Michael Chandler wasn't surprised week when his management informed him that Brent Primus had pulled out of their upcoming Bellator MMA lightweight title fight.
He said he was a little surprised, however, when Bellator's featherweight champion Patricio "Pitbull" Freire declined to take Primus' spot.
Chandler (17-4) will now face Brandon Girtz at Bellator 197 on Friday night in St. Charles, Missouri. The former champion said he's grateful Girtz (15-7) was willing to take the fight, but he also revealed Girtz was the promotion's second backup plan.
Initially, after Primus (8-0) withdrew with a knee injury, Chandler says he received (and signed) a bout agreement to face Freire (26-4). The two have some history. Chandler has defeated Freire's older brother, Patricky, twice -- including a first-round knockout in 2016.
"I said, '100 percent, let's do that,'" Chandler told ESPN. "I've been wanting to fight that guy for a while. I sent my contract over, and a couple hours later, I got a call back that basically said, 'Never mind. Patricio is making all kinds of demands,' which were basically smoke and mirrors for, 'I don't want to fight.'
"He's said he wants to put my head on his mantle. Bellator gives him the fight he supposedly wants, and he turns it down. He's a coward with a big mouth."
Chandler, who trains out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said his frustrations don't stop with Freire.
The two-time 155-pound champion lost his belt to Primus at Bellator 180 last summer, under unique circumstances. Chandler suffered a freak nerve injury in his foot in the first round and couldn't even stand. He tried to fight through the issue, but the bout was waved off.
Primus has issued a public apology on social media for his injury, but Chandler said he doesn't believe he ever intended to make the fight.
"I knew this day was coming. He's a part-time fighter who only fights once per year," Chandler said. "He should just step down and relinquish the belt, and we can go on our merry ways.
"I know Brent Primus is not actually hurt. Until I see an MRI that shows a real injury, I guarantee he is not hurt. But I don't get what his angle is, because he's not making any extra money off being a champion. Anthony Pettis held the UFC title for two years and only defended it once, but he got on a Wheaties box and lived the high life off being a champion. That's smart. I don't see Brent doing that.
"Nobody believes he is the true champion. Everybody has discredited him for the way the fight went down. If I was him, it would take an act of God for me not to step into the cage against a guy I really needed to prove myself against."
Frustrations aside, Chandler said he'll show up to Missouri's Family Arena on April 13 and put on a show against Girtz, like he always does. And afterward, he'll consider his options.
"At this point, I've propped up the lightweight division for the last decade. I'm the guy to fight. I don't need to fight Brent Primus. I didn't even really want to fight for the title at first. I was excited to fight someone like Rory MacDonald, Patricio Pitbull, one of these welterweights. The belt is not the end all, be all anymore. I've held it numerous times."