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Missing out on Will Brooks title rematch doesn't matter to Michael Chandler

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The rivalry between Michael Chandler and Will Brooks has been bubbling for two years now, ever since Brooks defeated Chandler to win the interim Bellator lightweight title in May 2014.

Chandler also lost the rematch for the vacant undisputed title, but always knew he would battle his way back to a title shot against Brooks and a chance to prove he was the best 155-pound fighter in the world.

He was half right. Chandler will fight for the Bellator lightweight title Friday at Dynamite 2 in St. Louis. It just won't be against Brooks, who signed with the UFC last week and left the title vacant. Chandler will instead face Patricky Freire in the co-main event of the night.

"To me, it doesn't matter," Chandler told MMA Fighting. "I'm not competing against Patricky 'Pitbull' on June 24. I'm competing against myself, my previous self, my previous performance, my previous sparring rounds, my previous preparation. That's what I'm competing against. June 24, I'll be the lightweight champion and I don't care what you or anybody else thinks about it."

Chandler (14-3) has been a building block for Bellator for six years now. He's one of the most-tenure fighters on the roster and a face of the promotion. Chandler won the belt from Eddie Alvarez in 2011 in a Fight of the Year contender and lost it to Alvarez in another epic war in 2013. That highly anticipated trilogy fight never materialized, because, like Brooks, Alvarez departed for the UFC.

So, Chandler is the only one of that previous lightweight triumvirate left. He signed a long-term extension with Bellator and has dug his boots in. He can control that -- he can't control anyone else.

"You could say maybe immediately it doesn't mean as much," Chandler said. "But shoot man, these rosters change so much. Rory MacDonald is top three in the world, just fought for the world title. He's gonna test free agency and maybe he's gonna come over to Bellator and maybe he doesn't. These rosters change so much, the industry changes so much."

Chandler, 30, was won two in a row, finishing both Derek Campos and David Rickels. But he's still tinkering. He has left Alliance MMA in San Diego, gone to Power MMA in Arizona and is now with the Blackzilians in Boca Raton, Fla. The biggest reason for that is the presence of grappling coach Neil Melanson, who has worked with Chandler at both Xtreme Couture and Alliance.

"I think you have to go with what works and what's comfortable," Chandler said. "And for me, that's Neil Melanson. If he moves to Alaska tomorrow, most likely I'll move my training camp to Alaska. That's just the faith I have in him."

The transition across the country has been difficult. Chandler still technically lives with his wife Brie in San Diego, but has spent the last 16 weeks in Florida on the other coast.

So maybe it's no surprise he isn't thinking about Brooks right now. For Chandler, it's about going in, beating Freire and proving once again that he's one of the world's best lightweights. He leaves all the outside stuff to the media and fans.

"There's really nothing you can do about it besides ride the wave," Chandler said. "I got the opportunity, I got the call and hopefully I'm gonna answer that call with a dominant victory."