of going all-out with mixed martial arts, Chandler is starting to get an inkling that times are changing. His experience at the awards show underscored the feeling.
"We were sitting third or fourth row at the movie awards, close enough to spit on Russell Brand," he said. "We had better seats than the Workaholics guys, the Teen Wolf cast, we had better seats than a lot of these people. Not that its the biggest deal, but it just kind of solidifies and brings to life how huge Viacom is, how huge Spike is and how big its going to be when we go on there."
Of course, the glitz and glamour aren't what brought Chandler into the business. The reason the 26-year old native of High Ridge, Missouri found himself on the red carpet was because he's earned it with his work in the cage as one of MMA's brightest up-and-coming lightweight talents.
Chandler's base is wrestling, the sport in which he competed for the University of Missouri, but he quickly proved himself capable of the MMA transition, winning his first six fights via TKO or submission. Then he really caught the MMA world's attention in 2011.
Dropping from welterweight to lightweight, Chandler won Bellator's lightweight tournament, then defeated Eddie Alvarez for the title on Nov. 19 in a fight considered one of the year's best. With success has come recognition, including snagging the No. 9 spot in the latest MMAFighting.com lightweight rankings.
"For me, that's awesome. Being considered top 10 in the world is an amazing thing. My goal is to be No. 1. God put me in this sport for a reason. But I'm trying not to focus on the rankings too much, just beat the next tournament winner and next tournament winner and next tournament winner after that."
Since defeating Alvarez, Chandler went on to defeat veteran Akihiro Gono via first-round knockout in less than a minute on May 4. The veteran Gono announced his retirement immediately after the bout, but Chandler still views the win as an important learning experience.
"The thing about Gono, he was a little bit older and toward the end of his career, but he's still dangerous," Chandler said. "The fact that I was fighting a guy who went to a draw with Chael Sonnen, beat Hector Lombard, fought Dan Henderson, Mauricio ‘Shogun' Rua, those guys, you know he's dangerous. You know he's got 40-something fights on me, I've only get 10 fights, he's got 50-something. The fact we were able to go out and get a dominant win shows that I'm working hard and shows my explosiveness in the cage and how serious I'm taking this."
Chandler will defend his title against the most recent tourney winner, Rick Hawn, at a date and place to be determined. As he waits, he'll still get to compete, sort of. Chandler's among the eight featured fighters in the "Bellator: Onslaught" video game, scheduled for a summer release.
"It's cool, [Chandler's character] looks like me, same tattoos and everything. If it was up to me my character would have all 100s in his categories, but hopefully I have some cool attributes and people want to play with him. Hopefully he's got the most heart or the most stamina in the game and people recognize that's what I try to be. I want to be the guy who always gives exciting fights. Hopefully my character's someone the people want to play."