“Just pay him or let him go.”

That was UFC President Dana White’s advice to Bellator MMA a few weeks ago regarding the Eddie Alvarez lawsuit. Although MMA fans everywhere wish it were that simple, that’s far from the case. The legal battle between Alvarez and his former employer is likely going to get extremely ugly before we get any sort of resolution, and unless some sort of miracle occurs and the sides reach a settlement, one of the top lightweight fighters in the world is going to be stuck on the sidelines for over two years.

When Alvarez’s Bellator contract expired late last year, the UFC made a strong push for the former Bellator lightweight champion, offering him everything from a huge signing bonus to appearances on televised Fox cards and possible pay-per-view revenue. After throwing so much on the table for Alvarez, it appeared the UFC had locked up the hottest free agent to hit the MMA market in quite some time, but Bellator decided to use its matching option on Alvarez’s contract to keep the fighter on the roster. The problem is that Alvarez doesn’t believe that Bellator truly matched all of the UFC’s deal. As a result, one of the best fighters in the world is spending his prime tied up in a legal battle. With the first court date between Alvarez and Bellator not scheduled until September 2014, there’s still a long way to go before this thing is settled.

It’s pretty clear that Alvarez has a few very legitimate complaints—fighting on Spike TV vs. fighting on Fox, pay-per-view percentages being offered by a promotion that’s never been on pay-per-view—about the Bellator contract not living up to the UFC’s, but it’s quickly getting to the point where even Alvarez has to be wondering if it’s worth throwing away (at minimum) two years of his fighting prime.

The few fighters that are skilled enough to compete at the absolute highest level in MMA have a short shelf life before they find themselves getting replaced by the next batch of young and hungry fighters. It’s an incredibly risky move for Alvarez to sideline himself when he’s considered one of the more talented fighters alive at 155 pounds. Despite the fact that he’s confident that the Bellator contract doesn’t quite stack up to the UFC’s offer, there’s no guarantee that the court is going to rule in his favor. Essentially, Alvarez could lose a massive part of his career for absolutely nothing.

Perhaps that’s why White also said that Alvarez should fight for Bellator during the same interview. Granted, the UFC head followed up that suggestion with his “Just pay him or let him go” gem shortly thereafter, but in reality, Alvarez returning to Bellator may be the best thing for his career. In a perfect world, Alvarez should be able to take his fight with Bellator to court and not suffer in the long run, but even a best-case scenario for the former Bellator champ is going to result in a long layoff and a lack of income.

Even if Alvarez wins his court case next year and finds himself on the UFC roster, it’s highly likely that he won’t compete inside the Octagon until some point in 2015. At that point, even though Alvarez was once one of the biggest free-agent acquisitions, his hype is going to have diminished greatly and his arrival won’t quite have the bite that it would have had in 2013. Throw in the inevitable ring rust that Alvarez is sure to suffer from more than two full years outside of the cage, and the odds of Alvarez succeeding inside the Octagon will be slim by the time he actually makes his UFC debut.

Even though the UFC deal has certain advantages that Bellator realistically has no chance of matching, it may be better for Alvarez to just move on and try to work out a deal with Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney and company. It’s not the most popular solution, both for fans that want to see Alvarez compete in the star-studded UFC lightweight division and for those that want to see Bellator’s questionable version of a matching contract shot down, but it may be the best option for Alvarez if he wants to make any money in MMA anytime soon.

There’s little doubt that Alvarez is going to scoff at any attempts made by Bellator to re-sign him without fixing some of the monetary complaints he has, but if the two parties are able to get over that hurdle, there’s only one major obstacle in place that may prevent Alvarez from heading back to Spike TV. The proposed UFC contract that Alvarez received had a matching option for Zuffa at the end of the deal, and since Bellator made its own deal as close to the UFC’s as possible, it’s reasonable to believe that the promotion might have inserted a similar option in its proposed deal. While Alvarez may be able to attempt to suck it up and fight for Bellator for a couple of years, it’s extremely unlikely that he’ll want to remain with the promotion beyond that. The bad blood between Alvarez and the company is a lot to overcome at the moment, and if I’m Alvarez, I want a guarantee that Bellator won’t control my destiny again after this contract expires.

Luckily, this is where negotiations can make a difference. If Bellator truly wants Alvarez and believes he can be one of the company’s stars, why not waive his matching option on his next contract and hope for the best? It’s a risky move in theory, but with eight fights on the proposed deal, Bellator will likely get three to four years out of Alvarez. During that time, the promotion can do everything in its power to make him fall in love with the idea of staying put.

Remember, Alvarez didn’t have any major problems with Bellator before the lawsuit came together, and if Bellator grows at the rate that Viacom is hoping, it should be able to make Alvarez another substantial offer in a few years. As long as Bellator covers itself and makes Alvarez sign a champion’s clause that keeps him with the promotion if he holds a belt, it’s not a terrible deal, and it erases some of the bad publicity that Bellator has earned throughout this whole ordeal.

It’s asking a lot for both Alvarez and Bellator to swallow their pride and attempt to get a deal done, but it’s probably what’s best for both parties. The longer this lawsuit lasts, the more bad publicity is going to land on Bellator’s doorstep, and that’s something that an MMA promotion looking to break into the mainstream just can’t afford. As for Alvarez, the longer he is stuck on the sidelines, the more his career is going to suffer. Even if he eventually ends up inside the Octagon, he’ll have lost a key portion of his career.

The lawsuit is a losing scenario for everyone. For the sake of both Alvarez and Bellator, some sort of settlement is the only option that won’t seriously damage all those involved. It’s time for both sides to come to the table and settle their differences.

Photo: Eddie Alvarez (Sherdog)

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.