Michael Chandler has a very simple goal for his rematch with Eddie Alvarez on Saturday in their Bellator lightweight title bout: win in far less exciting fashion than he did last time.
Nearly two years ago, Chandler stopped Alvarez with a rear naked choke in the fourth round of what has come to be regarded as one of the greatest fights in mixed martial arts history.
It was a brutal, back-and-forth slugfest that night in Hollywood, Calif., replete with the dramatic momentum swings that every memorable bout must have.
Chandler will come face-to-face with Alvarez again on Saturday in the main event of a card televised on Spike TV from Long Beach, Calif., hoping against hope that it won't be an encore performance.
"When you have a guy like myself and a guy like Eddie stepping into a cage for 25 minutes, there's going to be a good fight that will break out," Chandler said. "But unfortunately for the fans, the media, for everybody, my goal is to get in there, do my work and get out as quickly as possible.
"My hope, my goal, cross my fingers, is to finish this one a lot quicker and not have to take as much damage. I know that when you fight a guy as tough as Eddie Alvarez, you have to be prepared for a war. So, I'm prepared for a war, but I'm hoping for a quick night."
His win that night not only gave Chandler the title, it turned him into the face of the promotion. Bellator signed Chandler to an eight-fight contract extension in July and announced big plans for him.
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney has frequently called Chandler the best lightweight in the world, and the company made a commitment to him in keeping with those words.
"Look, Michael, both inside and outside the cage, represents this company and MMA in a great light," Rebney told MMA Fighting in July. "He had a long time left on his existing deal, but I just felt like, you know what, he's elevated himself to a completely new level. I'm to reward what he's done and make sure Mike is part of the Bellator family for a lot of years.
"It's eight-fight. It's multi-year. We've got a lot of big plans. What we're doing with Michael inside the cage and what you'll see kicking off [Saturday] is just the start of it. There's a lot of other pieces to the equation."
The relationship between Alvarez and Bellator is not nearly as cordial. The sides sued each other as Alvarez looked to sign with the UFC. The case was mired in court before a confidential settlement agreement was reached in August.
Bellator contended it matched the offer sheet the UFC made, but Alvarez contended it did not. The UFC had offered Alvarez a multi-fight deal and promised to put him in the co-main event slot of a Georges St-Pierre fight and give him a percentage of the pay-per-view profits.
Given that up to that point, Bellator had run a tournament format and had never done a pay-per-view, Alvarez's team contended it was not a match.
But after the settlement, it matched Alvarez with Chandler in what was supposed to be the co-main event of its pay-per-view debut, beneath a Quinton Jackson-Tito Ortiz headliner.
The pay-per-view was scrapped last week when Ortiz fractured his neck, and the show was put on Spike. Alvarez's manager, Glenn Robinson, would only say, "It's all business as usual," and that there were no issues with taking it off pay-per-view.
There have never been any issues between Chandler and Bellator, and it's clear why. He's a promoter's dream, a well-spoken, good-looking charitable man who happens to be one of the toughest fighters in the world.
He's won three fights since defeating Alvarez and said he's far better than he was in 2011 when he first won the belt.
"I'm significantly better," Chandler said. "I've had two years to improve, two years to get better, two years to spar, grapple, wrestle and work in the gym. I've had three fights and three wins. I'm a ton more mature in the sport. I feel a lot more like a veteran now than I did then.
"I was green in this sport back then, new. I'm excited to go out there and show my friends, my family and the fans how much better I am."
Alvarez will clearly give him the opportunity to show that. The one hiccup might be that Alvarez hasn't fought in 13 months because of the dispute with management, and could suffer from ring rust.
Alvarez insists the time off won't impact him, and Chandler said he didn't think it would either because of the length of time Alvarez has been in the sport.
"I am expecting the best Eddie there has ever been and that's what I'm hoping for because that's who I want to beat," Chandler said. "I don't want to beat Eddie on his worst night, like he said [after the first fight]. I don't want to beat Eddie when there is any doubt in people's minds or when there are any excuses to fall back on."
Still, Chandler said he hopes to tighten his defense this time around so that he takes a lot less punishment.
He can, he said, be an exciting fighter without taking damage. That's kind of a high-wire act when trying to be offensive against an elite opponent like Alvarez, but part of Chandler's maturation process has been exactly that.
"I'm OK with saying, 'I'd love to never get hit and punched again in a fight,' and win every single one of them," Chandler said. "But my fights speak for themselves. I didn't take any damage in the Akihiro Gono fight, but I walked him down. As soon as I punched him and got my hands on him, the fight got finished.
"I didn't take any damage in the Rick Hawn fight, but I was all on him, all over him. I picked him up, put him down, punched him, kicked him and finished him. I didn't take any damage in the Dave Rickels fight, but I was coming at him, chasing him around the ring and landed a big right hand that finished him."
The key, though, is being able to do that against Alvarez, who is a more highly ranked and difficult opponent than either Gono, Hawn or Rickels.
"So my fight style speaks for itself and I'm going to come forward," Chandler said. "I'm prone to taking damage because I come forward. I'm always in your face, and so I tend to eat some shots. I completely subscribe to the theory of [not taking damage] and I would love to have a defense like [boxer] Floyd Mayweather, but still put on a great show.
"I'm not in this sport with the goal to bring excitement. I'm in it to fight the way I'm wired to fight and it just so happens that the way I'm wired to fight is very fan pleasing. If I could fight that way and get out with no damage, then that would be the perfect night for me."
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