When Eddie Alvarez was forced off Bellator’s inaugural pay-per-view this past May, mixed martial arts fans lost what would have likely been a fight of the year candidate between Michael Chandler and Alvarez. The two men had already met twice before for the Bellator lightweight title, each winning one fight a piece in two of the most epic battles MMA has ever seen.
The stage was set for the highly anticipated trilogy fight at Bellator 120, but an Alvarez concussion just a week out derailed the fight so many were hoping to see.
In Alvarez’s place stepped former lightweight tournament winner, Will Brooks. Bellator decided that the Brooks vs. Chandler fight would be for the interim lightweight title, and the winner would unify the belt in a fight with Eddie Alvarez sometime in the future.
In the end, Brooks defeated Chandler via split decision in a very close fight to become the interim lightweight champion. Of course, this meant that the highly anticipated trilogy fight between Alvarez and Chandler would have to be put on the backburner while Brooks got his title shot. Or so we thought.
Apparently it is not so cut and dry as Bellator would not say outright that Brooks would get the title shot against Alvarez. Considering that Alvarez may leave Bellator for the UFC after his next fight, Bellator was hoping that it would be the mammoth trilogy bout with Chandler.
Even though Chandler was defeated by Brooks, there were some rumblings that Bellator would still place him in the title fight against Alvarez.
Bellator commentator Jimmy Smith discussed the lightweight mess from Bellator’s point of view in a recent interview with FanSided:
It’s hard to get around it. What is important to understand, as a fan is promotionally it is difficult to guide things in a certain direction. There are certain moves you make that kind of tie your hands promotionally speaking. That was a part of the tournament for Bellator. Tournaments generated a lot of interest and they were great at promoting a fighter you have never heard of and making them a star like Pat Curran or Michael Chandler. But, how popular someone is and how good they are do not always line up and it made it difficult to put together the matchups that the fans really wanted to see sometimes. The tournament format kind of tied Bellator’s hands. The tournament winner takes on the champion and that is how it goes. It kind of took matchmaking out of their hand.
When you declare an interim title fight, you are implying or strongly suggesting that the interim champ will face the reigning champ ASAP. That is what they did with Will Brooks, he is the interim champ, it is hard then to not give the payoff. To get in the way and put another fighter in front of Will is hard to justify. If it hadn’t been an interim title fight, then maybe you would have had some wiggle room.
With Scott Coker replacing Bjorn Rebney recently as the president of Bellator, one of his first major decisions will be regarding the top of the lightweight division. Either way you slice it the odds are that someone will be unhappy.
If Brooks is given his title shot, fans may never witness the trilogy fight between Chandler and Alvarez. If Chandler leaps over Brooks for the title shot, then what meaning does Bellator’s interim titles have? Obviously, this decision will have huge consequences for Bellator either way.