When Bellator Fighting Championships was looking for an opponent for new lightweight champion Michael Chandler, the list was long.
Soon enough, however, it got whittled down to one because no one was jumping at the chance to face Chandler after his “Fight of the Year” performance over former champ Eddie Alvarez.
The one name that accepted the fight, without hesitation: former UFC and Pride fighter Akihiro Gono.
A mainstay of the Japanese fight scene for more than 15 years, Gono is a veteran fighter who has faced some of the stiffest competition anyone could throw at him and when Michael Chandler’s name was attached to his next bout, there really wasn’t much thought into what to say.
Gono just said yes.
“I have never rejected any fight offer,” Gono told MMAWeekly.com. “Now, I understand why a veteran, perhaps an old man like myself, was chosen to fight Chandler.”
Gono’s manager, Shu Hirata from Suckerpunch Entertainment, said the fight was a no-brainer for the 37-year-old veteran of nearly 50 professional fights. The opportunity was great, and with no risk comes no reward.
“We’ve been looking for an opportunities outside Japan for maybe about a year or so. There were a few possibilities, but none of them were quite right for him at the moment. Then the offer from Bellator actually came in the day before his last fight (vs. Daisuke Nakamura). So I spoke to him the day after that fight and he basically said, ‘I have no injury whatsoever, healthy as ever, so I would like to fight.’ Really, it took less than two minutes to accept the offer to fight Michael Chandler,” Hirata told MMAWeekly.com.
“Gono is one of the smartest individuals I ever met and he has an ability to look at the entire situation in an objective manner. So he knows his place in the business, where he is at in terms of his career. And that means he knows this is more than just an opportunity. It maybe the chance of a lifetime. He can turn everything around with one punch, so to speak. So I am sure he would do whatever it takes to create, perhaps, one of the biggest upsets in the history of MMA on this Friday night.”
Despite his relative youth when it comes to experience level, Chandler has looked like an unstoppable force throughout his career thus far. Already a high level wrestler, Chandler has added heavy hands and a dangerous submission game to his arsenal.
There just aren’t a lot of weaknesses in Chandler’s game. If you know of any, however, Gono will be happy to take your call.
“If there is any weakness of Michael Chandler, then will you please teach me about that?” Gono joked.
Gono is realistic about the situation he’s heading into and he knows that the world is probably picking against him to win. Still, everybody loves a good underdog story and what better way for Gono to re-emerge on the MMA scene than to hand Michael Chandler his first loss.
“An old man, at 37 years old, will cause a huge upset,” said Gono. “I am going to fight hard to create that kind of result.”