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It is one of Bellator's great rivalries between two of the most decorated fighters in the history of the fight league. Michael Chandler defeated Benson Henderson in their first contest, by split decision, in 2016 in San Jose. Both lightweights believed they won in the first encounter. Here's what they have to say about each other before they headline tonight - inside the fightsphere behind closed doors - at the Mohegan Sun Resort, Conn.
Is there respect between you ?
“The funny thing about me and Benson is I think we stand for a lot of the same things. I think our values line up. I respect him a ton as well. I love when we did an interview a few weeks ago he had his kids crawling all over him. He’s a family man. He’s been able to turn his wrestling background into world championships and legacy type of money to be able to provide for his family.
The funny thing is you can’t really like someone too much when you know you’re going to compete against them. Benson Henderson signed with Bellator we fought and I beat him and since then we’ve known we would fight again. So knowing I was going to fight him again, you guard your heart a little bit from thinking too highly of anybody. It doesn’t bother me whether he likes me or hates me or loves me, we’ve got to step into the cage so let’s go.”
Do you know more about him for the rematch ?
“I do. You just got to know how to beat Benson Henderson. The first fight taught me exactly how to do that and watching his fights since have shown me exactly how to do that. So I’ll show you exactly how to do it in a dominant fashion. I don’t know how anyone would score it for him or anything less than 3-2 for me. It’s not about the judging, it’s about getting my hand raised.”
What is your legacy ambition ?
“I don’t know because legacy is constantly in motion while I’m in my fight career. I’ve been blessed with a willing and able body. I think I have at least another five years left in me if not seven years. I feel great and I love what I’m doing. For me my legacy is constantly in motion. If my fight career ended after this fight I would be the most decorated Bellator fighter in history. I would be involved in one of the best symbiotic relationship between a fighter and a promotion ever. Bellator are who they are because of the performances I have put on for them and I am who I am because of the promotion and the platform and opportunities they’ve given me.” This is the last fight on your contract.
What are the margins for you signing a new deal with Bellator ?
“It’s an interesting question. We’re fighters, we fight for money and numbers are important. We’ll see. There’s a couple of different factors you have to consider. I’ve made no secret of it. I’m extremely happy with my decisions thus far to resign with Bellator so we’ll see if that happens again.” “We spoke months ago and we started talking ball park figures but then the pandemic happened. We weren’t chasing Bellator down to make a deal. If they wanted me they’d have to make an offer.”
When will you make the decision ?
“The x is this fight happening before we talk. I think what’s going to happen is I’m going to go out there and put on a dominant performance and I’ll be hanging out in the casino, having a pizza with my closest kin and I’ll get a phone call from Bellator. Maybe we’ll have some talks before I leave Connecticut and maybe we won’t. We’ll see.”
Who are your dream opponents ?
“It’s hard. When you think about the barriers... you fight Khabib [Nurmagomedov]because he’s the number one guy in the world. You fight Eddie [Alvarez] because you cap off the trilogy. Or fight Conor [McGregor] because it’s the biggest fight with the most eyeballs. There’s those different ones. I would also love the Pitbull [Patricio Pitbull, the current Bellator lightweight champion] rematch. I zigged when I should have zagged and he caught me. I believe I’m a better fighter than him and I beat him nine times out of ten and he just caught me. I’d say those would be my four fights.”
What have you learnt about mental fortitude ?
“Fear of failure is the most poisonous drug you can take in life. Once you have it, you try to run as far away as possible from that failure as possible. And I think that’s what I did. I hid myself. I was up for fight of the year and they wanted me to come to the awards and I didn’t get. I was getting calls from media and I said no no no. I realised you never get criticism from people who are above you, it’s those below you or behind you. A lot of times you are your own worst critic and your inner dialogue is the worst thing you can ever hear. I’m blessed to have two capable arms and legs to be able to go there and perform in front of millions of people and do something inspiring and uplifting and a metaphor for life. Fighting is a metaphor for life and I’m painting a masterpiece every time I step in there. It’s a blessing to get to live the life I live and to give anything else other than my best. To ever quit would be to squander those gifts I was given. So here I am.”
Do you respect him?
“That’s a tough question, a tough question. Maybe I respect the things he’s done. He’s adopted a child, mad respect for that. I’ve mad respect for him and his wife to adopt a child. I’m hoping in the future my wife and I will be lucky enough to adopt a few kids and change their lives. So mad respect for that Chandler on that. But a lot of the things he’s done I don’t have respect for him.”
How do you see that first fight in 2016?
“If I’m asked a question and I have to reply, i have to think of something to say but I don’t think much about that fight. It’s only when it’s brought up to me that I think about it. The first fight is what it is. It’s the same as all my fights. You can look back on them and score them yourself. It’s cool, they’re in the past. Chandler has his own opinion, I have mine. I know I won that fight. He was a dang near broken man and I saw him after the fight, he knew he lost. People shake hands after a fight but a fighter who pushes another fighter after the bell, that shows a serious lack of character to me and shows to me he knew he lost. That says enough right there.”
Is it hard to fight someone you don't like - a more emotional experience ?
“It’s kind of hard for some people to be in a fight with someone they don’t like. But no, I don’t have that problem. I’ve never had to deal with that. Most people I fight whether they hate me or not I have respect for. Koreshkov, I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He’s a good dude and we message back and forth. That guy gave me a whooping so if I can like him, I don’t have a problem liking my opponent. Fighting someone you don’t like, I’ve never had that issue before.”
Will this second fight come down to who makes the adjustments best ?
“I think for sure. People see the punch and kicking and blood and gore but they don’t realise there is a chess match in there. It’s your timing, your adjustments can be half a second too slow or too fast. Maybe you need to aim a little lower. All those little, small, tiny adjustments play a huge factor in the fight. I did all that in my preparation for this fight with Chandler.”
Is coach John Crouch with you and how will no audience affect you ?
“I have experienced it myself. I made sure I was at the very first UFC event with no crowd cornering a good buddy of mine. You have to say the right things to a fighter but when we walked out we knew it felt different. As a coach and looking at my buddy John I wondered how he was feeling. I made sure I went to a show where they had no crowd and competed just so when I walk out now, it won’t feel new to me.”
Lockdown has had some benefits. You became a father for the fourth time...
“The whole no sleep thing is a real thing with a new born, but it’s great. My boys all love their little sisters to death and they smother her with kisses. It’s awesome to see. She’s a little bundle of joy for my wife. Being a father for the fourth time is awesome The day we found out we were pregnant for the fourth time she told me ‘hey we’re pregnant and I made an appointment with the doctor for you to get snipped’. No more children.”
Bellator 243 card and odds, Mohegan Sun Resort, Conn:
Michael Chandler -230 vs. Benson Henderson +190, lightweights
Matt Mitrione -125 vs. Timothy Johnson +105, heavyweights
Myles Jury -230 vs. Georgi Karakhanyan +190, lightweights
Curtis Millender -360 vs. Sabah Homasi +280, 175-pound catchweight
Adam Borics vs. Derek Campos, 150-pound catchweight
AJ Agazarm vs. Cris Lencioni, featherweights
Joel Bauman vs. Taylor Johnson, middleweights
Christian Edwards vs. Ahmed Samir, 210-pound catchweight
Charlie Campbell vs. Nainoa Dung, lightweights
Mark Gardner vs. Dalton Rosta, middleweights
Grant Neal vs. Hamza Salim, light heavyweights
Tara Graff vs. Valerie Loureda, women's flyweights