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Michael Chandler embracing the pressure of looming free agency but treating Bellator 243 as ‘just another fight’

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Michael Chandler is well aware that the majority of questions he’s going to receive leading up to Bellator 243 will be about his looming free agency.

Over the past few months, he has spoken openly about his contract with the Viacom-owned promotion coming to an end following his upcoming rematch against Benson Henderson, but he’s not losing sight on the task at hand.

The first meeting with Henderson ended in a split decision and Chandler understands all too well that there are no guarantees when it comes to the fight game. Add to that, the 34-year-old veteran knows that his negotiating power coming off an impressive win is much different than seeking a new contract after a loss.

That said, the three-time Bellator lightweight champion is betting big on himself to beat Henderson and set himself and his family up for the best possible future after Friday night’s event is finished.

“You definitely have to embrace the pressure,” Chandler told MMA Fighting. “There’s pressure that goes along with every, single fight. The good thing is I haven’t really looked at this as if this is anything more than just another fight.

“It’s trying to be as professional as possible, taking the emotion out of it. Taking the fears and the doubts out of it all. I just need to go out there and do my job. I think more than anything it’s exciting.”

Just because Chandler is testing free agency doesn’t mean his career with Bellator is coming to a close.

In fact, Chandler has devoted himself to the promotion for the majority of his career and he’d have absolutely no problem if every fight he had from now until retirement took place inside the Bellator cage.

“I would love nothing more than to be the guy who started with Bellator and finishes with Bellator and retires with Bellator and ends up getting a job with Bellator after my career is over,” Chandler said. “All of that sounds like an awesome possibility because I love what the Bellator brand has done.

“I love what Bellator has done for me. I love Scott Coker and Rich Chou and now Mike Kogan coming on and taking on a leadership role. He’s been awesome to work with. It’s been awesome over the last few years.”

On the other side of that coin, Chandler knows there are also other options available to him that he’d be crazy not to explore as he moves forward with his career.

That more than anything is probably his favorite part about testing the free agency waters.

“I’m excited about the possibilities,” Chandler said. “We know all my different possibilities. Fighting in the UFC and fighting [Justin] Gaethje and I know I could be the guy that could go out there and beat Khabib [Nurmagomedov]. Fighting a Conor [McGregor], fighting these guys.

“Then there’s the possibility of finishing the trilogy with Eddie [Alvarez]. ONE FC is doing some amazing stuff. They’re coming back and growing and putting on great shows. Then you’ve got the PFL tournament where you win a million dollars fighting in a tournament. There’s a lot of awesome possibilities but it doesn’t change the fact that the main focus of my life right now is staying healthy to get to Aug. 7 and then putting on a great performance just like I always do.”

With the Henderson fight, Chandler will revisit one of the toughest tests of his career while battling a former UFC lightweight champion for the second time.

A quick look at Henderson’s resume reveals a long list of top opponents thwarted during his career. He’s not always the flashiest fighter in the world but Henderson has an uncanny ability to pull off the win, which is why Chandler has to treat him as the most dangerous threat he’s ever faced.

“The thing about Benson Henderson, when I think about some guys I’ve fought in the past like there are some dangerous guys out there, some dangerous strikers, some dangerous submission artists, just dangerous gamers,” Chandler explained. “Guys who want to go out there and fight.

“Benson is more methodical. Benson is more of a veteran and Benson doesn’t take a lot of risks. He’s going to be there for 15 minutes. Chances of me finishing him are a lot lower than a lot of other guys and you’re talking to a guy who has finished the majority of his wins yet I have to go out there with the mentality that I’m going to try to put on a clinic. I’m going to try to string together punches in bunches, string together combinations and go out there and fight a complete fight.”

Whether it’s a first-round knockout or three-round decision, Chandler just wants to get his hand raised and he’s betting big on himself to get the job done.

“The pressure is something that’s always going to be there and it’s accepting that the pressure is always going to be there. It’s accepting the uncertainty of the opportunity that’s about to happen,” Chandler said.

“I just believe that I’ve made my decision and I’m going to go out there on Aug. 7 and see where it takes us.”

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