Why Bellator's Michael Chandler is must-see TV, whether he's on cable or PPV

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
Why Bellator's Michael Chandler is must-see TV, whether he's on cable or PPV
Why Bellator's Michael Chandler is must-see TV, whether he's on cable or PPV

Michael Chandler is one of the world's greatest lightweight mixed martial arts fighters. A case can be made that he's the best, though I'll go with UFC champion Antony Pettis, top contender Gilbert Melendez and former UFC champion Benson Henderson in the top three slots.

But if Chandler isn't No. 1, he's not far from the top and there's no doubt whatsoever he'd be competitive with any 155-pound MMA fighter in the world.

On top of his vast skills, he's always one of the sport's best finishers and most exciting fighters to watch.

He was supposed to face Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez on Saturday in Southaven, Miss., in the main event of the promotion's first pay-per-view card.

Its other big names – Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Muhammad "King Mo" Lawal, Tito Ortiz and Alexander Shlemenko – were also set to fight on the card.

Here's the truth, though: It would still bomb on pay-per-view. With all of those fighters, and the star power of ex-UFC champions Jackson and Ortiz, the card still would have been exceptionally lucky to sell 100,000 on pay-per-view with the entire card intact.

But when news broke last week that Alvarez suffered a concussion while training and had to pull out of the bout, the Internet nearly melted as fans and media speculated how bad the financial carnage might be.

Chandler is now going to fight Will Brooks for the interim lightweight belt, while the Jackson-Lawal "grudge match" has been moved up to the main event.

There is endless speculation whether the show will get as many as 50,000 buys, with some estimating it would be lucky to do 25,000.

Whatever the final number may turn out to be, it won't be good. The pay-per-view business is a rough place to be right now, and Bellator's show is positioned just after a major boxing card featuring Floyd Mayweather Jr. and a week before a UFC pay-per-view show.

That's a lot of requests for people to dig into their pocket books in the same month. It's not a stretch to suggest that Mayweather, whose May 3 bout against Marcos Maidana figures to wind up somewhere between 900,000 and 1 million sales, will garner 70 percent or more of all pay-per-views sold in May.

Mayweather's success leaves the rest for the UFC and its rival, Bellator, to fight over. The UFC has been in the pay-per-view business for years and has been relentlessly marketing UFC 173 on May 24 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

That event, and the Mayweather fight, are likely to suck the blood out of the Bellator pay-per-view offering. But that would have been true with Alvarez still on what would have been a far more appealing slate.

So the question is, why are MMA fans so fixated on what the pay-per-view number for the Bellator show will turn out to be rather than being interested in seeing one of the sport's best fighters in his prime?

Chandler is 12-1, with his only loss coming by split decision in his last fight to Alvarez in a bout that was one of 2013's finest. He's finished 10 of his 12 wins, including a 2011 victory over Alvarez by rear naked choke that was arguably the greatest fight of that year.

He's easily become one of the world's must-see MMA fighters, but the card figures to get drowned in anonymity.

Chandler would have made a lot more money had he been in the cage with Alvarez atop the card, but he's philosophical. He just hopes people give him a shot.

"I would hope people are excited to see me fight, even though I know there is a lot of disappointment that I'm not fighting Eddie," Chandler said. "I go out there every fight and do the same thing: Try to attack and put on a show and finish the fight.

"I'm going to do that even though I'm fighting Will instead of Eddie. I'm not going to change. I'm going to be me and I'm kind of wired to fight one way."

Brooks hasn't been thrilled with the reaction of fans and media, who were disappointed by Alvarez's ouster, and he seems to have something personal against Chandler. He's probably not going to be all that thrilled to learn that Chandler doesn't care all that much for the interim title belt that will be at stake.

Chandler had the regular belt for two years until he lost it to Alvarez in a bout in Long Beach, Calif., last year that he remains convinced he won.

Both of their faces showed the signs of the brutal battle, but Chandler beamed as he awaited the official announcement because he expected his name to be called as the winner.

He wasn't, and Alvarez, who had just come out of a lawsuit against Bellator, took the title back from him.

"In that moment, I thought for sure I was going to get my hand raised," Chandler said. "I had no doubt. But when the decision went his way, immediately, I thought that I didn't want to be the guy who complained about the judges and blamed them. I took the blame.

"That kind of got my camp guys mad at me. I had six guys back there saying I got screwed and stuff, but my whole reaction was, 'I should have finished the fight. I should have fought harder. I should have done this or done that.' "

It doesn't seem possible to fight much harder. Chandler brings it every time. And it's a shame he's stuck on a card that's likely going to get far less viewership than Spike normally gets in its weekly Friday time slot.

Everyone has to decide for themselves how to allocate their recreational dollars, but whenever Chandler is fighting, I'll be watching.

He's worth the price of admission whether he's fighting Alvarez, Brooks or any of a hundred other guys.

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