With wins over Pride veterans Tatsuya Kawajiri and Joachim Hansen in 2008, Eddie Alvarez was seen as a potential star at lightweight. A loss to Shinya Aoki didn’t change much, and Alvarez was a clear favorite in the inaugural Bellator lightweight tournament. He didn’t disappoint, finishing all of his opponents inside two rounds to capture gold in the fledgling promotion.
Fast forward to 2011, and Eddie Alvarez scored one of the biggest wins of his career, in retrospect, against current Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran. However, the year would not end well, as Alvarez would lose his title in November in a fight of the year performance to Michael Chandler.
Since then, Alvarez has avenged his loss to Aoki, and knocked out Patricky Freire. And, thanks to some behind the scenes rules changes no longer requiring fighters to win tournaments to earn title shots, Eddie Alvarez is rematching Chandler in what is sure to be an incredible fight.
That’s the story from the fan’s perspective, but things aren’t as smooth from Alvarez’ perspective.
With a dominant title run featuring very exciting fights, Alvarez has been on the UFC’s radar for a while. Bellator, recognizing their asset, have provided him with a contract that almost certainly pays him more than your mid tier UFC lightweight. So, what’s the problem?
After losing to Chandler in 2011, Alvarez attempted to sign with the UFC. Despite the loss, he was still fairly highly regarded. However Bellator exercised its matching rights, and rather than go through a protracted legal battle, Alvarez decided the smart move was to stay with Bellator.
Now, Alvarez seemingly finds himself in an absolute must win situation. If he loses, he loses his value to both Bellator and the UFC. Bellator doesn’t need a guy who has already lost to their champion twice, and the UFC generally doesn’t care for fighters coming off losses. Now, that’s not entirely fair either. Even with a loss to Chandler, Alvarez would still be a very good signing for the UFC. However one can not discount the possibility that the UFC does not want a “failed” Bellator fighter to potentially tear up their division — lending credence to Bellator in the process.
It’s not unheard of for the UFC to give former Bellator fighters a chance. Cody Bollinger is currently competing on TUF 18. Luis Santos allegedly fought in a preliminary fight on TUF Brazil 2. And Wilson Reis just made his UFC debut, defeating Ivan Menjivar at UFC 165. Losing in Bellator isn’t necessarily a curse. However none of these fighters were nearly as high profile as Alvarez within the Bellator organization.
Just imagine, if Alvarez came over to the UFC and managed to win the UFC title, something would happen in the lightweight division for the first time since 2005: The UFC wouldn’t have the #1 guy in the world. The UFC can’t want to lend that kind of credence to Bellator, as exciting of a fighter that Alvarez is.