NEWARK, N.J. -- Just three blocks to the north was the future. The next step. A new home. The potential for millions. It was all of what Eddie Alvarez wanted, and it was all so close. It might as well have been an illusion.
The Prudential Center is visible from the grounds of the U.S. District Court of New Jersey, its white letters standing proudly over the red brick. That was where Alvarez wanted to be in three months time, in the middle of that arena, in the center of the fight world, with everyone watching. The site was supposed to house his UFC debut, as the co-main event of UFC 159. But it won't happen. Not now, not after a ruling by U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares denied a request for an injunction that would have paved the way for Alvarez to fight in the octagon.
Instead, the relentless UFC schedule will march on, from Chicago Saturday night, eventually to the Prudential Center and right past Alvarez while his legal fight continues. And it will. In the end, Friday's ruling only ensured that Alvarez cannot fight for the UFC on April 27. A determination of his future fight promotion is still a matter for the legal system.
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney declined to comment on the result. Alvarez did not have much to say, either.
"I've just got to digest this whole thing," the 29-year-old lightweight star told MMA Fighting after being informed of the decision.
There was weariness in his voice. The ruling did not come until six hours after the hearing ended. Six hours to be hopeful and anxious and nervous. Six hours to ponder everything that had come before and everything that might come after, and how he even got there in the first place.
Alvarez's UFC 159 fate was determined in a 75-minute hearing in courtroom 5D at the Martin Luther King Building & U.S. Courthouse, and he never had a chance to say a word besides thanking the judge in the final moments. Sitting with his wife Jamie in the first row of the courtroom, Alvarez allowed his case was made by his three-man legal team, which argued that he would be irreparably harmed if he was unable to fight for Zuffa during his pending litigation.
Lead attorney Steven R. Klein laid out a case that centered on what Alvarez would lose out on if he could not participate on the April 27 card, citing the ability to make a living, endorsements, career advancement, superior audience demographics and widened exposure that in their estimation the UFC provides.
The pay-per-view match was also at issue. When the UFC signed Alvarez to an eight-fight offer sheet in December, they guaranteed he would share in event revenue under a tiered system that would offer payouts based upon the number of pay-per-view units sold. Specifically, he would receive $1 for each buy from 200,000 to 400,000, $2 for each buy rom 400,000 to 600,000, and $2.50 for every buy after 600,000.
Klein argued that the UFC's track record of pay-per-view success was a far different scenario than that of Bellator, which has to date never produced a pay-per-view.
"For Bellator to say they're matching a contract where the UFC is going to provide Mr. Alvarez with pay-per-view events and everything that comes with it: the money, the viewership the fame, it's impossible," he said. "They can't do it."
"How do you get 200,000 pay-per-views on an initial pay-per-view? It's unheard of," echoed co-counsel Frank Smith. "I don't doubt anything can happen. But wouldn't it have been incumbent upon them today to show up with an affidavit from somebody? They could have asked the court to seal the record. There's ways to handle this. 'Here's our date. Here's our venue.' They haven't put anything before this court other than, 'Yes, we're going to do it, and we have a plan. A secret plan.'"
Working alone, Bellator counsel Patrick English attempted to refute the notion the Bellator could not successfully promote pay-per-view events, pointing out that Bellator's new home Spike and ownership team Viacom were the same corporate entities used by the UFC to propel its ascent as a sports property.
"The UFC left Spike/Viacom and Bellator enters Spike/Viacom," he said. "They have retained people who know pay-per-view. They know the business. Viacom has had a very successful pay-per-view division -- million and millions of buys -- and suddenly it's suggested that Bellator can't do a pay-per-view?"
English even suggested that Alvarez would gain greater benefits under Bellator's banner, because while he was only promised a co-main event slot at UFC 159, he would be the main event and star of a Bellator pay-per-view.
English said that Bellator offered to Alvarez a major fight under a confidentiality agreement, and that the offer was ignored.
"Are you representing to the court that you have a fight lined up for him, vs. [Michael] Chandler, on a pay-per-view?" Judge Linares asked him.
"I am representing to the court, yes," he said. "Subject to all the things that can happen. Injury, etc. But yes, I am representing that."
Klein used a sports analogy, citing the difference between the NFL and the short-lived USFL of the 1980s, in explaining the gulf between the UFC and Bellator. How many USFL players could anyone name, he asked. When the judge named Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie, Klein countered that was because of what came after.
"Most of them [are famous] because they went to the NFL and were able to capitalize," he said. "Just what Mr. Alvarez is seeking to do, to go from the minors to the majors here."
But in his decision, Linares wrote that Alvarez failed to satisfy the burden of showing a reasonable probability of success and irreparable harm.
"It is speculative to suggest, as Alvarez does, that an inability to compete in the April 27 event will result in irreparable harm in the form of a lost opportunity to obtain notoriety, endorsements, and a wider exposure to viewers," he wrote.
Linares did note that Alvarez had at least one potential battleground issue in his ongoing litigation, acknowledging that the difference between broadcast network FOX and cable channel Spike could lead a court or jury to find that the Bellator has not matched Zuffa's contract.
But that is for another day, and another time. Alvarez came to court on Friday with hopes of soon inhabiting the center of the fight world, with everyone watching. Instead, he left a sparsely inhabited court room with only his wife and his doubts. Leaving the Martin Luther King Building & U.S. Courthouse, they walked out into the cold, with the Prudential Center so close, yet out of reach.
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