Michael Chandler went from top prospect to red-hot, up-and-coming fighter to perhaps one of the best five or so lightweights in the world. It all happened very quickly, too, culminating with a classic, fourth-round submission win over Eddie Alvarez in 2011 that won him the Bellator lightweight title.
Chandler started off his career 12-0 and, at one point, might have been the best fighter in the world not in the UFC. Since then, though, he's lost three straight and has not won in nearly two years.
The wins have not been there, but Chandler's confidence has stuck around.
"At the end of the day, I'm a great competitor," Chandler said. "I'm a great fighter. I still feel like I'm the best lightweight in the world. I just have to go out there and perform. And if I do that, there's nobody in the lightweight division, in my opinion, that can beat me."
He'll set out to prove all that against Derek Campos at Bellator 138 on Friday night in St. Louis. Chandler might have three losses in a row, but two were controversial split decisions and the other was a bizarre TKO against Will Brooks last November.
Chandler (12-3) dropped the Bellator title to Alvarez in November 2013 in a very tight split decision. Most media members had Chandler winning the fight 48-47, according to MMADecisions.com. In his first fight with Brooks, in May 2014, Chandler lost again by split decision and almost all media members had it for Chandler or a draw.
But Chandler doesn't blame the judges -- or anyone else -- for past results. He blames himself. The Alliance MMA product believes he got away from his bread and butter: wrestling. Chandler was an All-American at the University of Missouri and came up the MMA ranks with dominant wrestling.
Lately, he has become more of a standup fighter and Chandler plans to change that. For the first time in a long time, Chandler has hired a wrestling coach, working with Darryl Christian at Studio 540 in Solana Beach, Calif.
"It doesn't matter if you're the best boxer in the entire world," Chandler said. "It doesn't matter if you're Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao. If one of them comes into MMA and only works on the ground game, he's gonna lose that boxing. I was a wrestler who came into it and I didn't focus as much on my wrestling, because I already had it where I needed to be. I've continued to improve my wrestling, which is really my strength. There's nobody in this division that should be able to wrestle with me. There's nobody in this division that should be able to get off the cage if I want to put him on the cage. There's nobody in this division that should be able to stop my takedowns."
Chandler, 29, has also gone back to his former striking coach Gil Martinez, who he used to work with at Xtreme Couture. Chandler did part of his camp with Martinez in Las Vegas and Martinez will be in his corner Friday night.
"I'm still with Alliance, but I'm not gonna be like put in a box where I have to train with certain coaches," Chandler said. "I want to be able to look back when I'm 35, 36, 37 years old -- whatever -- when I retire I want to look back and say I gave myself the best situation possible to win."
Campos (15-4) is a tough, aggressive fighter in the prime of his career. But by all accounts, Chandler should beat him and put himself on track for a shot at his old title. Campos has won six of his last seven fights, but has losses to Patricky Freire and Rich Clementi in Bellator. Chandler is a -550 favorite.
Not that Chandler is overlooking Campos. Hardly. If he were, he wouldn't have made these changes in his preparation. He's very serious about not only making another title run but solidifying his place among the best lightweights in the world.
"If I'm not putting myself in the best situation possible to win fights and become a huge name in this sport, become a champion in this sport, I'm selling myself short in that aspect as far as leaving a legacy and inspiring and motivating people," Chandler said. "That's what's been on my heart and it's time to right the ship."