By Melinda Evette
Bellator lightweight fighter Michael Chandler has been here before. Lightweight title shots in Bellator MMA seem to hover around Chandler like a jealous spouse.
Being an intelligent fighter by nature makes one an opportunist, Michael Chandler is definitely intelligent.
In a promotion that had a stated core value of promoting tournament winners to an immediate title challenger position, Chandler was up for the task.
In February of 2011, it was announced that Michael Chandler would be participating in the Bellator Lightweight Tournament. The winner would be rewarded with the a $100,000 check and a title shot.
The tournament was filled with some of the best fighters that Bellator had to offer at the time -- Marcin Held, Toby Imada, and Patricky Freire to name a few.
Chandler defeated Held via an arm-triangle choke. A win over Lloyd Woodard secured Chandler a place in the finals where he faced Patricky Freire.
I'm competing against my former self. Can I go out there and perform the way I need to?
- Michael Chandler
Unfortunately the bout was delayed due to an injury to Alvarez, but when they finally faced each other, Chandler came out victorious. He submitted Eddie Alvarez in the fourth round with a rear naked choke.
Chandler would go on to defend his belt successfully three times before facing Eddie Alvarez in a rematch. Alvarez defeated Chandler via split decision.
Bellator was quick to announce that Chandler would be granted an immediate rematch. That rubber match would never take place.
After agreeing to the fight, Eddie Alvarez was forced to withdraw after suffering a concussion a week before the fight. Bellator announced that Will Brooks would replace Alvarez and fight Chandler for an interim lightweight belt.
The fight went to a decision and the judges crowned Will Brooks the new Interim Lightweight champion.
A lengthy legal dispute between Alvarez and Bellator delayed a unification bout with interim champion Will Brooks. That dispute ended with Alvarez leaving Bellator MMA and signing with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
I'm the best that I've ever been.
- Michael Chandler
Chandler was granted a rematch with Brooks, the now Undisputed Lightweight Champion. Brooks defeated Chandler again via technical knockout in the fourth round.
Chandler started hunting for another title shot and beat Derek Campos and David Rickels. After a two-fight winning streak there was once again talk of Chandler challenging Brooks again for the title. That challenge would not be accepted.
Bellator announced that Chandler would face newly-signed UFC veteran Josh Thomson. Bellator and champion Will Brooks were not working well together.
But the Thompson fight was canceled due to injury. Once again Bellator was in dispute with their lightweight champion. They decided to release Will Brooks from the promotion, making the title vacant.
Within weeks of Brooks' release it was announced that Michael Chandler and Patricky Freire would fight for the title at Bellator Dynamite 2 on June 24th, 2016.
I remember that each round was pretty much starting off equal and then I would get kicked in the nuts. Every time I started hurting him I got kicked in the nuts again.
- Patricky "Pitbull" Freire recalling fighting Chandler in 2011
The last time you fought Patricky was in May 2011. What changes have you seen in his skills, if any?
MC: I think he's definitely improved. It has been awhile [but] he's pretty much the same old same old though.
He's got a ton of power in his hands and got some spectacular knockouts. He knocks guys out so you have to be -- you have to do your homework and you have to prepare right, and that's exactly what I've done. I've prepared perfectly for this fight.
You will see a new and improved version of myself. I'm the best that I've ever been. With my new training camp I've been working down in Boca Raton [Florida] with Neil Melanson and Henry Hooft so I'm excited.
Wherever this fight goes I'm going to be prepared.
I know my past failures have prepared me for my future so I'm excited for it.
- Michael Chandler
I did my homework and I've trained perfectly for this fight, for this particular opponent. Obviously him and I know each other well because we have fought before, and we've been fighting in this same promotion for a really long time.
I knew our paths would cross eventually so I've been thinking about this fight for many years. It's a fight I see myself going out there and getting my hand raised numerous ways. That's whats going to happen on Friday night. I'm excited for it.
Is this a permanent change in your camp?
MC: I think in the MMA industry there is nothing permanent. I love what I'm doing right now, I love being down in Boca with Neil Melanson and Henry Hooft at the Blackzilians.
The team is great, the coaching is great, but being in this sport seven years-eight years now, there's absolutely nothing permanent about this sport. About this industry.
The [only permanence is] the fact that you have to do the best for yourself and you have to make the right decisions for yourself. So, I can't call anything permanent, but yes, I am training [there] for now. I plan on going back after this title when I [defend] the belt.
You faced former champion Will Brooks twice, unsuccessfully. Will this win on Friday be as satisfying as winning over Brooks would've been?
MC: To me it doesn't matter who I fight. This is the fight game. There are a bunch of highs and a bunch of lows.
I know my past failures have prepared me for my future so I'm excited for it. I don't care who it is, who I step in the cage with. I'm really competing against myself.
I'm competing against my former self. Can I go out there and perform the way I need to? Can I go out there and perform like I should and reach my full potential? That's really all I care about.
I could care less who I fight. I could care less what weight class it is. I could care less where it is, who it is, or what is going on. Whether it's for the title or not, man, I just wanna go out there, perform, and get my hand raised.
Michael Chandler will fight Patricky Freire for the vacant Bellator Lightweight championship on June 24th, 2016 at Saint Louis, Missouri's Scottrade Center.
The fight will be broadcast live on SpikeTV.
• Michael Chandler vs. Patricky Freire
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Bellator 157: Dynamite 2 takes place on June 24, 2016 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri.