There’s a fairly hefty rumor making the rounds right now in the MMA world that could mean a major change is coming in Bellator; it’s one that will also, if it plays out, have a major impact on the UFC‘s lightweight division.
Eddie Alvarez, Bellator’s lightweight champion, may be released from the promotion and sign with the UFC, where he has already been linked to a bout with Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone at UFC 178.
That is certainly huge news, and Ariel Helwani of UFC Tonight/The MMA Hour addressed the matter on Twitter, stating:
“I’m told, as of last night, Alvarez is still contacted to Bellator. There is, however, a push in the company to cut ties with him now. Alvarez only has one fight left on his deal, so if he wins that fight he can walk away with the belt. Not ideal.”
Here’s the key point: Bellator took a lot of heat over how they handled the Alvarez situation under former CEO Bjorn Rebney. When Alvarez had a chance to test the free agent market and the UFC offered him a sizable contract with PPV points and an immediate title shot, Bellator exercised their contract matching clause — in principle, if not in reality. That became the sticking point that would bring both sides to legal action: How could a company that had never held a Pay-per-View event match PPV dollars? Bellator stated that they intended to host a Pay-per-View in the near future, but the squabble left Alvarez on the shelf for over a year in his prime. Eventually the two sides reached an agreement, but both attempts by Bellator to host a PPV with Alvarez failed. Their initial attempted was scuttled when headliner Tito Ortiz fell to injury, and the remaining fights, including Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler 2, were shifted to Spike TV, with Alvarez reclaiming Bellator’s lightweight championship. Their next PPV attempt — which was to have Avarez vs. Chandler 3 as the headliner — was successful, but Alvarez didn’t make it to the card, winding up concussed in training.
The event moved forward with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson defeating “King” Mo Lawal in the main event, and Chandler lost an interim title fight to Will Brooks, further complicating matters given the more marketable fight for Alvarez was the third Chandler fight, not a unification bout with an unproven interim champ.
However, everything changed when Bellator parent company Viacom showed Rebney the door and brought in former Strikeforce founder Scott Coker earlier this summer. Alvarez, to absolutely no one’s surprise, seemed positive about the regime change, and things looked like they might go in a positive direction for the fighter within the promotion. It seemed like there was a chance he might stay in Bellator.
That chance seems awfully slim now, but this can be seen as a positive for both Bellator and Alvarez. Bellator will come out of this looking like a fighter-friendly company if they do let Alvarez go, undoing much of the damage caused by the initial lawsuit to force him to remain with the promotion. They will also avoid having a champion walk out of the company holding a unified belt, as if Alvarez was to face Brooks and win, he’d be free and clear to leave Bellator for greener pastures. Cutting him now sets up a Brooks vs. Chandler rematch, which is plenty marketable and takes at least some of the sting off — imagine, if Brooks were to lose to Alvarez, how poorly it would reflect on Bellator’s remaining lightweight title contenders. As for the fighter, Alvarez will get a hefty payday from the UFC and will likely be fast-tracked to a title shot if he preforms well in his initial fight. He’ll of course get to compete with the best in the world, something he has been pining to do for years, and the UFC will get a fresh contender at 155 pounds.
There’s still a chance Bellator may hold onto the top-10 lightweight, but for all involved, his release can definitely be seen as good news.