How synonymous with the Bellator MMA 155-pound belt is “Iron Mike?” Of the 15 lightweight title fights in Bellator history—including the lone interim title fight—Chandler has appeared in 11. He is the only three-time Bellator champion in any division, and is tied for the most lightweight title defenses with three.
During Chandler’s long run as the lightweight champ or top contender, as he became Bellator’s most accomplished fighter and biggest home-grown star, debate of course raged over how the former University of Missouri Tiger would fare against his Octagon counterparts. Perceptions were not helped when Will Brooks, a man who defeated Chandler twice, moved to the UFC only to wash out with a dismal 1-3 record. Eddie Alvarez, who authored a pair of classic fights with Chandler in Bellator, fared better and even held the UFC belt briefly, but appeared to be a man prematurely aged by his many wars.
The same might have been said of Chandler, who finally made his UFC debut against Top 10 contender Dan Hooker on Saturday at UFC 257. At 34 years old, with double-digit title fights, a few bad knockout losses and an alarming leg injury on his ledger, would the longtime Bellator star have anything left to offer? Two minutes later, we had our answer: an emphatic yes. And if Chandler’s stock is on the rise, then the same must go for the man who flattened him to wrest the title away, two-division champ Patricio Freire.
Here is the history of the Bellator MMA lightweight title and the times it was won, lost or defended. It tells the story of a division that has given us some incredible highlights and classic fights, and whose top fighters, on any given night, can go toe-to-toe with the best 155-pounders in the world.
Ben Duffy/Sherdog.com illustration