On Sunday afternoon, I spoke with Alvarez at length, and the former Bellator champion opened up about the details of his lawsuit, why he's going through such trouble to free himself from his contract and what happens after the court battle is over.
Here's the full transcript of our conversation.
Botter: So take me back to the beginning, when you were still under contract with Bellator. I heard Bjorn Rebney say on numerous occasions that if you wanted to leave Bellator, he would shake your hand and let you go to the UFC because you were friends. Was that the way you were feeling at the time? Did you think that if you wanted to leave, he was going to let you?
Alvarez: Yeah. It was perceived that way. I mean, I took it that way and I think he made it sound like I had fulfilled my obligations. What he did say is that if the UFC comes in with a high offer like Hector Lombard, then we won't try to match. But if they do come in low, he told me they would. So he didn't go back on his word with what he said. But that's not the case between the actual numbers.
This is what everyone is getting mixed up with. In MMA, it's not necessarily the numbers that everyone is seeing. You know? The numbers that everyone sees are the small numbers. They're the little numbers. They are the ones you see all over the place. It's the opportunity. A fighter's lifespan is small, and it's about opportunity, not so much the up-front numbers.
He'll admit that the opportunity in the UFC is much greater. He'll admit that. And if he said anything different, he'd be lying.
Botter: When you first got the notice that they were matching your contract, what went through your head?
Alvarez: The way it was said is that they matched everything number for number, dollar for dollar. And even if you did match everything that you said you did, what you're saying to me, "We matched everything number for number," we did everything we had to do. What he's saying is that, "Our pay-per-view is just as great as the UFC's pay-per-view."
We all played the match game when we were younger. It's supposed to be exactly the same, you know? If you have a red card, your next card has to be red. It can't be maroon. It can't be any other shade of red, or it's not a match. And the opportunities are different. The pay-per-views are different.
It's almost impossible to call it a match.
Botter: I've seen your contract offer from the UFC, and they say that they intend to give you a title shot. They say that they intend to put you on pay-per-view. You were supposed to be on the St-Pierre vs. Diaz card, and the fallback was the Jones vs. Sonnen card. But the intention, and obviously I'm not a lawyer, I guess what Viacom is saying that they matched the guaranteed numbers and that they don't have to match the intended items. Even though, if they put you on a UFC pay-per-view, you're going to make a lot more money. Is that the way you took it?
Alvarez: They're not reading the whole contract. Not reading it all the way through. I've read the whole thing, and if you read it all the way through, it's guaranteed. They're giving me the fight. The reason they have to put "intention" in there is because you can't guarantee a fight. You don't know if I'm going to suffer something that keeps me out of the fight. That's why you can't put that it's 100 percent guaranteed. That's impossible to do with any contract for a promoter.
But, if you read it in its entirety, they're giving me the fight. One hundred percent giving me the fight, when you read the whole contract. UFC wasn't trying to pull a fast one by saying "intention," you know?
What's funny is that they're the king of picking out a word, right? And saying, "Oh, they said intention." But what they didn't tell anyone is this: They gave me my release early from my negotiation period. I was given that early release. And it was because they were so grateful and they were so saintly in doing that. They're good people and they like me and they're my friends, so they're going to give me my early release and let me get this done with quickly, right?
That's how they made it seem. But when they sent me my early release, they changed the wording in my original contract. They changed the wording "all terms matched" to "material terms." Because they know they cannot match all the terms of the UFC offer.
So I sent the contract to my manager, Glen Robinson. Glen and the attorneys right away told me, "Wait a minute." Viacom sent the contract for the release to my house. They sent it to my house, when they were supposed to go through my attorneys and my management. But they sent a different copy, a copy to my house, thinking that I would sign it and send it back.
I informed my management that I got the contract at my house. And I'll show you guys. We have it. And this is the whole case, to be honest with you. This is what the whole case is about. It's about matching. And what they did when they realized that this is going to be very tough, that they weren't going to be able to match it. They only way they were going to be able to match it was if they gave me an early release and changed the wording on the contract, and I would sign it.
Botter: Was this Bjorn that you were dealing with, or were you mostly dealing with Viacom?
Alvarez: They're owned by Viacom, you know? What happens is that I was dealing with Bjorn the whole time. A huge part of this case is the idea of matching the terms of the contract. And Viacom took over and they looked over the contract and they had all their lawyers look over it, and they thought they had a good case, that they had a good chance of winning. I understand.
So they took over and they gave me my early release, and then said, "Put this in there," the part about material matching. And if I signed the contract that said material terms, it means they would only have to match the win and show money.
Not the pay-per-view bonus or what networks I'm on. Those are the parts that you really make money off of. You make retirement money off those, not just money to pay your bills.
Botter: So when you sent the contract to Glen and told Bellator about changing the material terms to all terms, what was the response from Viacom?
Alvarez: They said no problem and that they would change it. They got caught. They tried to be nonchalant about it. They said, "Oh, we're sorry."
Botter: What have your dealings been like with the Viacom folks since they took over? Maybe you can't say this to me, but do you feel like Bjorn has less power than he used to have? Is he still in charge?
Alvarez: Bjorn now, from what I'm told, only owns like 20 percent of the company and maybe less than that. He's just a grunt in my eyes. He's a mouthpiece for the organization. He has no say, you know? He used to. I believe he used to. I don't think that they don't listen to what he has to say. I believe that what he says is taken into consideration. But at the end of the day, this is Viacom and this is Spike. They're the ones doing it.
