Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler says he is blessed, and has the tattoo and clothing line to prove it.
A former All-American wrestler at Missouri, Chandler made his MMA debut in August 2009.
"I love collegiate wrestling but the thought of training for international stuff just didn't really appeal to me," Chandler explained. "I knew I wanted to fight. It's a great way to continue competing and not to mention actually make money. You can make a career out of it."
He certainly has. Chandler is 9-0 and holds the Bellator lightweight title.
"I'm just blessed that fighting was an option," Chandler said. "Now I'm doing it and I love it. I thank God every day that I'm in the sport."
The 26-year-old Chandler wears that message, literally.
The word Blessed is tattooed on his chest and he has started a clothing line called Blessed Threads with 10 per cent of the proceeds going to a charity called Friends of Kids with Cancer.
A self-proclaimed "T-shirt nerd," he started making the shirts for himself only to find others wanted them too.
"We're selling shirts, kind of building it slowly and surely, brick by boring brick, but I really think we're going to end up making it a large company and we're going to bless a lot of people."
He sees the tattoo as "constant reminder of how blessed I truly am."
"You shouldn't have to be reminded every single day, but we as humans, our human nature, we tend to dwell on the things we don't have instead of the things that we do have sometimes.
"For me, I want to make sure every single day I wake up and give thanks for everything that I've been given in life. ... Life really is a gift. Tomorrow is definitely not a certainty."
Chandler is showcased at Bellator 67 on Friday when he takes on Japanese veteran Akihiro Gono at Casino Rama north of Toronto.
It's a non-title bout since Chandler is awaiting to see who survives the ongoing lightweight tournament that will determine his next challenger.
That will be either Rick Hawn (13-1) or Brent Weedman (20-7), who meet May 19 at Bellator 69 in Lake Charles, La.
The 37-year-old Gono is a colourful veteran who has fought in the UFC, Pride, Pancrase Shooto, Sengoku and K-1.
At UFC 89 in Birmingham, England, Gono entered the arena in a wig and shades, pausing for a nifty dance routine complete with two backup dancers en route to the cage.
"Interesting,'' said a bemused UFC president Dana White, asked to rate the pre-fight show.
Gono (32-17) made his UFC debut in style at UFC 78, wearing a wig, shades and white suit as he walked to the cage to the sounds of disco music for his bout against welterweight Tamdan (The Barn Cat) McCrory. Gono then stripped to show off tight zebra-print shorts on underneath.
He then showed he can fight as well as dress up. Gono left with US$55,000 for submission of the night, almost ripping off McCrory's arm. McCrory's body was so twisted, he had to verbally tap out.
"He's fought some of the best names in MMA," said Chandler, reeling off the likes of Dan Henderson, Gegard Mousasi, Chael Sonnen and Hector Lombard.
Gono's best days are probably behind him, however. He has gone 3-5 since the McCrory fight and has not fought in the UFC since losing to Jon Fitch at UFC 94 in January 2009.
Still he is durable and hard to put away. Seven of his last 10 fights have gone to decision.
A walk-on at Missouri and a dark horse when he entered the Bellator 155-pound tournament, Chandler is used to flying under the radar.
He turned heads by posting a 100-40 record at Missouri. And after dethroning Eddie Alvarez last November for the Bellator title, the Las Vegas-based fighter is no longer a surprise package in the world of MMA.
"A lot of people thought I would go to Missouri, just be a workout partner and never start," Chandler said. "I ended up starting all four years and becoming an All-American.
"And then in fighting, I came into the (Bellator) tournament relatively unknown. But that's to be expected. I only had three fights when I signed with Bellator and then I fought two fights pretty quick. I wasn't on anybody's radar."
Chandler got into MMA when fellow Missouri wrestlers Tyron Woodley (Strikeforce, 10-0) and Ben Askren (10-0, Bellator welterweight champion) made the transition. He started helping them train and decided to give it a go himself.
He graduated in May 2009 and had his first pro fight that August.
After his third MMA bout, he left his position as an assistant wrestling coach at Missouri in August 2010 to train full-time in Las Vegas.
Chandler took a month off after the Alvarez fight, his longest time away from the gym since before his high school wrestling days.
The time allowed an injured foot to heal. At one point in the Alvarez bout, he thought he had broken the foot after a kick to the body. His leg buckles as he tries to put weight on the foot immediately after the kick but he still managed to finish the fight.
"I went and got it X-rayed the next day because I couldn't even walk on it, it swelled up so much and was so painful."
The good news was it was diagnosed as a deep bruise.
Chandler emerged with two black eyes, three cuts, one set of stitches and "a sore body for a couple of days."
And a championship belt.
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