Bellator 243: “Chandler vs. Henderson 2 Live” comes to Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., tomorrow night (Fri., Aug. 7, 2020), streaming on DAZN (watch it) and airing on Paramount Network. A global pandemic could not stop a Lightweight rematch scheduled for both Saitama, Japan, and Chicago, Ill., at various points in the last 12 months.
155 lbs.: Michael Chandler (20-5) vs. Benson Henderson (28-8)
Four years ago at Bellator 165 two long-time Lightweight stars had the kind of “what if” fight MMA fans had been clamoring for. Michael Chandler was the two time king of 155 pounds. and came to San Jose’s SAP Center looking to defend the throne. Benson Henderson was the former WEC and UFC king who had jumped ship to Bellator MMA for new challenges, and putting a third promotion’s title around his waist certainly seemed to fit the bill. Since Chandler had fought virtually his entire career for Bellator, he could either prove he was the equal of another company’s star, or Henderson could prove Chandler was very overrated.
Ultimately, though, after a hard-fought five rounds neither man successfully proved their point. Chandler had a very strong opening round, Henderson had an even stronger fifth and final round, and everything in between was up for debate as to who landed the better or more frequent strikes. This led to a split decision where Chandler retained the title but did not prove he was the better man, and in turn Henderson had to feel robbed after making a mess of Chandler at the end of the fight yet not being able to leave with his title. It was immediately apparent a rematch would be necessary to settle the score, something even Chandler advocated in his post-fight interview.
Fast forward four years later and we’ve now been through multiple attempts to put that rematch together. After being dethroned by both Brent Primus and Patricio Freire in title fights, it looked like it was finally time for Chandler to settle the score at Saitama Super Arena in Japan. A late injury forced Henderson out of the bout so Chandler settled for knocking out Sidney Outlaw instead. Wintrust Arena in Chicago was chosen as the new location for the fight in June and then coronavirus forced that show to be postponed. Barring someone tripping over a cord, running into a steel pipe backstage, or testing positive for COVID-19 on fight week, we’ll finally get this fight on Friday night.
In their first meeting Chandler had all the momentum, having decisively finished three straight opponents with nobody lasting longer than 3:05 of the second round. Henderson had fluked his way into a win over the presumptive No. 1 contender after coming off a decisive ass kicking in an ill-conceived Welterweight title shot against Andrey Koreshkov. Henderson brought it to Chandler and proved to the doubters he was the man of the hour. After losing a second split decision his next time out, Henderson reeled off a four fight win streak to get right back to the top. Ironically though Chandler isn’t the champ any more.
The pressure is now on Chandler as opposed to Henderson. This is the last fight of his current Bellator contract and a decisive victory in the rematch will force them to make a good offer or risk him doing precisely what Henderson did — jump ship to try his luck somewhere else for more money. A loss doesn’t hurt Henderson nearly as much given he’s already proven his credentials multiple times over, but it would put him out of the running for another potential rematch — one with the current champion Patricio Freire. Chandler is 5’8” with a 74-inch reach, Henderson is 5’9” with a 71-inch reach, but the difference makers are how hard Chandler hits and how hard Henderson is to submit. As we saw in their first fight they can perfectly neutralize each other’s strengths, so a dominant win either way is unlikely.
Earlier this year as the coronavirus was surging across the United States, Matt Mitrione said that if you could let all the fighters in Bellator who were willing to take the risk put their names in a hat, he’d be happy to be drawn for a card anywhere at any time. This Friday his wish has been granted, and the sorting hat chose another Heavyweight who shares a UFC tenure with Mitrione. After two disappointing first round knockouts in his first two Bellator fights, Timothy Johnson finally picked up a huge win over Tyrell Fortune to get back on track. It really is true what they say — the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Coincidentally, that has always been Mitrione’s gameplan as a fighter — 85 percent of his wins (11 of 13) come by form of knockout, and not a single opponent of his has ever been submitted. To his credit he makes no apologies for this, either. When you step into the cage with Matt Mitrione you know exactly what you’re going to get, so you either neutralize it with takedowns (a la Ryan Bader) or you meet him in the center and let your hands do the talking. Johnson arguably has more tools in the shed, but he hasn’t won a single fight by submission since 2014, and that was pre-UFC let alone pre-Bellator. Both men stand 6’3” and have a formidable reach (79” for Mitrione, 78” for Johnson). The knock on Mitrione though is that he’s winless in his last three fights and at 42 the clock is ticking. At 35 Johnson is still young enough to go on a run if momentum carries him in this fight.