Eddie Alvarez was once the face of Bellator Fighting Championships. Today, he's locked in a legal dispute with his former employer over an offer to fight in the UFC.

Bellator, Eddie Alvarez Battle Highlights Ugly Side of the Fight Game

Eddie Alvarez is certainly no stranger to knock down, drag out wars.

During his near decade-long career, he’s had more than his fair share of fun fights – and many of them took place, in the last few years, inside the Bellator cage. His fight with Pat Curran immediately springs to mind. So does his rematch with Shinya Aoki. The Freire KO was ridiculous. And his epic encounter with Michael Chandler was many folks choice for “Fight of the Year” in 2011.

It’s a shame, then, the the battle that may end up defining his career is happening in a courtroom, instead of a ring or cage.

Alvarez is currently locked in a legal drama with Bellator Fighting Championships, his longtime promoter and the company with which he is most associated. At the heart of the issue is language in Eddie’s contract which gives Bellator a ninety-day “matching period”, during which the promotion can match any offer Eddie receives from another promotion. Though Eddie’s contract with Bellator is theoretically already expired, the “matching period” means they could control Alvarez’s destiny for the time being.

In theory, this “matching period” is designed to give Bellator the chance to competitively bid for the services of perhaps their most well-known fighter. In reality, it has turned into an ugly sticking point that may prevent Eddie from fighting for some time – as well as delay his arrival in the UFC, which is currently bidding for the Philadelphia fighter’s services.

It’s been reported that the UFC is currently offering Eddie 75,000 to fight, with an additional 75,000 to win. Both those numbers would go up incrementally should Eddie continue to win fights. It’s quite a nice chunk of change for a fighter making his promotional debut. In fact, it was more (on paper, at least) than lightweight champion Ben Henderson was making each fight before he re-signed with the promotion just a few days ago.

Regardless, this sum of money doesn’t seem to be the problem. Instead, it is the UFC’s stated intent (more on that later) to promote Alvarez’s fights on FOX, and on PPV. When Bellator “matched” the UFC’s offer to Alvarez, they decided to overlook those parts of Eddie’s UFC offer because they represented an “intent”, not a guarantee.

In the case of Eddie fighting on Fox, Bellaor CEO Bjorn Rebney contends that a fight on Spike TV (Bellator’s new broadcast partner starting this year) might draw less eyeballs then a featured bout on FOX. But the fight would be replayed on Spike many times, says Rebney, as opposed to a one-and-done on FOX. Thus, the reasoning goes, it will draw the same net views as the FOX showing.

And what about the matter of (potential) PPV revenue? Bellator has decided to ignore that part entirely – after all, the UFC’s contract only states their “intent” to put Alvarez on a PPV card, not their stone cold guarantee. And that, Bellator claims, is not legally binding. After all, the UFC can state their intent to proclaim Alvarez the next King of England and build a giant bronze statue in his honor – doesn’t mean they’re legally obligated to do it.

So you can see Bellator’s side in all this. But you can also see, plain as day, what a giant hassle this is for Alvarez’s career. This is a fighter in his prime, at perhaps the peak of his popularity, and he’s stuck in limbo while lawyers decide his fate.

And yes, Alvarez is still a hot commodity, even after the title loss to Mike Chandler in 2011. Losing the “Fight of the Year” did as much damage to Alvarez’s career as it did to Maruicio “Shogun” Rua’s and “The Korean Zombie’s”. Plus, he’s won twice since then, against pretty good competition. He also has the benefit of being one of Bellator’s most promoted fighters – hey, it worked for Hector Lombard!

From his perspective, it’s easy to see why he favors the UFC’s offer over Bellator’s. No matter how Bellator and Bjorn Rebney try to spin it, the increased exposure of fighting on network TV (and the resulting increase in sponsorship money, promotional opportunities etc.) is certainly more alluring than anything on Spike TV. And the chance (even if it is just a chance) of making big bucks off the pay-per-view revenue is so enticing, it would be worth the risk of never getting booked on such a card.

My first reaction to this story was anger. Simply put, Eddie Alvarez deserves better. He was the first “homegrown” star Bellator made, and undoubtedly the most popular and successful. Bellator built their promotion around Alvarez, and he responded by delivering some excellent fights. He was Bellator’s first and longest-reigning lightweight champion, He was there from Day 1. He was their guy.

o see the promotion now stick a knife in his back and he’s on the way out is more than a little disheartening.

The real truth, however, is that “heart” has absolutely no place in the grittier side of the fight business. Bellator has made it clear with the Spike TV partnership that they’re making a serious shot at the UFC’s throne. And in this fight, they’re pitted against a much more well-known promotional and financial juggernaut, with a penchant for driving their competitors out of business. Heck, the UFC is currently involved in a separate lawsuit against Bellator as we speak, involving alleged stolen documents. This is just business war on multiple fronts.

And before you heap complete damnation on Bellator, remember that Dana White once sued Randy Couture – one of his “guys” from the very start – to prevent one of the most widely anticipated fights ever from happening. And it turned out to be the right business decision. Without the lure of Randy vs. Fedor, Affliction’s attempt to challenge the UFC on PPV ended in disaster. Ok, Josh Barnett getting popped on his pre-fight piss test may have had a little something to do with it, as well.

Point is, today they’re a logo on Dana White’s tombstone. That’s life in the NFL.

If there’s one to thing to hope for above all else, it’s a speedy resolution. I don’t really care if it’s in Bellator’s or the UFC’s favor. Obviously, I and the 99.99% of the MMA fanbase that isn’t Bjorn Rebney want to see Alvarez in the UFC. But at this point, I think fighting anywhere is preferable to sitting out his prime years on the sideline.

Eddie Alvarez should be lighting the world on fire.

Instead, he’s watching from the outside with nothing but questions.

Tags: Bellator Ben Henderson Eddie Alvarez MMA UFC

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