MMA may not have an institutionalized free agency period defined by temporal deadlines, franchise tags or sacrificed draft picks, but MMA does have free agents, even if the market they populate is much less structured than that of other major sports.
In place of teams vying for the services of athletes, MMA has organizations bidding to enlist unspoken-for fighters, moving through the contractual process in a recognizable, if somewhat nontraditional manner.
The hottest commodity currently on MMA's free agent market is former Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, a fighter any fight promotion would be happy to accommodate.
That several organizations would want Alvarez for themselves means there will be multiple bidders for his rights. And typically where there are multiple bidders, there are many zeros on the contracts offered to courted free agents.
Consequently, we can expect Alvarez to do fairly well for himself on the open market. He's a wanted man for good reason after all.
Alvarez has frequented many top 10 lightweight lists over the past few years; he generally employs a fan-friendly fight style and is still in the prime of his career at 28. He is also coming off a spectacular knockout win over Patricky Freire that put an exclamation point on his Bellator tenure.
The question then, isn't so much whether Alvarez will get paid, but rather, is he worth what's coming to him?
There are really two ways of looking at it.
First, the prestige of signing the most sought after free agent would be a boon to any organization. For a small promotion Alvarez embodies a legitimate superstar to build around. For the UFC, his addition reaffirms the promotion's dominance and adds to its already gaudy roster of 155-pound stars.
Beyond the deeper meaning, Alvarez is a good fighter and should be paid accordingly. Win or lose, he's always been a fun fight-product to watch compete.
But on the other hand, Alvarez's accomplishments, though impressive, are hardly off the charts. He's competed against some tough opponents over the past five years, but if the UFC hands him a huge contract it will be more because they think he can get to a level above what he's shown to date.
Given that the promotion is probably having second thoughts over making such a fuss about recent acquisition Hector Lombard, Zuffa might be hesitant to shell out big bucks for another cult star. Especially one sporting a resume inferior to Lombard's.
The bottom line is that Alvarez should be earning a good salary for what he does, but whoever offers him a deal should do so with caution. He's not a guy whose talent or notoriety will define anything more than a bottom-tier organization, and he may flounder on the big stage of the UFC.
Alvarez should do well signing his next contract, and whoever inks him will rightfully be excited to do so. But expectations should be tempered. This isn't a guy who will reform the landscape of the sport, and there is no reason he should be paid like he is.