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Alvarez ends Bellator contract by downing Freire; Next up, UFC?

Who will successfully secure the services of Eddie Alvarez next? (Getty Images)

Talk about heading for the exit.

Eddie Alvarez had just finished the final fight on his Bellator contract with an exclamation-point knockout Friday night, and almost before Patricky “Pitbull” Freire had hit the canvas with a thud, Alvarez (24-3) was scaling the cage and embracing his wife in the front row. And then he was out of there.

Up the arena stairs the former lightweight champion charged, and if the door at the top of those stairs had been open, Alvarez might have bolted out onto the streets of Windsor, Ontario, and run all the way to Las Vegas.

You know, where the UFC is headquartered.

Alvarez’s nasty kick to the noggin of Freire (10-4) was simultaneously an ending and a beginning. It ended the main event of Bellator 76 at 4:54 of the first round, and with that brought to a close Eddie’s deal with the fight promotion. The beginning? That would be of the negotiating process. Other promotions, most prominently the UFC, now can try to work out an arrangement for Alvarez’s services, and Bellator then will mull whether to match the offer.

And there will be offers. Overseas promotions or the new World Series of Fighting could get into the bidding, but the most likely landing spot is the UFC. Parent company Zuffa could opt to make the Philadelphia fighter’s first stop the Strikeforce cage, for a showdown with champ Gilbert Melendez that both fighters and lots have fans have talked about for a long time. Or Eddie could immediately join the already-stacked 155-pound division of the Dana White Fight Club. He’d be a welcome addition.

Shortly after the fight, the UFC president congratulated Alvarez via Twitter, writing, “Congrats, Bro!!! Let’s talk : )”

The smiley face was White’s way of saying, “You’re my kind of guy.” Indeed, the UFC poobah likes nothing better than a fighter who’s exciting, and on Friday night he saw one. Actually, he saw two. “I have a ton of respect for Pitbull,” said Alvarez. “You had two of the most exciting lightweights in the world right here in this cage tonight.”

Alvarez and Freire delivered a wild back-and-forth battle that lived up to buildup more than 18 months in the making. Last year, the Brazilian was cruising through the promotion’s Season 4 lightweight tournament, with the winner to get a shot at Alvarez’s belt, until he met Michael Chandler in the May final. He lost a decision, and six months later Chandler choked out Alvarez to win the title. Alvarez vs. Freire was not to be.

Once Alvarez and Freire finally got to share a cage, they didn’t take long to make their matchup worth the wait. Not quite a minute in, Alvarez floored Freire with a lunging left hook, then leaped onto him to try to land a booming right hand. He missed. And before Eddie could reload, Freire was back on his feet and the fighters began a flurry of punches. A short left hook by Freire stunned Alvarez, and he went stumbling into retreat, with Patricky in pursuit. He connected with a right, but before he could do any more damage Alvarez tied him up along the cage.

The fighters were wary of each other’s power from that point on, their exchanges short with constant footwork aimed at keeping the fighter attached to those feet out of trouble. But then Alvarez’s best footwork -- the kick to the head -- spelled the end.

The end for Freire, the 14th knockout victim of the 28-year-old with thunder in his fists. And in the big picture, the end for Bellator … at least in terms of the Eddie Alvarez business.

Although Alvarez has acknowledged that Bjorn Rebney’s promotion has the right of first refusal to retain his services, that’s an unlikely scenario if the UFC pulls out its big checkbook. The CEO acknowledged as much in a recent interview with MMA Fighting, referring to the Freire bout as “in all likelihood Eddie’s last fight in our organization.” Rebney then looked to the future, adding, “He’ll do incredibly well if he ends up going to the UFC. I know they have a huge amount of interest in him, and I think he’ll probably win their title.”

Alvarez, for his part, wasn’t viewing the victory as an end, a beginning or anything special. “It’s just another win, man, that’s all it is,” he said in the cage after the fight. “The goal never changes: It’s always to beat the guy in front of you in the cage. No legacies. No anything. No money. It’s all bull---. It’s about beating the guy in front of you, and that’s what I’m here for.”

Yeah, he’s Dana’s guy, all right. White can tell Alvarez that face to face when they talk.

--Jeff Wagenheim

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