Alvarez (Bellator)UFC 178: Welcome to the UFC, Eddie Jay Anderson September 23, 2014 Events, Previews, Spotlight The tale of the once and again Bellator lightweight champion has been well told, but it’s worth a brief review: After losing his belt to Michael Chandler at Bellator 58 in November 2011, Eddie Alvarez won his next two bouts over Shinya Aoki and Patricky Freire. Both wins were stoppages and heading into the Freire fight in October 2012, it was well known that Alvarez, considered a top ten lightweight by many, and the best lightweight outside the UFC, wanted to test the waters with the world’s largest MMA promotion. Freire represented the final fight on his contract, and big changes could be a comin’. Bellator, however, wasn’t keen on letting one of their top fighters go. While Alvarez had fought in Ring of Combat early in his career, and in Dream in Japan, he was considered a homegrown Bellator talent, and the promotion’s top star. Chandler, by winning the lightweight strap in a serious candidate for Fight of the Year in 2011, took a little of the shine off Alvarez, and found himself getting a big push by the promotion after the upset, but Alvarez, the part Irish, part Puerto Rican “kid” from Philly was still a hot prospect. Dana White knew it. He sent a congratulatory tweet Alvarez’s way after the Freire fight, and as soon as Bellator’s window to immediately resign Alvarez had passed, an offer was sent his way by the UFC. It contained, we later learned, a nice signing bonus, an immediate title shot if available, a hefty salary – all things Bellator could match, under their matching rights for the fighter – and something else: pay-per-view points. In short, Alvarez would earn bonus money for UFC PPVs he appeared on, including his initial appearance, and later, should he become champion. Bellator, to that point, had never held a single event on pay-per-view. That didn’t stop Bellator, under then head honcho Bjorn Rebney, from “matching” the contract however. Then things got ugly. Legal action ugly. Alvarez claimed Bellator couldn’t match the UFC’s contract, because they weren’t hosting PPVs. Bellator stated that they intended to put on a pay-per-view show. The two sides fought it out via lawyers. There were accusations of contract altering from Alvarez against Bellator. The fighter was on the shelf over a year as a result, but in the end, he settled with the promotion, agreeing to a shortened deal that would see him appear on a pay-per-view, and get an immediate shot against Chandler. The Pay-per-View, set for November 2nd, 2013, was to be headlined by new signees Rampage Jackson and Tito Ortiz. Then Tito got hurt, and suddenly, Alvarez vs. Chandler 2 was the headliner – on a non-pay-per-view card. It seemed Bellator lacked faith in Alvarez headlining a PPV card. To some extent, the move back to Spike TV paid off, as Bellator 106: Alvarez vs. Chandler 2 became the biggest show of the promotion’s history, and saw Alvarez win the title back in a hotly contested split decision, setting the stages for a rubber match between the two stars. That rubber match was to take place at Bellator 120 in May 2014, on Pay-per-View, only this time as the headlining bout. In another stroke of terrible luck, however, Alvarez wound up injured and forced to withdraw from the fight. The PPV went ahead with Rampage Jackson and King Mo as the headliner, and Michael Chandler fought “Ill” Will Brooks for an interim title, only to lose – further muddying the title picture at 155lbs in Bellator. The question for a while was, who would Alvarez fight upon his return: Chandler, where there was a big money rubber match, or Brooks, who in theory deserved the title shot for winning the interim belt. Bjorn Rebney claimed that Alvarez’s contract with Bellator dictated Michael Chander as the opponent, but Alvarez stated he was open to fighting Brooks. In the end, parent company Viacom fired Rebney, and the whole question became moot when new Bellator CEO Scott Coker met with Alvarez and decided in short order to release him to continue his career in the UFC. In a press release announcing the move, Alvarez was quoted as saying “Myself and my team had some really good discussions with Scott, but in my heart I knew I was ready to move on and start the next chapter in my career.” Coker, meanwhile, pulled off something of a PR coup: by releasing Alvarez, Bellator suddenly looked fighter-friendly, and a lot of the damage incurred under the Rebney regime was undone. They did lose a top star, but a star that didn’t want to be there anyway. The only problem, really, was that Alvarez walked away as their reigning lightweight champion. That’s a problem Bellator will sort out later, but for now, the end result is: Eddie Alvarez is in the UFC, immediately signing with them after his Bellator release. Enter Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. Alvarez’s original contract, as mentioned, featured an immediate title shot. Obviously, with UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis scheduled to take on Gilbert Melendez after appearing as opposing coaches on The Ultimate Fighter 20 (currently airing, and to give it a plug, the best season since TUF 17, and one of the best in years), that wasn’t to be, so a suitable high level opponent was found, the aforementioned Cowboy. The bout takes place on September 27th at UFC 178. A fan favorite with an anyone, anywhere, anytime attitude, the Cerrone fight was big news – and bolstered a card suffering from the loss of Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier to injury. With all apologies to the flyweights, Demitrious Johnson vs. Chris Carisao just doesn’t have the ring to it that Bones vs. D.C. did. Alvarez vs. Cerrone, however, added credibility to the card. It’s got Fight of the Night odds potential, and could mark a huge arrival for Alvarez, if he can get past the always tough Cerrone. So welcome to the UFC, Eddie Alvarez.