Michael Chandler never wants to lose but at least now he knows how to deal with defeat.
Within a matter of days after falling to Charles Oliveira in the UFC 262 main event, the former Bellator lightweight champion was already doing a number of interviews and reviewing fight footage to see what went wrong that led to his second-round TKO loss.
That was exactly the opposite approach Chandler took when he suffered the first setback of his career in 2013 after dropping a razor close split decision to Eddie Alvarez.
“I made some mistakes back in the day when I had my first loss,” Chandler explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “It really turned into a loss streak. If you hide from the losses, if you try to shield yourself from them or shield yourself from talking about them, they become self-fulfilling prophecies of future losses and future self-deprecating circumstances. I realized very quick after I had that first loss to Eddie Alvarez back in , I wasn’t prepared to lose. I was prepared physically but I wasn’t prepared mentally in my mind to lose. That loss led to two other subsequent losses, 688 days I went without winning a fight. I made a couple of mistakes back then.
“The first, I already kind of touched on, I hid from the mistake. I hid from the loss. Media was calling me. The World MMA Awards were calling me, I didn’t want to be seen. I wanted to hide from it. I wanted to be surrounded by my four walls and the comfort of my own home.”
Cutting himself off from the rest of the world after that loss to Alvarez sent Chandler into a downward spiral both mentally and physically as he looked to bounce back in his next fight.
He ultimately suffered another split decision loss, this time to Will Brooks and then Chandler fell by TKO in the rematch six months later.
“I forgot how good I was,” Chandler said. “I forgot how powerful I was and how strong I was and how good of an athlete I was because I let that loss define me. I let that loss become the story that was playing in my head. That I wasn’t as good as I thought I was.
“The third mistake I made, I found comfort in sitting around and eating a bowl of ice cream and not working out and getting comfortable in self-pity and blaming it on other people.”
While Chandler hasn’t tasted defeat very often in his career, he now understands how to handle a defeat no matter how much it might be tearing him up inside.
Losing to Oliveira with the vacant UFC lightweight title up for grabs stings like almost nothing else he’s ever experienced during his career but Chandler knew there was only one way to deal with that defeat and then find a way to move forward.
He had to confront it head on.
“Truthfully, I want to be transparent, this is therapy for me,” Chandler said. “I do know that I made some mistakes back in the day and I hid from a loss and I wanted to shield myself from it out of protection for myself. Really, I was doing the exact opposite. You look at any 12-step program across the world, whether it be addiction or it’s business where people make mistakes or whatever vocation they choose, the No. 1 step always is admitting it to yourself. I have to admit that I lost. I have to admit that I have a problem or I have to admit that I have an addiction. I have to admit, I have self-limiting beliefs.
“Then and only then can I open the door to the ownership that is needed, the accountability and the responsibility that is needed to grow from it. To go back to the drawing board, to reassess and re-calibrate, to take this setback and look at it as a setback and a moment that is just a necessary coiling of a spring to spring me into a better version of myself. I do think I have learned to embrace the process.”
Whether it’s a 12-step program or perhaps dealing with the five stages of grief, Chandler is choosing to accept the loss to Oliveira and learn from it rather than get mired in doubt after he came so close to capturing UFC gold in only his second fight with the promotion.
It doesn’t make losing any easier but it helps Chandler to deal with the reality of the situation so he can recover and prepare to come back better for his next fight inside the octagon.
“It’s a way for me to move on,” Chandler said. “It’s a way for me to pass the guard, a changing of the guard into this little season of rest into my next training camp and into my next opportunity. But I can’t move onto those things until I admit my faults, admit my past and admit my failure on May 15 just a couple of weeks ago to be able to move forward.
“I got caught and I lost. I was in the thick of it. Charles Oliveira was the No. 3 guy in the world, now he’s the No. 1 guy in the world. I have one loss in the UFC and I had a 10-8 round against him. Charles Oliveira hadn’t lost a round since 2017 and I had a 10-8 round against him within one minute, one inch of finishing him in the first round and getting that UFC belt.”
Technically speaking, Chandler already assessed what went wrong in that second round that led to the TKO finish delivered by Oliveira and he’s been in constant communication with his coaches to ensure they address that when he returns to training.
“Some learning experiences, I need to keep that right hand up,” Chandler said. “If I’m going to go one-two, that right needs to come back quicker. If I’m going to go to the body, that right hand needs to come quicker.
“I need to maybe let the fight progress a little bit. I wouldn’t say that I came in overconfident or overzealous. You’ve been watching me for over a decade, you know that’s my style, you know I’m going to get in people’s faces and you know that’s why I’m going to be an exciting, keep you on the edge of your seat fan favorite kind of guy. Because win, lose or draw, I’ve never been in a boring fight but maybe I could have been a little bit more methodical. Maybe I could have been a little bit more patient but when you’re fighting a guy like Charles Oliveira, who I thought I was going to be able to press him and he was going to head down as I was coming up in that fight as it progressed, I had every reason to believe that I keep my foot on the gas and I win that fight. If I don’t get caught in the second, maybe I finish him in the second, maybe I finish him in the third, we don’t know how it would have happened. I got caught, I lost the fight, got TKO’d, it’s just part of it.”
Following a crazy seven-month stretch that included two fights and weight-cutting for a third potential appearance while serving as an alternate for a title bout, Chandler is due for some time off.
He’s going to take a vacation with his family and enjoy being a husband and a father for a little while before booking his next fight.
The good news is Chandler is already thinking about the future and that’s mostly because he’s already reconciled with the loss to Oliveira, which is allowing him to move forward with a clear head and a game plan for what needs to happen the next time he competes.
“I feel great,” Chandler said. “Need a couple months to cool the jets and obviously heal up a little bit, make sure I don’t get back into that octagon anytime too soon and I think I fight one more fight, beat somebody in the top five and I’m talked about right away in title contention again.”