Botter: You mentioned something on Twitter about Zack Makovsky and how they screwed him over. Can you go into a little more detail about that?
Alvarez: Zack's a friend of mine, you know? We started this together. We're from the same fight camp out of Philadelphia. Zack is humble. He's a great face for an organization. He fights unbelievable fights, you know? Just a solid dude altogether. And he was their champion. He flew the Bellator flag the way he should have. He spoke the way he should have. He's a great dude.
And he wasn't making tons of money. He was paying his bills. He was making enough to pay his bills and live comfortably, and to keep fighting. After he lost, basically he was given a choice. Contractually, he was supposed to fight for X amount of dollars. I'm not going to mention numbers. But contractually, he was supposed to fight for X amount of dollars.
Well, he needs to fight. He has bills to pay. So he was told that they weren't going to fulfill their end of the obligation. He was told, "We're not going to pay you that, because that's too much money." And if he didn't like it, he could just sit. They were going to pay him $2,000 less than what they contractually agreed to. "We're sorry, but we can't afford to pay that."
And I mean, this is a little bit of money. This is nowhere close to what guys at his level are getting. We're talking thousands, not tens of thousands. Not hundreds of thousands. Just thousands. They wanted to give him $2,000 less than what they agreed to? That's horseshit. Especially when you're only talking about thousands of dollars.
Me? I'm no sob story. I get paid well and I live comfortably. But a guy like Zack, who is just trying to pay his bills, who never complains about anything? He just wants to get what they agreed to pay him when he signed that piece of paper.
Botter: Is that a common practice in Bellator?
Alvarez: It's happening more and more now that Viacom took over. When I dealt with Bjorn in the past, everything was great. But towards the end of this, when Viacom bought the whole thing, changes happened, you know? Changes happened. Things like Zack getting a pay cut. Then they do this sneaky stuff, trying to change the wording in my original contract.
Someone has to ask them about that. That's a crucial part of this whole argument. People who go online and have their opinions, they disregard that. Someone should go to Bjorn and ask him why they tried to change the wording on my early release.
Botter: This is the first I've heard about that.
Alvarez: That kind of shit needs to be exposed. Nobody ever asks him about that.
Botter: This is honestly the first I've heard of that, but I'd definitely be interested to see what they say. So at this point, you mentioned on Twitter that you had to sell an investment property to help financially, because you don't know how long it'll be until you fight again. How long do you think it will be before we see you back in the cage, either in the UFC or in Bellator?
Alvarez: I don't have an answer for that. With my fingers crossed, I'd love for this to be done in six months. But I don't know how these things work out. Litigation may take awhile. I'm doing what's in my heart. I'm doing what I would tell my kids to do. Do the right thing and do what you feel is right. If I'm making a mistake, then I'll deal with that on my own.
But I'm doing what I feel is right because I'm not the only person that's going to be in this situation in the future. This kind of thing happens every day, and it's not public. It happens every day to fighters. But fighters don't have enough means or enough money to be able to stand up for themselves. So they keep their mouth shut and they stay quiet and they go fight. And that's what we're all supposed to do.
Botter: Do you consider yourself a pioneer? I mean, you're standing up for yourself, but are you also standing up for everyone else who goes through this kind of thing?
Alvarez: Believe me, this is for me and my family first and foremost. I'm not going to sit here and bullshit you guys and tell you it's for everyone.
But as this case goes on, I realize the importance of it. I realize that I'm not the only guy who has dealt with this, and I'm not the only guy who is going to deal with this. And maybe if one person goes through this enough and doesn't give in and doesn't yield to all the guys with the money, maybe if one person cares enough it will change the course of how we get paid. Even if it puts a little bit more power in the fighters' hands, then I did a good thing.
Botter: If this goes your way, and you're able to sign with the UFC, what do you want to do for your first fight?
Alvarez: I will fight whoever the UFC wants me to fight. I feel like I've been ready, that I'm more than ready to fight for the world title. I think it's super winnable. I think I can beat anyone in that division. I know it. I know it with all my heart. And everyone who trains with me will tell you the same thing. I will do whatever the UFC tells me to do, but there's not a doubt in my mind that I can be champion. I think that guy is very beatable. I feel like I could do really well in that division. Really well.
Botter: And what if this doesn't go your way? Are you going to be happy going back to Bellator? I mentioned in my piece the other day that I couldn't imagine going back to work after I've gone through a big court battle and when it's obvious that I don't want to be here. Would you want to go back to Bellator? Or would you be disgruntled, and perhaps rightfully so?
Alvarez: I want an opportunity to fight the best in the world and make millions of dollars doing it. What's my opportunity going back to Viacom? Where's my opportunity for any of that? Are there millions of dollars to be made? No. Can I become No. 1 in the world fighting there? No. Those are the questions that need answering. And if they're both no? Then what can I do?
Botter: Would you walk away from the sport before you went back to Bellator?
Alvarez: No. I'm too young. I would go back to doing what I'm told, because I would have no choice. But I don't know. I don't even feel like that would be an option. I spoke to some pretty serious lawyers. One has won 30-something consecutive victories in federal court. He tells me these guys (Viacom) are full of shit. And coming from a guy like that, who has been on the boxing commission for 25 years, who has beaten the who's who in court and who has been a lawyer forever? He tells me Viacom is full of shit. That's all I need to hear.
Botter: So you're fairly confident this is going to go your way, then?
Alvarez: Very confident.