There were no winners in the biggest fight of Eddie Alvarez's life. His battle with Bellator over his free agency cost him a year in the prime of his career, a year in which he stood to fight significant matches and make hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.
Bellator's decision to play hardball with Alvarez and battle over the legal interpretation of the word "match" rather than permitting him to continue with his career made it look small.
Regardless of who was legally right in their contract dispute, Bellator came across as a bully that flexed its financial muscle and tied up a fighter in court who didn't have the financial wherewithal to fight on even terms. It made him sit and, not earn, until he said uncle.
Be sure that didn't escape the notice of other fighters, and their managers, who might consider making a deal with the promotion.
And now, Eddie Alvarez and Bellator are going forward in a very awkward reconciliation. They settled their differences in August and Alvarez will fight fellow lightweight Michael Chandler on Saturday in Long Beach, Calif., in the main event of what was supposed to be the company's first pay-per-view card.
The pay-per-view show was scuttled when Tito Ortiz fractured his neck in training last week and had to pull out of his bout against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson that was the headliner. Bellator officials hurriedly scrapped the pay-per-view and moved the rest of the card to Spike TV, with Alvarez and Chandler headlining.
That put Alvarez in the odd position of actually saving the company he had fought so bitterly for a year.
The Chandler-Alvarez bout is a rematch of a classic 2011 fight that stands alongside classics such as Dan Henderson-Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Jon Jones-Alexander Gustafsson and Gilbert Melendez-Diego Sanchez as one of the best mixed martial arts fights ever.
If there were no Chandler-Alvarez II upcoming, the card would have captured little notice once the Ortiz-Jackson bout was scrubbed. Bellator would have moved it, but it would have been just another in a series of cards and nothing would have made it special.
But having a rematch of one of the sport's greatest fights available to make as the main event gives the show a lot of pizzazz.
None of that matters to Alvarez, who will fight for the first time in 13 months when he meets Chandler.
The public has a short attention span, and fighters who rely on their name recognition to make money suffer financially by lengthy absences more so than athletes in other sports in which earning power is dictated primarily by performance.
Alvarez has no desire to be famous, and insists the 13 months off won't have an impact upon his performance.
"This is not about them," Alvarez said. "It's not about Bellator. It's not about the belt. It's not about the championship. It's about two guys who consider themselves the best in the world going into the cage and seeing who wins. That's it. That's what this sport is about, and it's what people tune in for. It's not about a belt. It's not about a promotion. Get rid of all of that: The show, the lights, the flash. It's about one guy who is the best in the world and another guy who thinks he's the best of the world getting into the cage to fight to prove it.
"That's the point of this, nothing else. Money is always a motivating factor, but money has never been my driving force. In my first fight, I paid the promoter in order for me to fight. I was in the hole 300 bucks for that. Money has always been a byproduct of me doing something I love."
He loves to fight, and said he's been satisfied in his year away because he's been able to do that. Despite the court battle, Alvarez regularly trained and treated his sparring sessions as fights.
The only difference, he said, was that there was no promotion required beforehand and no crowds watching.
But he said working with fighters such as Frankie Edgar, Edson Barboza, Michael Johnson and Gesias Cavalcante kept him both sharp and happy.
"The joy is in the moment, not at some pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," Alvarez said. "Fighting is what I love to do. If I were motivated solely by a pot of gold, then yeah, the time off would have been a big problem. But I got a lot of great work in, and ring rust isn't going to be an issue."
The opportunity to be considered the best lightweight in the world is mostly what has Alvarez so eager for Saturday to roll around.
Chandler, he says flatly, is the best lightweight in the world. A victory over him, Alvarez says, should put him in at least the top three.
That should lead to other big fights and the kind of compensation the best fighters generally receive.
It's all about his passion for fighting and being able to take care of his family.
"I have no desire at all to be famous, none," he said. "I have no desire to be as famous as Tito and Rampage, and for people to know me and seek me out. All of the [expletive] I've been through will be worth it if I can do what I love and make some money to be financially free. I want to make a decent amount of money so I can take care of my family and do some cool things with them.
"That's it. Being famous and a celebrity, no thanks. I love to fight, and I love my family, and if fighting allows me to help my family, that's great. None of the other [expletive] matters, not even a little bit."
- Martial Arts
- Sports & Recreation
- Eddie Alvarez