Two fighters stepped into the Bellator cage on Saturday night as champions. Both walked out without their shiny brass-and-leather belts. That made the evening worth every penny, didn't it?
Oh, wait. The planned pay-per-view had been nixed. These fights from Long Beach, Calif., were on regular cable television. In that case, let's just say viewers got what they didn't pay for.
It sure took a while for any value to emerge from this fight card, though. Before lightweight champion Michael Chandler and former champ Eddie Alvarez went face to face in the main event -- the true main event, not the goofy Old Timers Day main event between Tito Ortiz and "Rampage" Jackson that CEO Bjorn Rebney & Co. tried to sell before Tito suffered a fractured neck and had to pull out -- it was looking like fans would be within their right to charge Bellator per view. You don't get these Saturday nights back. Someone has to pay.
Pat Curran basically fought a three-rounder when his bout was going five, with Daniel Straus taking advantage of the champ's lollygagging to grab possession of the featherweight strap. "King" Mo Lawal looked like "Peasant Mo" in a second loss to Emanuel Newton within nine months, as Newton won a lazy, sloppy unanimous decision to become interim light heavyweight champion. In all, there was a whole lot of nothing much, which begs the question: Would Tito vs. Rampage really have lowered the bar?
Well, there's no way the dusty, faded UFC castoffs would have outshined what should have been the main event all along, the second meeting between Chandler and Alvarez. Their first fight, two years ago, was a classic, with Chandler nearly finishing Alvarez in the first round, Alvarez nearly finishing Chandler in the third, then Chandler getting the fourth-round choke to become champ. Saturday night's bout wasn't quite as high-octane, but it was brutal meeting of two brave men.
Alvarez (25-3) is once again the owner of the Bellator belt, and that has to feel a little surreal to him. He'd been out of the cage for nearly 13 months, not because of injury but because of insult. His contract having expired, the 29-year old signed a deal with the UFC, but Bellator jumped in and invoked its contractual right to match. Alvarez didn't believe the terms had been matched. So off to court they went, fighter and promotion, and they still might all be sitting in suits if the parties hadn't reached an out-of-court agreement. Alvarez's current deal reportedly included a provision that would have freed him if he'd lost to Chandler.
That was a very real possibility, particularly in a brutal fourth round. Alvarez had won two of the first three sessions on two of the three judges' scorecards -- yes, it was that close -- and had bruised up the area below Chandler's left eye so badly that the cageside doctor came in to examine the champ's nearly closed eye. Apparently, that lit a fire. Chandler took Alvarez to the mat early in the fourth, after first landing a flying knee, and administered a beat down that at times looked like it might morph into a submission win. But Alvarez survived.
In the final round, which would prove decisive, Alvarez survived another Chandler submission attempt and turned the tables in the last two minutes, going for the same rear-naked choke he'd earlier had to fend off. By this time both fighters were bloody, their faces bloated from each other's relentless assaults. Chandler (12-1) was by far the more beaten fighter, and when the final horn sounded and the 27-year old went back to his corner, he could be heard asking, "Was it enough?"
It wasn't. But for Alvarez it was. At least that's how two out of the three people cageside with pencils and scorecards in front of them saw the fight.
Alvarez acknowledged that it could have been anyone's fight. "It takes two people to put a fight on like that," he said. "It ain't all in my hands. It's up to Mike, too. We did it together. That was fight of the year, guys."
Maybe. There's been a lot of competition for that status even within the last few weeks. Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson wasn't too shabby.
But there's no disputing that Alvarez vs. Chandler II saved this night and leaves us looking forward to another Bellator night: the one on which Alvarez vs. Chandler III is fought. Would you pay for that one?