Less than a week away from his next title defense, Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler has signed a lucrative new eight-fight, multi-year deal with the promotion.
While terms of the new contract weren't disclosed, Chandler and Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney were both very happy with the final terms of the deal.
Chandler cut his teeth in the Bellator cage, debuting with the promotion after only three professional fights. The early gamble on an unknown fighter paid off as Chandler went on to win the lightweight tournament before putting on one of the greatest fights in MMA history against Eddie Alvarez to win the title in 2011.
Since that time, Chandler has gone 2-0 while looking more impressive with each fight. Now with a new contract in place he can defend his belt knowing that he is a cornerstone to the foundation that Bellator hopes to build along with their new relationship with Spike TV.
"It means a lot to the organization," Rebney said when speaking to Bleacher Report about the deal. "I think Michael Chandler really represents what this Bellator brand is all about. He's a guy we signed, thought he had amazing potential, unbelievable raw athletic talent, an incredible background in wrestling and we said this is a guy who could become a champion.
"Outside of the cage, Michael is as powerful and prolific a figure and as positive a figure as I believe we've got in MMA. It made a ton of sense. We had a fair amount of time left on our deal with Michael, and he's so far exceeded our expectations and elevated himself to such a world class level that it seemed like the right and fair thing to do."
Chandler echoed those feelings and added to it by saying that he wanted to stick by the promotion that stuck by him during the earliest parts of his career. Now with a very hefty contract to back up Bellator's promises, Chandler is elated for what comes next.
"It makes me feel good, it makes me feel like I'm continuing to improve not just as a fighter, but as a person. Somebody with a huge brand like Bellator under an even huger brand like Viacom, to have them put their faith in me, to put me in so many things, to put me in commercials, send me to all these events, and just to continue to put me in the cage with great talent, it's great," Chandler stated. "It's a win-win for both of us. For me as well as Bellator, we're both happy with it, and just excited about the future."
Bellator is no stranger to having its name in the headlines for contract negotiations with champions or past champions over the last few years. Former middleweight titleholder Hector Lombard jumped ship on Bellator when he became a free agent to sign with the UFC (since that time he's gone 1-2 there).
Most infamously, Bellator has gone to battle with former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez over matching contract terms after he was offered a multi-fight deal with the UFC. The two parties are still awaiting a day in court to settle the matter, and that won't come until well into 2014.
Bellator had no desire to see that same scenario unravel with Chandler, who is not only one of the highest ranking champions under the company banner, but in many ways is becoming the face of the promotion. If he had become a free agent, it's likely Chandler would have been one of the most sought after names from promotions like the UFC.
Now, he will be a Bellator fighter for years to come.
"It was a good thing for this company and for Michael to sit down with him and say we want to make a long term commitment to you," Rebney explained. "We want you to be part of the Bellator brand and part of the Bellator family for years to come. We want to make you one of the highest paid lightweights in all of MMA and we want you to be here with us. We want you to establish yourself as the undisputed No. 1 lightweight in the world with us. It just made sense across every conceivable spectrum. We're happy, these are checks that we'll be writing that I'll have a big smile across my face as I sign the checks."
Rebney wouldn't say exactly how much the contract will pay Chandler, but he did disclose that it's one of the largest in promotion history.
Chandler's career trajectory is only going up, and Rebney plans on keeping the champion busy inside and outside the cage with fights to build his reputation and sponsorships, commercials and televisions spots to build his own brand.
"We're finally in a position now where we can keep a fighter like Michael Chandler, who I believe is the best lightweight in the world, very busy," Rebney said. "Mike's going to fight for us in a week live and free on Spike against Dave Rickels, and then he's going to fight again in the fall, and then he's going to fight again for us in the winter period. There's going to be a lot of frequency, we're going to keep him very busy. There's a lot of other pieces to this.
"The thing that makes that all happen is Michael Chandler inside the cage, performing at that (Michael) Jordan-esque level and performing inside the Bellator cage. That's what makes it all turn. You're going to see growth over the next few years."
Chandler says he couldn't be happier with Bellator and the new deal he just inked. As much as any fighter wants to say it's all about competition and being the best in the world there is always going to be a financial component to the sport that has to play a role in decision making.
Chandler admits he's not above that either, but now with a new contract in place he can just keep his eye on the ultimate prize—becoming the best 155-pound fighter in MMA.
"I've always said the most important thing is the fight, but as I'm 27 years old now, I want to be married, I want to be able to provide for my future wife and future kids. Financial freedom is very important to me because when that kind of stuff is taken care of, I can just focus on fighting," Chandler said. "I can focus on what I was put in this sport to do and that's train everyday to become the best lightweight in the world."
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.