When Bjorn Rebney launched Bellator in 2008, Eddie Alvarez was his first big splash. Rebney gave the lightweight star a $100,000 signing bonus and made him a building block for the organization, and Alvarez took it from there, becoming a champion within it. The relationship between the two thrived to a point where the men built a friendship that transcended the employer-employee dynamic.
Within the last few days though, that bond has been at least partially fractured by a contract dispute that has led to dueling lawsuits and a cloudiness over Alvarez's future.
The issue shortly after Bellator waived its exclusive negotiating period, allowing Alvarez to take his talents to the open market. As expected, the UFC approached Alvarez about a deal that would bring his talents to its octagon, and Alvarez quickly signed an offer sheet. Under the terms of a clause in his Bellator contract, that promotion had a right to match the UFC offer, and that's where things get murky.
According to Alvarez in a Monday interview on The MMA Hour, Bellator didn't match the deal. Speaking metaphorically to avoid exact contract language, he likened the UFC's deal to "fine dining" and Bellator's to "McDonald's," saying all dinners are not created equal.
Rebney vehemently disagrees. In fact, he told MMA Fighting in a Monday interview, Bellator's matching offer was literally a mirror image of the contract the UFC offered Alvarez.
"I will tell you point blank, no questions asked, we matched it dollar for dollar, term for term and section for section," he said. "To avoid any kind of ambiguity, let me make clear, we took the UFC contract, we took it out of the PDF format, we changed the name 'UFC' to 'Bellator' and we signed it. We didn't alter a word, we didn't alter a phrase, we didn't alter a section, we didn't alter a dollar figure."
Then how can it be that such a discrepancy between the two sides would arise? As far as Rebney can tell, Alvarez's issue comes from the projected dollar figures he could earn from the UFC's pay-per-view bonus structure.
"Could" is the operative word there, as according to Rebney, that pay-per-view money in the UFC offer to Alvarez is nothing more than a hypothetical.
"There is no guaranteed pay-per-view in the UFC offer to Eddie Alvarez," he says emphatically. "We as Bellator don't have to match projections. We don't have to match what could conceptually happen. We have to match guaranteed dollars and what the UFC contractually guaranteed would occur. That is what we are held to."
Despite that, Rebney said that Alvarez's pay-per-view stake was matched anyway, under the belief that Bellator could move into the pay-per-view market with the right fight, for example, a rematch of the notable 2011 bout between Alvarez and Michael Chandler.
The main bullet points of the 40-page UFC offer to Alvarez was a $250,000 signing bonus and a $70,000 fight purse with a $70,000 win bonus for his first fight, with salaries escalating over the life of the deal. The contract was to cover a span of 40 months or eight fights, whichever occurred earlier.
When Alvarez first went out on the open market, Rebney originally feared his deal would be closer in line with that of Hector Lombard, which would make it financially unviable. But when he saw the final terms, he felt it would be possible to monetize Alvarez in a way that made it reachable, and matched the terms.
In a phone call from Rebney to Alvarez last week, Rebney said that he told Alvarez that addition to matching the terms, the promotion would also promise to feature him in Spike-aired television specials that would also generate income for him. Rebney said that at the time, Alvarez seemed receptive to the idea of returning to Bellator.
"We have a quarter-of-a-million dollar check sitting and waiting to be sent to Ed and are ready to be scheduling bouts immediately," he said.
But in a follow-up telephone call later in the week to discuss the contract situation, things changed. Rebney said he got an uneasy feeling when Alvarez came on to the call with six attorneys.
Within 30 minutes of the call's completion, according to Rebney, both sides had filed suit against each other. Rebney said he's since offered to fly Alvarez and his family to the promotion's California offices to resolve the situation but was rebuffed.
The next step in the away-from-the-cage drama is anyone's guess. The wheels of justice grind slowly, and Alvarez, who turns 29 years old on Friday, said on The MMA Hour that he'd be open to some kind of settlement in hopes of avoiding a drawn-out legal process.
Rebney believes the relationship with Alvarez can be mended as long as Alvarez comes to understand that Bellator did match the terms of the contract he was offered by Zuffa. After all, in his estimation, he's paid Alvarez about $900,000 in over the course of his time in Bellator, and is poised to do even better in the coming years regardless of which promotion ends up with his services.
"Ed and I have four years of a good working relationship and about 30 days of not a good relationship," he said. "When you weigh those factors out, there's a very high likelihood we could shake hands and get past it with a fair amount of ease. Ed's in business and as you can see from the numbers, it can be a very lucrative business. I know I can shove off and move forward, put things back in line in short order. I hope Ed can do the same. It may be a long, drawn out fight between the two or something that can be settled relatively quickly. We'll see."