Both sides share blame in Bellator's dispute with Eddie Alvarez
The video clips never fail to spice up the usual mixed martial arts highlight reels. Every so often we'll see two fighters simultaneously lean in with punches and either their fists both find their mark or their heads collide. In the case of the latter, each man falls limply to the mat, and the bout is declared a double knockout. But when that happens, rather than getting double the thrill that we usually get from a regular KO, we tend to just shake our head in amusement. Unless it's a bout we care about, in which case we feel vaguely cheated out of something.
That's the feeling that lingers from this week's vicious double KO, which is an unusual one in that it happened outside the cage. Somewhere in the litigious limbo between the UFC and Bellator cages, Eddie Alvarez and Bjorn Rebney butted heads and nobody won.
Rebney, the CEO of the Bellator Fighting Championship, is the one taking a beating in the court of public opinion -- i.e. Twitter and other online forums for outraged fan chatter -- because of the way he has dealt with Alvarez, his former lightweight champion. As has been reported, Bellator had the right to match any offer Alvarez received once his contract ran out. And now we're waiting for a court, perhaps several, to sort out whether the deal Bellator offered was indeed a match of what the UFC agreed to put up for the 28-year-old Philadelphian's services.
While the Bellator contract appears to match the language of the UFC deal point for point, it clearly would not earn Alvarez anywhere near the money he could pocket if Dana White were handing him his checks. I mean, it might appear equal when each company offers a slice of the pay-per-view pie, but considering that Bellator has never even turned on the oven to bake such a pie and the UFC churns them out like Mrs. Smith's, it's easy to see where Alvarez would make the tastier dough. Rebney contends, however, that he was not obligated to match potential earnings, just guaranteed money. Maybe a judge will agree, but here's another guarantee for you, Bjorn: Fighters notice how promoters operate.
Then again, what can wary fighters do about it? They might grumble about Rebney being underhanded and such, but if they're looking for a job and the UFC isn't interested, where else are they supposed to go? Unless a guy wants to move overseas, join the embryonic (and, as such, fragile) World Series of Fighting or get a sex change and compete in Invicta, it's Bellator or bust.
And if that's where Alvarez ends up continuing his career, making less money and earning far less fame than he could have in the UFC, it's his own fault. While the chorus of fan and fighter discord has been directed at Rebney, Eddie has some culpability in creating this mess, too. He knew going into his UFC negotiations that Bellator had the right to match any deal he signed. So shouldn't he and his representatives have tried to structure his contract accordingly? A deal that calls for certain dollar amounts at various PPV thresholds is just variable enough to appear identical but actually mean different things in dealings with different companies. Alvarez would have been wiser to push for guaranteed money, even if he had to accept less than what the UFC's deal potentially could net him. Why? It would have been harder for Bellator to match.
Consider the PPV provision in the UFC contract. Alvarez is due to receive a dollar for each buy from 200,000 to 400,000, $2 for each from 400,000 to 600,000 and $2.50 from there up. So if Eddie lands on a UFC PPV that ends up in 500,000 homes, he pockets $400,000. Think a Bellator PPV is going to sell to that many homes and earn him anywhere near the same cash? Not a chance. So by agreeing to the same terms as the UFC, Rebney essentially gets Eddie for less. Alvarez surely must have reps smart enough to have seen that coming and have recognized the benefit of structuring his deal differently. But they didn't. And now a court will decide the fighter's future.
Clearly, neither Eddie Alvarez nor Bjorn Rebney understands the No. 1 axiom in MMA: Don't leave it in the hands of the judges.
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Strikeforce is saying, "So long." It's also saying, "So you want some longshots?"
On its way out the door, the fight promotion is presenting us with a card on Saturday night in Oklahoma City that's filled with fighters presumably headed to the UFC, and some have barely a speed bump in their way.
You like the way Daniel Cormier fights and want to place a bet on the winner of last year's Heavyweight Grand Prix? You'll have to lay 20-1 odds that he'll beat Dion Staring.
Josh Barnett may or may not have a UFC future, based on his past problems with drug tests, but he's nearly as heavy a favorite as Cormier for his bout against Nandor Guelmino.
Mismatches like these make the main event seem like a toss-up, even though Nate Marquardt is a solid favorite to retain (and retire) his middleweight championship against Tarec Saffiedine.
Maybe these are the best fights the folks at Strikeforce could come up with. But back in October, when Strikeforce sent out a press release announcing it was cancelling its second straight show, CEO Scott Coker said he and his people were "already working to put together a stacked card on January." This is a stacked card?
OK, names like Marquardt, Cormier, Barnett, Gegard Mousasi, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, Pat Healy, K.J. Noons, Roger Gracie and Tim Kennedy do add up to a substantial stack, but if none of them are facing each other or someone of comparable ability, doesn't the stack just tumble into a pile of random, throwaway pieces?
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OK, now watch me tie together the two stories above.
Instead of going to great lengths in defending his own business practices while dragging the UFC's guarded contractual process out into the open for everyone to dissect, Bjorn Rebney should be doing what a promoter does: He should be promoting.
Next Thursday his lightweight champion, Michael Chandler, makes his first defense of the belt he captured back in November 2011 with a fourth-round choke-out of Eddie Alvarez. Now, let's set aside the buzz-kill Bellator business model under which, within its tournament format, Chandler has made no title defenses for 14 months. And let's set aside the puzzling planning that results in the 10-0 champion making his first defense on a Thursday. Let's just focus on the fight.
And what a fight it could be. Chandler's opponent is Rick Hawn (14-1), the 2004 Olympic judoka who has won three straight fights since dropping a split decision to Jay Hieron in the final of the 2011 Bellator welterweight tournament. After trimming 15 pounds for the lightweight tourney, Hawn has KO'd two of his three opponents.
Next week's event in Irvine, Calif., also features the first title defense by featherweight champion Pat Curran (17-4), who faces 17-1 Patricio "Pitbull" Freire. This one could be the MMA fight of the year so far if Chandler vs. Hawn doesn't grab that honor.
Of course, we're just in January. And the year's only significant fight card before this one is the Strikeforce evening of mismatches. So there you go, Bellator: a chance to linger under the spotlight ... for a couple of days, until the UFC gets back in action next weekend.