The biggest story coming out of the Bellator camp doesn't surround their move to Spike TV, the upcoming light heavyweight tournament or even a trio of title fights taking place in January. Instead, it focuses on the legal struggle between Bellator and former champion Eddie Alvarez.
Alvarez fought nine times for the promotion, which saw him win and defend the Bellator lightweight championship. However, with the world's best lightweights fighting almost exclusively for the UFC, finding worthy competition for Alvarez was difficult.
In fact, due to the flaws of their tournament-style format, it took Bellator almost two years to give their champion a title defense. That sort of setting is not the environment that Alvarez can put his skills on display.
The current drama surrounds a matching period which was mandated by the existing contract Alvarez has with Bellator. Essentially, it states that Bellator has the right to match any official offer that Alvarez is willing to accept.
Long story short, the UFC sent an offer to Alvarez, Bjorn Rebney sent an offer back which he claims matches the UFC's point for point (MMA Weekly via Yahoo Sports). Alvarez disagrees and is currently being sued by the company that made him famous (MMAFRENZY.com).
The overwhelming theory here is that Alvarez has quietly turned down Rebney's offer and will be heading to the UFC. Otherwise, why would Bellator be suing him?
So the question must be asked, if Eddie Alvarez ends up fighting inside the Octagon in 2013, how will he fare against the world-class crop of lightweights who are hungry to knock him from his Bellator-shaped pedestal?
Alvarez has some of the best boxing in the lightweight division, but his ability to bait an opponent is absolutely incredible. Jack Slack broke down this incredible skill by detailing the head-kick knockout that Alvarez scored against Patricky "Pitbull" Freire. Go read that article if you haven't already done so. It's magnificent.
Anyone who has only heard of "The Silent Assassin" might think that striking is his only area of expertise. However, beginning in 2009, Alvarez won five consecutive bouts by way of submission, including wins over notable submission artists Josh Neer and Toby Imada.
With excellent conditioning, Alvarez has displayed an ability to keep his foot on the gas with the best of competition. The former Bellator champion went 25 minutes against Pat Curran and his battle against Michael Chandler went deep into the fourth round.
In addition, Alvarez has the benefit of training with one of the most talent-stacked fight teams in the world. As a member of Imperial Athletics (better known as The Blackzilians), Alvarez gets to work his striking with the likes of Tyrone Spong, Alistair Overeem and Melvin Guillard. He can fine tune his wrestling skills with Rashad Evans before sparring jiu-jitsu against world-class jiu-jitsu specialists like Marcus Aurelio and Braulio Estima.
Matchups Against UFC Stars:
Due to his powerful striking and fantastic footwork, the boxing of Alvarez is on point with the best strikers that live in the UFC's lightweight division.
With quality wrestlers like Gray Maynard and Benson Henderson in the division, the takedown defense of Alvarez would be put to the test in bouts with the division's elite. However, Alvarez has proven himself to be stellar in the clinch and has a quality sprawl.
In terms of ground work, Alvarez has been caught with a pair of submissions twice in his career. However, one of those came against grappling wizard Shinya Aoki and the other came shortly after Eddie was hurt badly with a strike.
The sole unavenged loss that Alvarez suffered in his lightweight career came against Michael Chandler. That fight showed what kind of trouble Eddie has when paired up against someone who can match him blow for blow in the striking department and also possesses an edge in terms of grappling.
In my opinion, Eddie Alvarez is a Top Five talent who has the well-rounded skills to defeat most stars on the UFC roster. I feel that he will have trouble with the absolute elite (Henderson, Maynard, Melendez and Cerrone) because each of those men can hang with anyone in a striking match, but he has an advantage if the fight hits the mat.
While there are quality grapplers at lightweight, only Donald Cerrone has the well-rounded skills that would be necessary to work this fight to the ground and secure a submission against Eddie.
Eddie can hang and I expect him to be a quality star in the UFC lightweight division over the next few years. However, I think those who expect him to immediately get into the title scene and blow past the guys currently on top are misguided in their views.