Bellator 243: Chandler and Henderson Meet Again in Crossroads Bout

Michael Chandler and Benson Henderson Bellator 243
Michael Chandler and Benson Henderson Credit: Joe McDonagh/Cageside Press

Michael Chandler will look to make a statement as he embarks on free agency, but Benson Henderson will be looking to avenge a loss and propel himself forward as well at Bellator 243.

Though there have been a few hiccups over the last few years, Michael Chandler has statistically proven himself as the best lightweight in Bellator history.  By the numbers:  He holds the most victories in lightweight championship fights in the promotion.  In terms of championship victories overall, he is second only to current two-division champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire.  No longer the fresh faced 24 year old that entered Bellator a decade ago, Chandler is a grizzled veteran whom many name as the best fighter currently competing who has never fought in the UFC.  His body of work speaks for itself with performances against Eddie Alvarez, Benson Henderson, and others all illustrating his elite level skill set.

At 34 years old, Chandler is now in an interesting position.  He is on the last fight of his Bellator contract, and there is no championship clause tying him down past Saturday night.  Though still seemingly as dangerous as ever, his age has many wondering if a drop-off in his skills is impending in the near future.  A second victory against Henderson would get him the best offer possible from all interested parties, with enticing fights in the UFC and the chance to be a major player in ONE Championship joining Bellator on the table.  With current champion Freire currently locked in the Featherweight Grand Prix, there has arguably never been a more likely time for Chandler to take his talents elsewhere.  Should he come up short, however, there is a good chance that his value will decrease on the free agent market.

“Smooth” Benson Henderson may not get the praise he deserves for his run as a UFC champion, but he set the benchmark nonetheless.  His three title defenses in the Octagon are tied with BJ Penn for the most in UFC lightweight history, and he currently has one more defense than reigning kingpin Khabib Nurmagomedov.  Since losing the belt he has struggled with top flight competition and injuries.  He has gone 10-5 after being dethroned, including making the move from the UFC to Bellator where he challenged for a title twice (at lightweight and welterweight).  Though he entered the promotion as one of their biggest free agent signings, he went 1-3 and enthusiasm for his impact in Bellator dimmed.

After rehabilitating a knee injury and building himself back up, Henderson turned the ship around in 2018.  He is currently on a four fight win-streak with wins over two of the top contenders in the promotion in Saad Awad and Myles Jury in what is best run since he was a world champion in 2013.  He now has a huge opportunity to claim a victory over Chandler after coming up short in their hotly contested first matchup four years ago.  Should he avenge the loss, it would be hard to deny a shot at Bellator gold against Freire or a possible interim title shot if “Pitbull” remains unavailable.

Stylistically, the boxing and wrestling of Chandler remain the biggest threats to Henderson.  Chandler should look to work behind a long jab and set up takedowns where his top control provides him the greatest advantage.  Henderson remains an explosive athlete with some of the most dangerous kicks in the lightweight division and he should utilize them to chop away at the mobility of Chandler.  A boxing match favors the former Bellator champion, so Henderson should look to close the distance and get a takedown so as to neutralize Chandler’s best weapons.

The future for Chandler is shrouded in mystery.  There are immediate opportunities to be found in ONE Championship, but travel restrictions amidst the coronavirus pandemic could make things a challenge should he want to stay active in 2020.  Though there have always been enticing fights in the UFC, an immediate title shot and title contention in the current state of things is unlikely.  In Bellator, he would remain a perennial title contender in the lightweight division, although the same travel restrictions and the Featherweight Grand Prix put a rematch with Freire further away than ever.

For Henderson, a victory would set him up as the top contender in the lightweight division where he is the last fighter to record a victory over Freire.  Moving forward, he can take fights at both lightweight and welterweight to stay active.  That said, he has the same challenges as Chandler in that a rematch with Freire is far away due to the struggles to get the current champion to the United States amidst the global situation.