For a mixed martial arts fighter, there's no better way to go into free agency than with a big knockout. And that's exactly what Michael Chandler did.
In the final fight on his Bellator contract, Chandler stopped former UFC champ Benson Henderson with a left-hand KO at 2:09 of the first round Friday night in the main event of Bellator 243 at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Chandler switched to southpaw, something he rarely does, and landed a hard left hand that dropped Henderson. The punch grazed off Henderson's shoulder, but had so much power on it that it still landed with major impact. Chandler followed with a right hook that bounced off the top of Henderson's head and referee Dan Miragliotta had no choice but to step in and wave the bout off as Henderson sank to the canvas.
Chandler has made it clear that he will test his value on the open market after this fight -- and the huge finish raised his stock considerably. Henderson had been stopped only one other time in his career, a 2014 knockout loss in the UFC to Rafael dos Anjos.
"We'll see what happens," Chandler said. "Every single lightweight on the entire planet, you're on the clock -- you're on notice."
Henderson started the fight off with some hard body kicks and nice combinations. But Chandler gave him a different look, switching to southpaw, which was something he worked on during his training camp at Florida's Sanford MMA, the home of UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, Gilbert Burns and others.
"It's something we kind of worked on a little bit," Chandler said. "Maybe throw him off a little bit."
This was the second time the two men have fought each other. Chandler won the first fight to retain the Bellator lightweight title in 2016 via split decision.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared to death going into the cage with this monster," Chandler said of Henderson.
Chandler (20-5) has done it all in Bellator. He is a three-time Bellator lightweight champion and is now tied for the most wins in promotion history with Patricio Freire (18). Chandler, 34, has the most finishes in Bellator history (13) and the most title fights in promotion history (11). He debuted in Bellator back in 2010 with just a 3-0 record. Chandler, a Missouri native, has now won two fights in a row and five of his past six.
"All I know is if this is the last time I stepped into this Bellator cage, everybody [in Bellator] ... you guys have no idea the impact you've made on my life," Chandler said. "I'm not who I am without the organization of Bellator."
Henderson (28-9) was on a four-fight winning streak coming in. The Arizona resident held the UFC lightweight title in 2012 and 2013. Henderson, 36, is still tied with BJ Penn for the most consecutive UFC lightweight title defenses in history (3).
In the co-main event Friday, Timothy Johnson stopped Matt Mitrione via first-round TKO in a battle of former UFC heavyweights. Johnson (14-6) has won two straight, both via first-round KO/TKO. Mitrione (13-8, 1 NC) is winless in four straight.
Also on the Bellator 243 card, Myles Jury defeated Georgi Karakhanyan by split decision, Sabah Homasi beat Curtis Millender by unanimous decision and prospects Adam Borics, Dalton Rosta and Valerie Loureda picked up victories in the prelims.