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Friday, November 1, 2013
Chandler recounts first duel with Alvarez

By Josh Gross

It has been two years since Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez conjured one of mixed martial arts' most dramatic and competitive brawls.

Neither man needs reminding that Chandler choked out Alvarez, and so the Bellator lightweight title changed hands that night. The "shrieking pain of defeat" continues to haunt Alvarez, who admitted he has struggled to regain some measure of control over his career while engaged in a contractual battle with Bellator. At a certain point not so long ago, he had enough and just wanted to fight again. That's why this rematch with Chandler is happening Saturday at Bellator 106 in Long Beach, Calif.

As for the current Bellator lightweight champion, well, it has been 24 months since the Alvarez fight and Chandler's right foot remains sore -- it likely will for as long as he feels stuff -- though you wouldn't know it based on his success.

"When I wake up in the morning it takes me a couple steps to loosen up the joints," Chandler said.

In the third round, Chandler planted his left leg, flung his right and stepped back to gather himself. But there was no putting pressure on it. Chandler had connected with Alvarez's hip and,"because the pain was so intense," the foot was worthless.

"To this day my foot still hurts from that," Chandler said. "I didn't break my foot. I thought I did. After the fight, it swelled up like a freakin' watermelon."

For the next two-plus minutes, Alvarez, who was knocked down twice in the first period, seized, attacked and unloaded.

"Ninety-nine percent of people watch that third round and think I was almost finished," Chandler said. "But to me, I wasn't even close to being finished."

That defiant mantra may as well have been Alvarez's after the opening five minutes, which felt like a distant memory while he whaled on Chandler in the third. Having recovered from being dropped at the beginning and end of Round 1, Alvarez, finally warmed up, moved with purpose. He rebounded to outscore the green-yet-determined Chandler in the second.

Eddie Alvarez and Mike Chandler
Michael Chandler, left, overcame Eddie Alvarez in a duel for the ages at Bellator 58 in 2011.
As action moved to the middle period, Alvarez deployed digging body shots that busted up Chandler on the inside prior to the challenger's awkward, hobbling kick. Chandler said he never was rocked, his equilibrium never was tampered with, but he was several steps behind Alvarez and decided to shift into survival mode.

"I felt him quitting. I felt him ready to go," Alvarez said. "But I didn't commit to the knockout. I just thought the knockout would come.

"Rather than forcing it I wanted to throw my combinations. I was positive something big would land if I let my combinations go, but he toughed it out. All credit to Mike. He toughed it out. He got through it. And he got himself to the next round."

Each time Chandler spars, he said he does so with the idea that a new round is a fresh start. In the real world, that paid off at the most crucial moment.

"When you're in that crazy storm for two minutes and you're getting your face beat in, your emotions are running high," Chandler said. "Your heart rate easily doubles. And your body starts to fatigue because of the craziness that's going on. But when you get that minute back and you can sit on your stool, you look your coach in the eye as best as you can and consciously let your body get to neutral, back to normal.

"It doesn't matter how badly I got beat in the third round. The fourth is completely different. That's how I practice."

If Alvarez thought he was going to finish it in the fourth, Chandler wanted to send a message off the top.

"When I came out that fourth round I beat him to the center. I threw that first punch. I landed that first punch," Chandler recalled. "Eddie was the most surprised guy in the building because he just got done beating on my face for the last three minutes and he saw a guy standing in front of him that, if anything, was fighting harder than he was before.

"That's my mentality."

Chandler chalked it up to his wrestling roots, though that misses the mark. Wrestlers enter MMA all the time, and some do fall flat. Not because lessons from wrestling fail to apply in MMA. That's not it at all. Fighting is inherently more demanding than wrestling, and in this way Chandler's effort against Alvarez proved what he's capable of.

Chandler
Chandler went through hell and back to take the Bellator lightweight title from Alvarez the first time around, saying "I felt like every organ was sore."
The finish happened fast. During a scramble, Chandler launched himself toward Alvarez with an uppercut to the jaw. The challenger was unrefined purpose, and when he clocked Alvarez with an overhand right that was almost enough.

"I saw the look in his eyes," Chandler said.

Alvarez admitted to panicking his way into making a bad mistake, in which he gave up his back and seconds later tapped while his neck was tightly squeezed.

Chandler had been through hell -- the first time that had happened in his promising career. Though he found a way to win, it came with a price.

Like Alvarez, Chandler suffered damaged rib cartilage. His lungs, stomach and arms also ached from such intense labor. His face was a mess.

"I felt like every organ was sore," Chandler said.

And, of course, that foot -- the unwanted reminder Chandler expects to carry with him the rest of his days after one of the best fights he'll ever have the privilege of taking part in.

"As cliche as it sounds, it lets you know you're human," Chandler said. "You like to feel pain because it lets you know you're alive. A crazy fight like that, it was great. I don't want to make a habit out of it, because ultimately I want to go out there and be able to compete in this sport at a high level for as long as I can. You can only be in so many wars like that and keep your body capable. I enjoyed it but I'm hoping for a quick finish."