Despite a 90-day window that allows Bellator to exclusively negotiate with sought-after free agent Eddie Alvarez, the promotion's CEO Bjorn Rebney doesn't expect to take nearly that long to determine whether he can strike a deal with the former lightweight champion.
In a Friday night interview with MMA Fighting, Rebney said that Bellator has made Alvarez an offer, and that Alvarez's response will determine the next step. If he accepts it, he stays in the Bellator fold where he will be prominently featured as the promotion moves to its new broadest home on Spike. And if he doesn't, Rebney will allow him to bypass the remaining 70+ days of the exclusive negotiating period and take his talents to the open market, where he will no doubt be MMA's hottest commodity.
Such a move would ultimately benefit both sides, as it would allow Alvarez to restart his career faster than expected, while it would also offer Bellator a chance to properly gauge its assets as it heads into its pivotal 2013.
While Rebney at one point in the recent past seemed to indicate the promotion was prepared to move on without Alvarez, the two sides have had multiple conversations since Alvarez defeated Patricky "Pitbull" Freire on Oct. 12, satisfying the terms of his existing contract.
The talks began in the moments after the victory, when Rebney and Alvarez sat down together at Caesars Windsor for one hour, and have continued nearly daily since then, allowing the Bellator boss to present Alvarez his vision of the future, along with contract terms and other ancillary opportunities expected to come through Bellator's new ownership group, media conglomerate Viacom.
Of course, Alvarez's decision may come down to guaranteed money. Because the UFC has already expressed an interest in Alvarez, it's quite possible that he will at least temporarily bypass the Bellator offer in hopes of negotiating with the Las Vegas-based promotion and driving up his price. While ordinarily, that would require Alvarez to wait out the 90-day exclusive rights period, Rebney is willing to waive the clause and expedite the situation if Alvarez declines their offer while indicating a desire to test the open market before making a decision.
If that happens, Rebney expects the situation to resolve itself quickly as the UFC is likely to swoop in with an offer, and Bellator will have a chance to match it.
"My read on Ed is that he's approached these talks professionally and totally in good faith," Rebney said. "He's made the effort to come sit and talk to us. He's followed up and asked a lot of questions as far as what we can do for him, the exposure we can provide and what other doors we can open. He's been very engaged. Ed's been rock-solid for us for years, and if he wants to see what they are going to offer, I'm going to let him see."
Rebney said that within 3-4 days, he expects to either be announcing that Alvarez is staying with Bellator, or that he's cutting short the exclusive rights window and setting Alvarez free to look elsewhere.
It's a situation that is all too familiar for Rebney, who went through it six months ago with Hector Lombard, who was at the time Bellator's reigning middleweight champion. In that instance, Lombard hit the open market, where he was immediately offered a lucrative deal with the UFC.
Rebney said that contract, which according to him paid Lombard a $400,000 signing bonus, a $300,000 starting purse per fight and pay-per-view participation points, was cost-prohibitive from Bellator's standpoint.
If the UFC came in with a similar offer for Alvarez, who is considered by most observers to be right around the top five lightweights in the world, it is believed that would make him the highest-paid 155-pounder in the UFC. On the other hand, Lombard's debut in the UFC was considered a disappointment, as he lost a lackluster split-decision to Tim Boetsch. That development could cause the UFC to reconsider a big-money offer for another free agent.
"It's an interesting spot," Rebney said. "We've talked about the dynamics for months about him staying or leaving. We don't make decisions based off emotions. We do our analysis and try to determine if it fits in our model. Eddie can say, 'I'm going to go see what they offer,' and if he does, there's no reason to dance. If he wants to look at what they're offering -- and I don't think that's unreasonable, by the way -- I'll open the door sooner than we're required. I'm not saying we won't come to an agreement, but even though we're having some good talks, that's what it might come down to."
While Bellator has tentatively set its lightweight tournament field for season eight, Rebney said they retain the ability to adjust the field and include Alvarez if he chooses to re-sign. Or, they could plug him into a super-fight, though a short cut into a title fight rematch with Michael Chandler remains out as an option.
With the UFC potentially throwing out a big-money offer, Bellator may seem hamstrung by their tournament format, which promises $100,000 to the winner, a fine sum for many fighters, but a number that may not be enough to keep Alvarez in the fold. While Rebney would not go into specifics, he said the promotion's offer to Alvarez could include a signing bonus and increased pay for potential world title fights, allowing them to be more competitive to a UFC offer.
With Bellator preparing its push for 2013 on Spike, and the UFC gearing up for a battle with its former cable home, Alvarez may be the biggest beneficiary as a desirable commodity for both.