Editor’s Note: CMT will simulcast Bellator MMA Live on Saturday (Jan. 20) at 9 p.m. ET. A performance of the National Anthem by Trace Adkins will kick off the event.
While chatting with MMA fighter Michael Chandler, it’s easy to see the parallels between pursuing professional careers in mixed martial arts and country music. Both paths can be bloody and painful. Both experiences have sacrifices, losses and victories.
And both are callings. Musicians are called to create art, while MMA athletes are called to fight no matter the setbacks they encounter in their respective journeys.
“It’s a fast-paced somewhat violent sport, but it’s very much entertaining,” Chandler tells CMT.com. “And the greatest thing about mixed martial arts is that it transcends a lot of demographics. And there are so many people like myself who I fight because I believe there’s a calling in my life to fight. I didn’t have to fight. I chose to fight. I believe God put me on this Earth to be able to do this and do it at a high level.”
Chandler is a former lightweight champion who will fight Goiti Yamauchi on Saturday’s (Jan. 20) CMT simulcast of Bellator MMA Live. Leading up to the fight, he attended a 12-week training camp that rivals Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney‘s fitness regimens leading up to a major tour.
“I’m always training to be quite honest, but there are those moments when you’re a little more out of shape than you should be,” Chandler says. “For each fight, 12 weeks out, you start to clean up the diet. Eight weeks out, you clean everything up — your sleep schedule, workout schedule, diet — everything is on point. You start really focusing mentally on ways to win this fight and how you’re going to win.”
When Chandler describes his diet leading up to a fight, it sounds strict. It comprises of six ounces of protein with some vegetables fives time a day as small meals. “We’re talking chicken and broccoli, ground turkey and broccoli, ground beef and broccoli or cauliflower,” he says. “I eat about every three to four hours. I don’t drink anything besides my protein shakes or amino acids. The good thing is coffee is always allowed.”
Obviously, there’s no fun stuff. Booze and sugar are off limits.
“No bad foods,” he adds. “None of that stuff because I have to go from 185 to 155, which is 30 pounds. A lot of it is bringing my body fat down, and the rest is just water weight.”
Both artists and MMA fighters experience the sacrifice of being away from family. Touring musicians are gone for months at a time on the road, while MMA athletes travel to train and fight.
“There are times when I miss so many weddings and so many birthday parties,” he says. “We missed Christmas this year with my family or my wife’s family because of my fight camp. There are a lot of sacrifices.”
And both musicians and fighters hope to inspire others through their crafts. In his eight years in the MMA profession, Chandler knows not every fight is going to be a victory. But he considers every loss as a new opportunity to succeed.
“I’ve had so many people reach out to me, that I’ve helped them go through some of their tough times because I’ve gone through some tough times in this sport,” he said. “I’ve lost three fights in a row, which 688 days without a win, that’s very tough for a fighter to come back from.
“A lot of people wrote me off and said I’d never be anything again, and I ended up becoming a world champion again. And then I lost the belt due to injury, and the way that all happened was very dramatic. But I look at it as there have been so many things that have happened for me and not to me. I’m going to become a better human being because of it. That’s everything to me.”
Chandler, his wife and their adopted son call Nashville home. He has plans to open an MMA fitness gym in East Nashville.