For Eddie Alvarez, nearly two years of frustration and heartache ended in an all-out sprint.
On Tuesday, Alvarez woke up the reigning Bellator lightweight champion. By early afternoon, he’d been granted his unconditional release from the company and just a couple of hours later was finally a UFC fighter, booked to take on Donald Cerrone five-and-a-half weeks from now at UFC 178 on September 27.
Without warning, hurry-up-and-wait had become hurry up.
"I'm talking 0 to 100,” Alvarez told Bleacher Report’s Duane Finley that evening, when the dust had barely settled. “This is exactly what I wanted. I don't think things could have been done any better.”
Fans were understandably elated as news broke. We’d already heard rumors of Alvarez vs. Cerrone at UFC 178, only to be underwhelmed when Cerrone was booked against Bobby Green instead. Hitting the reset button and reverting to the original plan was like giving a kid back his favorite toy.
It’ll be awhile before we deign to play with anything else.
To say expectations are high for this fight is a vast understatement. This is a dream match, pitting two of our sport’s most exciting and well-liked competitors in a bout with significant title implications in MMA’s toughest division.
When you add in the fact it represents Alvarez’s much-anticipated chance to prove he belongs among the rest of the best in the world, it strays dangerously close to perfection. It stands out, even in a sport where divining beauty from chaos is sort of the point.
Are we tempting disaster (or at least disappointment) to get our hopes so dangerously high? Maybe. Do we also exist in a subculture where best-laid plans often collapse under the weight of injury and unforeseen calamity? You bet.
But believing Alvarez vs. Cerrone will live up to its potential is more than just fingers-crossed optimism. On paper, these guys have all the credentials to deliver a fight for the ages.
Cerrone has spent his near seven-year career in Zuffa-owned organizations as he’s seemingly spent every day of his entire life—as a delightful maniac. He is already 4-0 this year and has earned one of the UFC’s fight-night bonuses after each performance. He’s one of the Octagon’s most dependably exciting figures, and his meeting with Alvarez will be his sixth fight in just under 13 months.
Ten times during his last 25 trips to the cage he’s been honored with performance/fight of the night, despite taking part in just four main events. His first meeting with Benson Henderson was voted 2009’s Fight of the Year by multiple media outlets.
He calls himself The Cowboy, and even without the boots and the 10-gallon hat, it’d be the perfect moniker for Cerrone. His never-say-die attitude, precise kickboxing and sneaky-good ground game have made him a longstanding favorite of promoters and spectators alike. You could say he’s overachieved—he’s currently ranked No. 4 on the UFC’s official rankings—but perhaps we just didn’t give him enough credit when he came over from the WEC in 2011.
By comparison, Alvarez has spent the last few years toiling just inches from the spotlight. After pit stops in Bodog, Dream and ShoXC, he signed with Bellator in 2009 and has since run off a 10-1 record (he’s 25-3 overall), winning the organization’s 155-pound title twice.
His fight with Tatsuya Kawajiri in the semifinals of Dream’s 2008 lightweight grand prix was a popular pick for Fight of the Year. His 2011 fight with Michael Chandler (where Alvarez lost the Bellator belt via fourth-round submission) was even better, establishing Chandler as a leading man but also underscoring Alvarez’s devil-may-care greatness.
That fight would have garnered more attention had it gone down on a larger stage and if it didn’t have the misfortune of happening the same night Dan Henderson and Shogun Rua brawled at UFC 138. A bit shy of two years later, Alvarez reclaimed the title from Chandler via split decision in what would turn out to be his last appearance with America's second-largest MMA promotion.
For years, Alvarez was near the very top of the list of fighters that fans wanted to see in the UFC. His initial attempts to depart for the Octagon in 2012 were thwarted by Bellator’s previous regime—and led to a contentious and protracted legal battle—but knowing he couldn’t keep Alvarez much longer anyway, new showrunner Scott Coker allowed him his walking papers this week.
Now 30 years old and No. 4 on Sherdog.com’s lightweight top 10, Alvarez enters the vaunted UFC 155-pound division at exactly the right moment. He’ll join what is arguably the deepest, most cutthroat group of fighters ever assembled at one weight—who are all waiting for champion Anthony Pettis to get healthy and settle his business with No. 1 contender Gilbert Melendez in December.
The winner of the Alvarez-Cerrone bout will join the winner of this weekend’s scrap between Benson Henderson and Rafael dos Anjos as potential immediate title challengers. That’s to say nothing of the injured Khabib Nurmagomedov, the fast-rising Green or the ascendant Ross Pearson—any of whom could be in the elite mix by the end of the year.
There are also steady-eddy veterans like Josh Thomson and Jim Miller and a host of talented fighters such as Michael Johnson, Myles Jury and Edson Barboza, all hoping to force their way forward from the second row.
For all their greatness, though, none could provide as tantalizing a matchup for Alvarez as Cerrone. It is yet another example of UFC matchmakers being able to pull exactly the right fight out of their back pockets at exactly the right time.
Early prognostication has the bout nearly even, according to BestFightOdds.com. In other words, there is no telling what will happen.
But we bet it will be something special.
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