LONG BEACH, Calif. – Whoever came up with the notion that a sequel can’t be better than the original needs to watch the Michael Chandler-Eddie Alvarez rematch.
On Nov. 19, 2011, Chandler and Alvarez put on what was considered the greatest fight in the five-year history of the Bellator promotion and one of the greatest MMA fights, period. Chandler punctuated four rounds of back-and-forth action by submitting Alvarez with a choke and taking his Bellator lightweight title.
Saturday night, though, the duo just might have outdone themselves. Under the backdrop of a long legal fight between Alvarez and the promotion, and coming at the end of what had been a lackluster fight card, Chandler and Alvarez added their names to a lengthy list of contenders for 2013’s Fight of the Year.
After 25 minutes of back-and-forth action at Long Beach Arena, Alvarez won a decision which could have gone either way. All three judges scored the fight 48-47; two of them leaned Alvarez’s way, as the Philadelphia native took back the belt he lost two years ago while handing Chandler his first career loss.
"Whether it's mixed martial arts or boxing, sometimes guys just gel stylistically," Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney said. "You watch the fight, and you can't believe these guys did that again. Ali-Frazier. Gatti-Ward. We've had a few of them in MMA. These two guys just fit like a glove when they fight each other."
CompuStrike’s official numbers bear out the fight's razor-thin margin: Alvarez landed 115 strikes to Chandler’s 111. Both fighters attempted two submissions. Chandler had 10 takedowns to Alvarez’s zero, but Alvarez also stuffed 11 more takedown attempts.
All three judges scored the first round for Chandler, who controlled it with his wrestling. All three had round two for Alvarez, who wobbled Chandler late. Two of three had round three for a hard-charging Alvarez. All three had round four for Chandler, who nearly finished the fight with a ruthless ground-and-pound attack. And all three scored a back-and-forth final round for Alvarez, who came in strong over the final 90 seconds.
This was the sort of fight that necessitated doctor’s attention. Chandler wasn't at the post-fight news conference. This was announced as being due to a trip to the hospital, although Chandler’s trainer, Eric Del Fierro of San Diego’s Alliance MMA, later tweeted that Chandler (12-1) had simply been stitched up by the commission doctor at the arena and went back to his hotel room.
Alvarez, meanwhile, mustered an appearance at the news conference before making a hospital visit. Walking slowly and with a face that looked like he stepped in the path of a David Ortiz home-run swing, Alvarez deflected any praise that came his way.
"I'm going to take zero credit for what happened tonight,” Alvarez said. “It takes two people to put on a fight like that. Not just me. Me and Mike Chandler. The guy fights his ass off. The heart of a lion. At the end of the fight, I didn't give a [expletive] who won. I was just happy to be a part of it."
Alvarez (25-3) left the news conference after making those remarks, but really, he made his statement in the cage. This fight was his vindication after a protracted legal battle with Bellator turned ugly in public. Alvarez received a lucrative offer from the UFC which would have included pay-per-view points. Bellator used its matching rights clause in his previous contract to match retain his services. With a court battle that looked to drag out interminably, Alvarez threw in the towel and re-signed with Bellator.
Not that Alvarez will be going poor any time soon, mind you: According to the California State Athletic Commission's disclosed paydays, Alvarez is taking home $160,000 for his night’s work, with an $80,000 win bonus doubling his pay.
Still, if Saturday night was some grand design by Rebney to defeat Alvarez again and kill off his drawing power, he was putting on a pretty solid poker face.
"That's why we fought so hard to enforce the contract,” Rebney said. “I thought Ed was a wickedly talented lightweight and could beat anyone on earth. I wanted to see him stay in this organization. That's what I negotiated for up top. I think Ed's an incredible talent."
It’s hard to argue against that point after Saturday. The fight was so good, it eliminated the stench of what had seemed a misbegotten event. Originally slated for pay-per-view, it was moved to Spike TV after the planned main event, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. Tito Ortiz, fell out due to an Ortiz neck injury. Prior to Chandler-Alvarez, a string of boring fights had killed the atmosphere in the building.
Instead, Rebney left Long Beach Arena with the buzz of a classic fight, one which all but demands a trilogy fight.
“If you asked me two hours ago whether I know all’s well would end well, I wouldn’t have been so confident,” Rebney said. “But, all’s well that ends well. I’m leaving here with a smile.”
Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter: @DaveDoyleMMA.