Eddie Alvarez, the former Bellator lightweight champion, is a man long believed to be one of the best overall talents not signed to the UFC.
His November 19, 2011 loss to Michael Chandler dulled a bit of Alvarez's shiny exterior, to be sure. But even with the loss, the Pennsylvania native remains a lucrative target for the biggest mixed martial arts promotion in the world.
We know the UFC wants him because we've seen the contract they offered; when I first obtained a copy of that contract offer and began combing through it with a fine tooth comb, I was stunned at what the UFC was willing to give up for a fighter who had little to no brand awareness among casual MMA fans. This is not to say that Alvarez is not an excellent fighter who is worthy of the investment; I'm merely pointing out that what they offered Alvarez is a lot more than the UFC's usual fare.
To refresh your memory, the contract included:
- 8 total fights
- A $250,000 signing bonus
- It began at $70,000 to show and $70,000 to win
- That base pay escalated by $5,000 for each consecutive win up to $210,000/$210,000
- Alvarez would be included for three commentary positions, likely on UFC Tonight.
- A pay per view cut, but only when challenging for a title or defending a title
That was a lucrative offer, but the main draw for Alvarez wasn't even part of the deal: It represented a chance to be promoted by the largest mixed martial arts company in the world. Bellator may like the idea of calling themselves a player in the sporting landscape, and you can make the argument that they're the second-largest MMA promotion in the world.
But the truth is that Bellator, and Viacom alongside them, are so far behind the UFC that we might as well not even call it second place. There's the UFC, and there's everyone else, so you can lump Bellator in with the Canadian Football League and the Arena Hockey League and every other second-place organization in the sports world. Which is to say that yes, they are a real organization and they put on real sporting events attended by (small amounts of) real fans. But they're so far back in second that the market leader (the UFC) doesn't really need to worry about them in the slightest.
This is why Alvarez wanted out of Bellator. This is why he waited until his contract expired, to give himself a shot at free agency. He wanted to test himself against the very best the world had to offer while he's still in his prime. Michael Chandler is a very good fighter, but most of you reading this today would have a hard time naming 10 Bellator lightweights off the top of your head, without consulting Wikipedia or Bellator's official website.
Alvarez wanted opportunity.
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, Alvarez told me in early May. A fighter's lifespan is small, and it's about opportunity, not so much the up-front numbers.
But you know the rest of the story. Bellator matched the contract, or at least they claim they did. Alvarez and his legal staff believe the opposite, that Bellator couldn't possibly match the contract because they don't run pay per view events and their home network, Spike TV, could not possibly assume the same reach as FOX over the air network television.
I've said my piece on the entire situation. I believe Rebney and Viacom are making a giant mistake in dragging Alvarez through a months-long court process. Even if they win, Rebney's going to have an unhappy employee on his hands, one that had his dream of fighting in the UFC taken away by a lengthy and ugly court battle that takes years from the prime of Alvarez's fighting career.
Years? Yes, I said years.
Should Bellator allow Alvarez to leave for the UFC?
If Alvarez and Viacom end up going to court and don't settle prior to that date, it could be September 2014 before the trial actually begins. According to documents filed on Monday afternoon with the U.S. District Court and obtained by Bleacher Report, the discovery portion of the case must be completed by February 28, 2014. All out-of-court depositions must be completed by July 28, 2014.
If Alvarez doesn't fold, and if Bellator is insistent on fighting to keep him underneath their banner, it will be 23 months since Alvarez's last fight when they finally go to trial. And you can expect the court case to drag out with the losing side appealing the decision, stretching it out even further.
The point here, and it's a point Viacom cannot seem to grasp, is that they are stealing away two whole years from the best years of Alvarez's fighting life. Two years he can never get back. And yet they are insistent on forcing someone who clearly does not want to be there to stick around.
I'll never understand it, just like I'll never understand why Viacom thinks their 480,000 viewers (the number they pulled for last week's Bellator 96 event) is the same thing as the four million-plus viewership that the UFC draws for FOX broadcasts.
It's not a match. FOX and Spike are not the same thing, much like the UFC and Bellator are not the same thing. One is the clear market leader, while the other would need a miracle sent from heaven above to come even remotely close to the market share held by the leader. Signing Rampage Jackson isn't going to do it, and forcing Eddie Alvarez to go back to work in a place he doesn't want to be seems like the dumbest decision of all.