Fighting His Way to the Top


Photography by David Bean / Stylist Krista Roser

In the tumultuous world of Mixed Martial Arts, where some of the most badass people in the world are forged in the crucible of combat, some take their own path. Thirty-seven-year-old Michael Chandler’s journey from modest beginnings to becoming a UFC powerhouse is a narrative of determination, purposeful decisions and an unwillingness to settle for what others thought he should do. Chandler is currently a top story in the MMA as he is poised to fight Connor McGregor some time in the new year. Chandler believes the long-awaited fight will happen in the second quarter of 2024. Unlike his counterpart in this fight, Chandler seems to possess a distinct lack of controversy, arrogance, and media histrionics.  

High Ridge, Missouri is a small town near the border with Illinois that Michael Chandler describes as “bigger than a one-horse town, but not exactly a thriving metropolis. I’m a small guy, from a small town, who was taught to do small things,” recalls Chandler of the way his small town tried to discourage big ideas and big dreams. Thankfully for the MMA world, and fans of it, Chandler and his parents had other ideas. 

Michael Chandler’s ascent to MMA’s top tier can be traced back to his collegiate wrestling days. Chandler, although a very good high school wrestler, did not receive scholarship offers from any Division 1 college wrestling teams. He did receive scholarship offers from Division 2 and NAIA schools but chose to forgo those offers and attempt to walk on at the University of Missouri. Chandler knew that he would be better served by the quality of coaching and competition at Division 1 schools. With the support of his father Mike and mother Betty, Chandler not only made the team, but went on to become a three-time NCAA All-American. Chandler recalls, “My parents were always willing to support us no matter what kind of sacrifices they had to make. Whether it was taking on extra work, or forgoing their own wishes to make sure we had the opportunity to try to fulfill ours. We didn’t have a lot of things, but we weren’t missing anything,” is the way Chandler characterizes his childhood. He also credits his coach at the University of Missouri for instilling in him the desire to be not just the best wrestler he could be, but the best student, the best friend, the best leader and the best person he could be. This dedication to being more than just a student athlete, but a well-rounded person, has served Chandler well in his life.  


Chandler made his mark in the MMA landscape with Bellator MMA, where he quickly emerged as one of its brightest stars. In 2011, Chandler’s breakthrough moment came when he captured the Bellator Lightweight Championship in a riveting clash, ending in the submission of Eddie Alvarez. This victory not only showcased his skill set but also set the stage for a series of epic battles that would cement his legacy as a Bellator legend. Chandler went on to successfully defend the Lightweight title two more times. Throughout his career, Chandler has been a part of some of the most unforgettable moments in MMA history. The trilogy with Eddie Alvarez, including their epic encounter at Bellator 106, demonstrated Chandler’s ability to thrive under pressure. His reign as Bellator Lightweight Champion was marked by dominant performances and an unyielding will to succeed.

In 2020, Michael Chandler took his talents to the biggest stage in MMA—the UFC. His debut against Dan Hooker at UFC 257 was nothing short of total domination. In a mere two minutes and 30 seconds, Chandler brought his explosive striking to bear with a first-round knockout, leaving fans and fellow fighters in awe. The statement victory catapulted him into the upper echelons of the lightweight division. Chandler’s fighting style is a masterful blend of technical proficiency and raw power that overwhelms opponents with a multifaceted attack. Chandler’s powerful striking, formidable takedowns and relentless pace dismantle opponents both standing or on the mat. His ability to adapt his offense and defense to different opponents and fight scenarios has made him a formidable force in the lightweight division. 


Michael Chandler’s impact transcends the boundaries of the octagon. He is a devoted family man and an outspoken Christian who uses his faith as a lodestar to uplift and inspire others. Chandler not only possesses the mind of a relentless fighter, but he is also driven by an unstoppable entrepreneurial spirit. Chandler is involved in no less than four health and fitness brands. This prolific business acumen is driven by what Chandler refers to as being “blissfully dissatisfied.” He explains that you need to be happy with your accomplishments, but also be able to hold onto the thought that you can do more. He is involved in various ways with Kram Nutrition, which makes what Chandler refers to as a “healthy Uncrustable,” WalkOn Fitness, Training Camp Cut, and Speede Fitness. 

Chandler not only wants you to work on your physical well-being, but he would also like you to take the occasional hiatus from your physical progression to reflect on your accomplishments. What better way to do that than with a little high-quality tequila? According to Chandler, his partnership with Hiatus Tequila was born out of his affinity for tequila and his deep respect for the company’s owner. Chandler speaks in reverent tones regarding this new venture when he says, “Kristopher DeSoto (Owner of Hiatus Tequila) and I are seeking to redefine what a celebrity partnership should look like in the spirit industry. I have invested in Hiatus because of their commitment to crafting tequila the traditional way—with a deep respect for culture, hard work and dedication to authenticity and quality at a superior price point.” The story of Hiatus Tequila would seem to mirror Chandler’s internal characteristics.

Chandler also finds time for his family and friends. Chandler, his wife Brie, and his two sons, Hap and Ace, enjoy traveling to far flung places like Iceland, Greece and somewhat less exotic Scottsdale, Arizona. Chandler spends time in the desert oasis of Scottsdale playing golf and bringing in groups of friends and family for extended visits while on a hiatus from his training regime. The impossible search for perfection in golf strikes a chord with Chandler. The need to work smarter and be dedicated to improvement feels natural to him. Although, according to Chandler, even the pressure cooker that was stepping into the octagon for his first professional fight doesn’t compare to the pressure involved in standing on the first tee at his local club with a crowd gathered.

In the unforgiving realm of MMA, Michael Chandler stands tall as a symbol of resilience, skill and unwavering determination. From collegiate wrestling mats to the unforgiving spotlight of the UFC, Chandler’s journey is a testament to the power of passion and perseverance. The next chapter in his storied career promises to be just as thrilling as the last, ensuring that the name Michael Chandler will continue to echo through the annals of MMA history. Whether he’s chasing titles, new business opportunities or new experiences for his family, one thing is certain—Michael Chandler’s journey in the octagon, and in the boardroom, is far from over.

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