San Diego's 'lover and fighter' Michael Chandler defends MMA title

Michael Chandler isn't your cookie-cutter mixed martial arts champion. He's cried during "The Notebook." He's a craft beer guy who craves IPAs – the hoppier, the better. And he hates, hates, hates replacing those flimsy plastic bags in trash cans.

When he steps into the cage for a Bellator MMA fight, though, the man who goes by "Iron" Michael Chandler possesses the tools and toughness that translate into belts.


The San Diego resident will defend his lightweight championship Nov. 19 when he trades knuckles and knees with Benson Henderson at San Jose's SAP Center. The fight will be carried, live and free, on Spike TV.

Chandler's just a real dude … who happens to choke a few guys into submission during his day job now and again.


"I always take out the trash. (My wife, Brie) always puts the trash bag back in the trash. That's kind of one of our things," Chandler said of life at their South Park home on the edge of Balboa Park.

"I like taking the trash out more than I like putting those dang trash bags into the garbage can and try to get it around the side and get it to stay. The worst thing ever."

It's somewhere in the middle of the discussion about trash can maintenance, a talk that dives deep enough to ponder the merits of the empty bag's weight, that you realize Chandler is a little bit different.

There's a connectable normalcy there, hiding under the crafted muscle and rage unleashed by the ringing of a bell.

Exhibit A: "The Notebook" and the like.

"My wife will laugh at me, I've got tears pouring down my face watching TV or something," he said. "If it's an emotional chick-flick type of movie, chances are, I'm going to end up crying. I'm not afraid to admit that, because I think emotion is very healthy.

"… I'm definitely the epitome of a lover and a fighter."

The fighter part of Chandler climbed to the top of Bellator's 155-pound weight class. He tapped out Eddie Alvarez – the Saturday opponent of UFC mega-star Conor McGregor – along the way.


Alvarez survived a split-decision rematch two years later, the beginning of Chandler's bumpy three-fight losing streak. Chandler rebounded, physically and mentally, to win his last three and move to 15-3. None of the fights lasted beyond the second round and he finished off two of the three in less than 2 minutes, 18 seconds.

When doubts dogged Chandler, he beat them, too.

"(I thought) man, I'm not that good any more. Man, I've lost it," said Chandler, 30. "The mental aspect of this game is definitely one of the toughest parts."

He reminded himself of his ability. He reminded himself that none of his first 12 fights traveled the distance. He reminded himself that, well, he's wired with plenty of that "I must break you" stuff Ivan Drago trotted out in Rocky IV.

"That's what I do, from the first bell. I go out there. I put pressure on you," said Chandler, who moved from Las Vegas four years ago to initially train with fighters in Chula Vista. "A lot of guys just wilt. A lot of guys break.

"I'm not necessarily in there to be crazy technical. I'm in there to win a fist fight. And luckily, I'm pretty darn good at it."


The champion will not even be the highest ranked fighter who steps into the ring in San Jose.

Henderson (26-4) sits at No. 1 according to after joining Bellator from the rival UFC. It's not unusual for fighters to shift between the competing brands in search of more money and chances to challenge for titles.

Chandler, however, is no light lightweight.

He weighed 192 pounds seven weeks ago. He's systematically worked himself to 175 pounds and 6 percent body fat a week away from the fight. The former all-American wrestler at the University of Missouri understands managing that sort of thing.

"Because of my wrestling background, I'm extremely disciplined," he said. "You hear about these guys cutting 20 pounds in one day or hear about these guys doing all this crazy stuff. All that really is is a lack of discipline and a lack of preparation."

That discipline is why Chandler confidently chases down craft beers when he's not training, even though suds might seem like the enemy for elite fighters counting calories and striving to maintain peak condition.


"If you look at my life, six months out of my life, I'm in training camp," he said."Once I'm in training camp, there's no beer, there's no soda, there's no bad food. There's no anything. It's eat, sleep and breathe training.

"But between training camps … I think I like craft beer because I'm not the kind of guy who's going to go slug down 15 of them, either. I didn't even drink in college."

But … San Diego.

Chandler drops brewery names like Belching Beaver and his neighborhood South Park Brewing Co. as easily as he drops opponents.

"At first I thought, beer's nasty," Chandler said. "Then I found IPAs. They're delicious. San Diego is definitely the place to be. It's obviously the craft beer capital of the world."

That's where the compromises end, though.


Trash bags? Forget about it.



Yes, "Iron" Michael met "Iron" Mike.

The thing, though: Michael Chandler hadn't come up with his mixed martial arts nickname yet when he stumbled across former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson.

Chandler and a friend were walking through an upscale mall in Las Vegas when they noticed a long line of people. Investigation revealed that Tyson was signing autographs for fans.


"My friend said, 'Holy crap, that's Mike Tyson,' " Chandler said.

The pair jumped in line so one champion could meet the other. Chandler recently had beaten Eddie Alvarez in a 2011 fight for the lightweight title.

"Tyson gave me some advice," Chandler said. "He just said, 'Champ, it's easy coming up. Then as soon as you get the belt and everyone's gunning for you, every single person's looking at you, they're waking up, thinking about fighting you, they're going to bed, thinking about fighting you.

"You've got this big target on your back. That should motivate you. You've got to do things right. You've got to work hard.' "

Later, those around the sport began calling Chandler "Iron" as well. It was better than some of the alternatives.

The worst suggestion?


"(Michael) 'The Man Handler' Chandler," he said. "It rolls off the tongue really nice, but …"

No explanation necessary.

  • Bryce Miller

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(John Kelley, Lauren Flynn/San Diego Union-Tribune); Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller