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Michael Chandler gets real on taking damage, Arturo Gatti comparisons

To Michael Chandler, nothing has changed about the way he fights – only his opposition, which explains the extra blood he’s donated to the octagon canvas.

“I think I do fight very similarly that I always have,” Chandler said recently on The MMA Hour. “Same speed, same tenacity – been beat down and then come back in fights. It happens. It just wasn’t on the biggest stage possible.”

UFC President Dana White labeled Chandler “our Arturo Gatti” after another thriller, a UFC 281 slugfest that earned him his fourth performance bonus in five octagon bouts – and again left his face a mess.

Whatever Chandler has lacked in recent wins, he’s made up for in acclaim. His 2021 fight with Justin Gaethje earned “Fight of the Year.” His meeting with Poirier is likely to make best-of lists, as is his previous performance, a front-kick knockout of Tony Ferguson at UFC 274. After thrice holding the Bellator championship, he’s gunning for the biggest title in MMA to close out a decorated career.

From the outset, Chandler has fought the UFC’s toughest competition at 155 pounds; he has never dipped below the top-10 among his five opponents. According to UFC stats, he’s taken a total of 263 fights and been knocked down three times in five fights. He absorbs an average of 4.58 strikes per minute under the UFC and now-defunct Strikeforce banner.

Gatti is best known for his trio of slugfests with Micky Ward in which he and the Irish fighter absorbed several multiples of what Chandler has taken in five fights; in the first fight alone, the Italian-born fighter absorbed 268 punches, according to BoxRec.

“Fight of the Night” is considered an honor for some UFC fighters, while others dread it. Winning the $50,000 bonus means both fighters took a tremendous amount of punishment. For Chandler, that’s a consequence of his move to the big league.

“You’re fighting the best guys in the world, and I put myself in some positions to take damage, although that is my style and it is a technique, it is a way that I’ve won a lot of my fights, a lot in the first round – a lot of my finishes came from the breakneck pace I put on guys,” he said. “And I just think it’s the largest platform now. It’s turned everything into momentum. You gain momentum, you gain steam and you keep the train rolling.

“I honestly think I’ve always fought that way. I just think I’m fighting the toughest guys on the planet right now. The toughest guys on the planet at 155 pounds reside in the top-five of the UFC, and I’ve come in and fought five of the toughest guys I possibly could, which is exactly what I said I wanted to do in my first meeting with [UFC CBO] Hunter [Campbell]. I wanted to prove either I was who I said I was, or I wasn’t. Either I go to the UFC and I go 0-2 and I get cut, and I can live with that. It hasn’t worked out that way, thank god, but I wanted to fight the toughest guys right away.”

Another consequence of his tough fights are concerns for his longevity. Prior to joining the UFC, he fought 26 times as a pro and participated in several bouts that would have won “Fight of the Night” had they been in the octagon – namely, his pair of bouts with former multi-title winner Eddie Alvarez. He was stopped in a superfight with featherweight champ Patricio Pitbull at Bellator 221 and was knocked out by Will Brooks in their rematch at Bellator 131.

Asked whether there had been any concern over damage from his wife, a doctor who recently took out his stitches from the Poirier contest, Chandler said he’ll know when he needs to step away.

“Obviously, if there were any glaring problems, if there was any health issues that both of us thought, ‘Wow, OK, this thing’s taking a toll’ – praise god, it’s not – but I think she trusts me to know when it’s time to hang it up, it’s time to hang it up,” he said. “When it’s time to slow down or cool down a little bit, she knows she can trust me, because she knows that I love her and my boys and my family, and what I get to do and the live I get to live outside of MMA. She knows I love all of that so much more than I love MMA, and I love MMA, and I love the opportunities, and I love the platforms, and I love god’s calling that he’s put on my life.

“Luckily, she’s able to handle it. She’s OK with the blood. ... But each fight is a new opportunity to recalibrate, to reassess, to look at everything, and we’re still moving foward. A lot of tread left on these tires, a lot of huge fights ahead of me, and she is the most amazing, supportive woman. Hats off to her every single time we have to go through one of these training camps.”

Chandler also has a sense of humor about his reputation. He enlists his family to poke fun at the result of his recent slugfests, adopting the character “Ice Face” to react to his swollen visage. Recently, he donned his ice mask for a “mean tweets” video.

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