Bellator-Strikeforce fight a work in progress
The UFC heavyweight title match between Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez on Saturday at UFC 121 in Anaheim, Calif., was not the only highly anticipated bout of the week which turned out to be a one-sided beatdown.
Eddie Alvarez and Roger Huerta met in Philadelphia in the main event of Bellator 33 two days earlier in a lightweight fight that nearly all experts expected to be a highly entertaining and exceptionally close bout. What it was, though, was a display of Alvarez’s dominance – and affirmation that he is among the two or three best lightweights in the world.
Alvarez chopped down Huerta with leg kicks and beat him up in every facet of the game to win by TKO at the end of the second round when Huerta, the former UFC star and Sports Illustrated cover boy, could not continue.
The fight wasn’t over for a half hour when Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney began working overtime on his phone, texting and calling his Strikeforce counterpart, Scott Coker, in an attempt to pair Alvarez with Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez in a fight that is one of the biggest non-UFC bouts that can be made.
Like Alvarez, Melendez is a top-five lightweight. And like Alvarez, Melendez wants the fight – badly.
“I am doing everything humanly possible, everything in my power, to make that fight happen,” Melendez said. “I not only want the fight; I want it to be my next fight. I’d love to see it happen before the end of the year, but I want this fight very badly. I’m in my prime and I want to fight other top-level guys while they’re still in their prime. This is a case of two guys who want it, and now it’s up to Bjorn and Scott to get themselves locked in a room and get this made.”
Melendez made that clear during an Oct. 9 bout on Showtime between Josh Thomson and Gesias Cavalcante which essentially determined a No. 1 contender in the Strikeforce lightweight division. Melendez and Thomson have already split a pair of fights, and Melendez noted while doing commentary during the broadcast that he would much rather fight Alvarez than face Thomson a third time.
That didn’t escape the notice of Alvarez (21-2) and Rebney, who were watching and excited to hear that Melendez felt the same way they did.
“Bjorn and I had been speaking about trying to get a fight with Gilbert before he went on TV and said what he did,” Alvarez said. “We’d been mulling over who I would fight next basically since my fight with [Josh] Neer [on May 6], and Gilbert was the main name that kept coming up.
“Fortunately for us, he went out on TV and said he wanted me. He called me out. I was happy because that’s a huge fight and I didn’t have to go out and be the bad guy and be the guy antagonizing someone for a fight. I more than want to do it and I think a lot of people in MMA want to see us fight. It’s a matter of his promoter [Coker] sitting down with us and making it happen.”
Rebney said he texted Coker from Alvarez’s dressing room and has made repeated telephone calls and text messages, all with no response.
“I’m going to relentlessly peck away and keep texting him and leaving him voicemail messages until he responds,” Rebney said. “I like Scott. He’s a good dude. I just don’t know why he wouldn’t get back to me. I’m not getting any response at all from him and that’s kind of odd.
“I’d love to do a Strikeforce vs. Bellator mega-event because I think we’d have some great fights. But, if nothing else, I want to see if we can get this fight done between Eddie and [Melendez].”
It was no surprise that Alvarez beat Huerta, who opened his career 20-1-1 but has now gone 1-4 since with losses to Kenny Florian, Gray Maynard, Pat Curran and Alvarez. It was a surprise, however, how one-sided the beating was and how quickly Alvarez took control.
Alvarez established himself in the opening seconds of the bout, punishing Huerta with devastating leg kicks.
“Roger has a wide stance,” Alvarez said, “and when someone has a wide stance it’s hard to get out of the way of the kicks and it’s hard to check those kicks.”
Alvarez, who was clearly the stronger man, said it’s an advantage he has going into every fight.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize how strong a ’55’ I am,” Alvarez said.
He raved about Melendez, who is 18-2 and has won his past four fights. They have two common opponents, Shinya Aoki and Tatsuya Kawajiri. Melendez won decisions over Kawajiri on Dec. 31, 2006 and Aoki on April 17 in what was his last outing. Alvarez knocked Kawajiri out on July 21, 2008 but was submitted by Aoki on Dec. 31 later that year.
Alvarez said Melendez was not “super great” at any individual discipline within MMA, but he said the Strikeforce champion “transitions well” and knows how to put everything together.
“That’s what MMA is all about – going from one to the other – and that’s why Gilbert has been as successful as he has, because he’s excellent at transitioning,” Alvarez said. “I have great respect for him and what he’s done, but I have an undying belief that I’m the better fighter. It will be a good fight and, to a lot of people, it will be for the No. 1 spot at lightweight – at least outside of the UFC. But I believe strongly in myself and I know I could win that fight.”
Melendez said he feels similarly and that he has “noticed some holes in [Alvarez’s] game that I am not necessarily going to talk about but which I think I can take advantage of when we fight.”
It’s getting the fight scheduled that’s the issue. They’re two of the most dynamic, engaging fighters in the sport.
It should be made sooner rather than later.