Undefeated Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler, 12-0, will defend the title against the returning Eddie Alvarez, 22-3, the former champion whom he submitted to win the gold in 2011.
Chandler submitted Alvarez in the fourth round with a rear naked choke to end a thrilling, bloody battle between two guys at the top of their sport. When the two enter the cage Saturday, Chandler will be looking to prove his victory was no fluke and Alvarez will be searching for revenge and redemption.
The two have been thrust into the main event spot for Saturday’s show after a neck injury to Tito Ortiz forced him out of his Pay-Per-View main event against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Without the two ex-UFC headliners to sell the card, Bellator has moved the show to free on Spike TV.
So now Chandler and Alvarez find themselves rightfully in the main event spotlight as the two modern faces of Bellator look to recreate some of the magic that made their first fight special.
For Alvarez, the journey to Saturday night has been complicated and stressful. The man once regarded as possibly the best pound-for-pound lightweight in the world spent the last year fighting with the company that will cut him a check Saturday night. Alvarez wanted to move to the UFC after his final Bellator fight a year ago.
The UFC made him a solid offer, including PPV revenue sharing, as well and show-and-win money. Bellator, however, faced with the possibility of losing its biggest star to a bigger, more successful MMA company, said it had the first right to sign Alvarez, as long as it could match the UFC’s contract. Bellator claimed its contract was equal to the UFC’s and argued that Alvarez’s only choice was to sign again with Bellator.
Alvarez disagreed. His management company sued Bellator. Faced with a long court case where Alvarez might have missed up to two years of action, Alvarez signed with Bellator and waived goodbye to the UFC.
After all that legal and personal drama, Alvarez must now step back into the cage to fight Chandler, a Vinny Pazienza-like, Tasmanian devil of a fighter. The two waged a classic war in the first fight, trading Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua-like bombs.
The back-and-forth fight saw both guys with the upper-hand and seemingly on the verge of a finish. Alvarez was in trouble early in the first round, but it wasn’t unfamiliar territory for the fighter, who frequently fights back after a knockdown wakes him up inside the cage.
Chandler’s intense offense kept Alvarez working non-stop. Although Alvarez is also a work-horse, his offense comes in flurries, mixed with moments of rest.
By the third round, Chandler’s eyes were cut and swollen and Alvarez’s busted-up mouth poured blood. After Alvarez caught Chandler with a wicked combination of punches, Alvarez seemed on the verge of victory. But Chandler survived.
At the end of round three, Alvarez pushed a tired Chandler off of him, then walked back to his corner, with a confident grin on his face.
That would be the last time Alvarez smiled in that fight.
The two traded punches at the top of the fourth round, but despite his swollen face, Chandler had more power than Alvarez. He dropped him and jumped on him for the ground-and-pound.
Alvarez, leery of the punches been thrown at him, rolled to his stomach and gave up his back. Chandler saw the poor technique, applied on the rear naked choke and Alvarez tapped out instantly, almost before Chandler had a chance to fully tighten the hold.
Two years later, Chandler is still the undefeated champion. Alvarez, before his contract expired, also won two fights by KO, including an impressive knockout victory over Shinya Aoki.
While it is unfortunate for Bellator that the Jackson-Ortiz main event collapsed, it may be a blessing in disguise.
Chandler and Alvarez are two of MMA’s best fighters, who would both be stars in the UFC. They helped build Bellator and they will step into the main event Saturday night at a Bellator show, with a title and legacies on the line.