Let's explore a hypothetical situation:
You're an employer running a fairly large company where your profits are predicated on the good work of your employees. The happier they are, the more they produce. The more they produce, the more money you make.
One of your employees wants to leave. He's received an offer from a larger competitor, one that will impact his life in significant and positive ways. It's more money than he ever dreamed of making and more money than you can offer. It's also a chance for his work to shine on a bigger platform.
But instead of letting him go, you decide that you want to keep him, despite the fact that you cannot pay him anything close to what he'll make for the other company. You make some vague promises about future growth and potential, but the reality is that you don't know if you'll ever be able to pay him what your competitor is offering.
He wants to leave. You want him to stay. And the whole thing ends up going to court, where you have a long and ugly legal battle.
You win the legal battle, and your employee is forced to stay with you. He reports to work, because that's what the courts told him he had to do, but he's not happy. He does the bare minimum, just enough to get by, and he's a constant negative presence in your office.
You won the battle, but what did you gain?
This is the reality currently facing Bellator and Bjorn Rebney as they prepare to take Eddie Alvarez to court in an effort to keep him with the promotion. Alvarez wants to go to the UFC, and Rebney—despite repeatedly saying in the past that he would allow Alvarez to leave if he wanted to—has gone back on his word.
I understand it. When Rebney made those comments, Bellator wasn't owned by Viacom. Now that it is part of the media conglomerate, he doesn't have the final authority to make those decisions anymore. Viacom doesn't want to lose any of its homegrown stars to the UFC, and so it is doing everything it can to keep Alvarez around.
But Alvarez doesn't want to stick around. He wants to go to the UFC, where he was promised a title shot, headlining spots on Fox television cards and other featured roles on UFC programming.
Rebney is having no part of it, though, and told MMAJunkie.com that it appears likely that he's headed for a legal battle:
I had hope a month ago there was a door opening. But that door isn't open at this point. So I don't know. The court system is slow and methodical, and we're just going through the process. I don't have any projections of it getting settled at this point because we're not talking. The essence of it is, the promoter is never going to get everything he wants and the fighter is never going to get everything he wants. We have a position that we did everything right legally, and the court has supported us. I thought we were headed down a road (to resolution), and then everything went real dark.
Alvarez doesn't appear willing to settle with Bellator, either. He tweeted on Thursday:
We will be going to Trial And there will be NO settlement I want to see this thing through and Let the truth come out in the End— Edward Alvarez (@Ealvarezfight) May 2, 2013
I get that Viacom wants to protect its investments. Allowing Alvarez to go to the UFC would be a huge blow. Bellator doesn't have many marketable names on the roster; when I watch Bellator events, I typically only recognize four or five fighters. Alvarez is the biggest star in the organization, and it's not even close. Permitting him to walk into the UFC's arms doesn't seem like a sound business decision.
But Bellator also needs to face reality: If the promotion wins an ugly court battle with Alvarez, what has it gained? Sure, its most marketable star is forced to stay but at what cost? Alvarez will have to spend a ton of money on his lawyers; he even tweeted on Thursday that he had to sell his investment home.
Sorry I been absent latley guys , here are some updates, I recently just sold an investment property in order to wait this Trial thing out.— Edward Alvarez (@Ealvarezfight) May 2, 2013
Bellator may win the case against Alvarez. Bellator claims to have matched Zuffa's offer to Alvarez. And by the strictest legal definitions, perhaps it has.
But Zuffa's offer comes with the likelihood of substantial pay-per-view bonus checks that could push Alvarez's pay from six digits to seven digits. Bellator says it's planning to run pay-per-view events, but it will be lucky to pull even one-quarter of what the UFC generates in PPV revenue.
Put simply, Zuffa's contract offer is far more lucrative than what Bellator can reasonably offer at this time. Alvarez can make far more money fighting in the UFC than he can in Bellator, and the UFC platform can help turn him into a legitimate superstar.
Instead, Alvarez may have to report back to work for Bellator after spending untold amounts of money trying to get away from the promotion. He sold his investment home. He's going a long time without any sort of substantial income. He might be back headlining cards in the second-largest MMA promotion in the United States, but the gap between first and second place is gigantic.
Does that sound like the makings of a happy employee? Does Rebney believe that Alvarez will be a willing partner on the promotional end of things? Does he believe that Alvarez will do more than the absolute bare minimum required of him contractually?
Either Rebney hasn't considered the answers to those questions, or he just doesn't care. But either way, it's not a good situation. It's not good for Bellator or its efforts to build a sustainable brand. And it's isn't good for Alvarez and his dreams of fighting in the UFC and making enough money to support his family for the rest of his life.