By Raphael Garcia
“Legacy” is a word that is thrown around a lot in professional sports, but at the end of the day, a legacy is nothing more than an opinion about the importance of someone’s performance within the sport. The legacy of Michael Chandler in Bellator MMA continues to grow due to his performances in the cage. However, at the conclusion of Bellator 157, his ranking among the sport’s best fighters remained in question.
There was a point in time in which Chandler was expected to become the face of Bellator MMA. Flashback to 2011 when he tore through the Bellator lightweight tournament and upset Eddie Alvarez in one of the best fights of the year at Bellator 58. He would then defend the title against three men that were considered “lesser” challengers, and even though these wins bolstered his record, they didn’t bring any additional cachet to his resume. Instead of the commentary being, “Where does Chandler rank amongst the world’s best lightweights,” the conversation centered around, “Should he stay in Bellator or face tougher competition in the UFC?” That’s a question that was answered, for better or for worse, when in 2013 he signed a new deal to stay put in Bellator.
Shortly thereafter, Chandler would suffer three straight losses -- one to Alvarez and two to Will Brooks. Losing is commonplace in MMA, and doing so doesn’t hurt your long-term value, but the fact that Brooks and Alvarez are now in the UFC plays a larger role in the conversation about where Chandler stands in the lightweight division.
Does Chandler go back on a tear defending the lightweight title? Benson Henderson mentioned that he’s moving back to 155 pounds, the weight class he ruled for a time in the UFC. If Bellator can put that matchup together, a win for Chandler would add some legitimacy to his reign; albeit at a diminished level due to Henderson’s breakdown against Andrey Koreshkov at Bellator 153. There’s also Chandler’s original Bellator 157 opponent, Josh Thomson, a former Strikeforce champion and UFC title contender, who is on a two-fight win streak. This is yet another big-name fight that could draw in some of the attention that Chandler has missed out on in the past. But if he loses to either or both of these men, his entire tenure in Bellator could be questioned.
Hector Lombard, and Zack Makovsky have experienced some level of success within the Octagon. With Chandler signing another contract extension with Bellator this year, it’s looking less and less likely that he will have the opportunity to do the same. That’s a decision that was probably best for his family, but when it comes to an athlete’s legacy in his sport, that decision may hurt his placement among his contemporaries.
For as long as he remains with the promotion, Michael Chandler be viewed as the “face” of Bellator, with or without a title. Now that he’s regained the belt, the company can resume the major push that was started for him back in 2013. Unfortunately, Chandler’s legacy as a fighter will be called into question because he has never competed in the Octagon.
• Michael Chandler vs. Patricky Freire: Michael Chandler def. Patricky Freire via KO (punch) at 2:14 of Round 1.
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Bellator 157: Dynamite 2 took place on June 24, 2016 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri.