In comparing his Brazilian foe to a roommate who eventually got on his nerves, Chandler pointed to his two victories over Freire’s older brother, Patricky, as the genesis of the heat. However, while Chandler claimed the perceived rivalry was “mainly” held on the side of Freire’s camp, he is more than happy to settle their differences when they battle for his 155-pound title at Bellator 221 on Saturday.
“I try to stay pretty even-keeled,” Chandler told Luke Thomas during a recent appearance on The MMA Hour. “He’s never been quite friendly. He’s always known that I — well, first of all, I beat his brother within the first two years or year I was in Bellator. So, he had that against me. Then I beat him again a couple of years later. So he’s always had that animosity against me. Now, after some of the things that he’s said, I’m ready to go shut him up.”
Chandler is, of course, referring to Freire’s recent barrage of verbal venom through the media, in which Freire lobbed numerous accusations of Chandler being a cheater.
“His legacy is doping. That’s his legacy,” Freire told MMA Fighting. “He’s done this all by doping. He knows it. He knows he just needs to be random tested and you’ll see. That’s it. That’s why he didn’t join the UFC, because he’s avoiding USADA.”
But while these words may cut some fighters deep, Chandler could only shake his head and question the source of the criticism.
“There’s absolutely no validity whatsoever,” Chandler said. “I’ve never touched a performance-enhancing drug. The good thing is, I can sit back and see the accusations and see the things people say. Any sane person would say that’s a feather in my cap: ‘You obviously look so good or you’re such a conditioned athlete that people accuse you of those kinds of things.’ For him to say that, I don’t really understand where his basis is. All he’s ever said is ‘I think he’s using them’ or ‘He is using them.’”
Freire’s team at Fight Ready MMA isn’t exactly a stranger to stepping into the cage against a fighter surrounded by rumors of PED use. In January, fans saw Freire’s training partner, UFC flyweight champion Henry Cejudo, run through former bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw at UFC Brooklyn in January. Not soon after, news broke that Dillashaw had tested positive for the banded substance EPO. As a result, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency handed Dillashaw a two-year suspension.
With this in mind, “Pitbull” leapt at the chance to draw the connection between the former UFC champion’s trainer and Chandler. But again, Chandler could only laugh off his perceived association association with Dillashaw, revealing he’d barely spent any time on the mats with the suspended fighter.
“The funny thing is, as soon as I started training with Coach [Sam] Calavitta and T.J. Dillashaw, he brought that up,” Chandler said. “I’ve only spent one workout with T.J. Dillashaw. It’s not like he’s my boy. So it’s just unfortunate timing with that.”
But what can he do to kill the accusations of him dipping into prohibited substances?
According to Chandler, outside of Bellator partnering with USADA like the UFC has, there’s not much that can be done.
“Whether Bellator likes to admit it or not, they don’t have USADA” Chandler said. “That’s the hard part about it all. I can’t sit here and say I have USADA knocking on my door every other day like some of these guys. I see USADA at the gym and get a little bit jealous because I wish they were testing me.”
While Chandler claims accusations like Freire’s have never weighed heavy on his mind, he understands the role “fake news” plays in the minds of fans, especially in 2019.
Pointing specifically to the number of headlines Freire’s past comments have generated, combined with Bellator’s lack of partnership with any specific drug test agency, the Tennessee native has become accustomed to the criticism that surrounds his decision to stay with Bellator rather than jump to the UFC.
It’s a difficult burden to carry for one of Bellator’s longest tenured fighters.
“At the end of the day, it’s the media’s job to take what athlete say or what certain talent says and put it into print or put into the internet,” Chandler said. “That’s their job. Could they pick and chose their headlines differently? Of course, because clickbait is a real thing. It’s unfortunate because I have so much confidence in myself that I am 100 percent and I know I am 100 percent clean that I wish I was in an organization [that did more drug testing]. Now don’t use that headline, ‘Michael Chandler wishes he was in the UFC.’ I wish I didn’t have the dark cloud behind me of ‘Yeah, you’re in Bellator’ or ‘Yeah, you’re in ONE FC’ or ‘Yeah, you’re in RIZIN’ or these organizations that aren’t [under] USADA.
“As soon as the UFC came in — and hats off to them, let’s clean up the sport — but as soon as the UFC adopted their anti-doping policy and USADA, that’s when I started to see much more [criticism]. It’s not ‘Hey, Chandler likes Bellator’ or ‘Chandler is getting paid the most money in Bellator’ or ‘Chandler sees the best road to taking care of his family and setting himself up the future in Bellator.’ Instead it’s: ‘Chandler stays in Bellator because they don’t have drug testing like the UFC.’ It’s silly stuff like that, unfortunately, that puts a huge blemish on how much I love this sport or how much I love the fan base.”
Partaking in any sort of online argument with his critics has never been one of Chandler’s priorities. Choosing to essentially ignore everyone who doesn’t bring a “positive” mindset has become the norm for the former University of Missouri wrestling standout.
But even this optimistic approach to life has its limits.
“I never respond to people unless it’s in a positive light,” Chandler said. “If someone says something positive then I will respond. But I woke up one day to 25 mentions on Instagram one day and I saw this guy going back-and-forth with this lady and he literally said the words — she was refuting I had ever used, blah, blah, blah, and he said ‘Yeah, but he has failed drug tests in the past.’ I said ‘Hey man, I never usually respond to armchair quarterbacks like you, especially in a negative light, but you cannot literally throw out fake news into the internet.’
“It’s unfortunate that in 2019 we can say whatever we want, whether it’s fact, fiction, or fake, and it stays on the internet. [The accusations] have not had a negative affect on my career whatsoever. I couldn’t care less abut what people say and what people think. Unfortunately, we have a sport that’s not 100 percent clean. Even in the UFC, with the anti-doping policy, we’re having guys get busted left and right. So people are using and people will continue to use as long as human existence is the human existence, unfortunately.”
Chandler and Freire will finally lock horns this Saturday inside the Bellator cage at Bellator 221 in Rosemont, Illi.
While Freire has made it clear he is more interested in “Chandler’s head” rather than the lightweight crown, Chandler just wants to showcase his hard work, prove his critics wrong, and cement himself in the Bellator record books.
“I look at it two different ways,” Chandler said. “Number one, [Freire’s] already making excuses as to why and when he loses and why and when his brother lost. Secondly, to me it’s a sad view of the human potential that you can’t look at somebody, see the way that they train and give them the benefit of the doubt that they do things right, they eat right, they train right and they train just harder than everyone else. I’ve now been in an 11-week training camp. I have one week left and I can honestly tell you that I have not enjoyed one of my meals in 11 weeks.
“I can honestly say that what I have put my body through in training, and the lifestyle choice that I’ve made over the last 11 weeks, is something that the very top one percent of people do. I am willing to make to make those sacrifices because I am willing to be the best.”