LONG BEACH, Calif. -- As soon as word broke that the planned Quinton Jackson-Tito Ortiz fight was off, Eddie Alvarez had a message for his Bellator bosses: "I told you so."
Alvarez's long-awaited rematch with Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler on Saturday night at Long Beach Arena was listed as the co-main event, but the former champ had a gut feeling that by the time they walked into the cage, they'd be the stars of the show.
"I said ‘me and Mike are going to be main event' as soon as they said that we're co-main event to Tito and Rampage," Alvarez said at Thursday's open workouts. "I told them we will be main event. Guaranteed them that. I knew in my head that Tito and Rampage, one of them would not make it through the training camp."
As Alvarez explained it, it wasn't ill will that caused him to believe that a bout originally scheduled to headline on pay-per-view wouldn't make it to the cage, just knowledge of how much more difficult it becomes to get through training camp as your career progresses.
"These are guys who just, they've been in the sport so long," he said. "I've been in the sport so long, and I've been lucky to get through without injuries. Tito's been plagued with injuries ... it didn't take a genius to see that one coming."
Nor did it take a genius to realize that Chandler vs. Alvarez, a rematch of one of MMA's greatest battles, was the evening's true main event, whether or not it got the official designation.
The first Chandler-Alvarez bout, on Nov. 19, 2011 in Hollywood, Fla. is widely regarded as the best fight in Bellator history and generally considered one of the all-time great MMA fights. Four rounds of twists and turns ended with Chandler getting a rear-naked choke submission victory, as he took Alvarez's title belt, one he's yet to relinquish.
For his part, while he didn't get his hand raised that night, Alvarez has an appreciation for being a part of a fight which, two years later, is still held in high esteem.
"It takes two people to put a fight on like that," Alvarez said. "I've done it a couple times where I've had fight of the year. It's not what you aspire to. You don't want to be in a fight of the year. It takes years off your life. But, it's why fans tune in, it's why people gravitate towards your fights, its why people want to watch you fight. It's important to get into them, but it's important to try not to get into too many of them.
"When you're in them, it's enjoyable, it's why a lot of fighters fight," Alvarez continued. "To feel that feeling, to deal with that adversity and feel the energy of the fans. It's something special, but it's something special you don't want to experience too many times in your career."
Chandler's victory over Alvarez put him on the map, so obviously he remembers the night fondly as well.
"That's the goal," Chandler said. "You want to go out there, you want to be known as the guy who people refuse to miss your fight. ‘If Michael Chandler's fighting, I'm not going to miss that fight.' You want fans to have that in their mind, they've already made that decision. You want to be exciting, you want to be a guy the fans want to see to be involved in a fight like that was great and I'm excited about the fight."
Alvarez is fighting for the first time in just over a year, after a long and public legal battle with the promotion. After receiving a lucrative offer from the UFC during his free-agent period, Bellator invoked a matching-rights clause. The duo ultimately came to a settlement which lead to the Chandler rematch.
At this point, Alvarez doesn't want to comment on the record about the situation.
"I'm not talking anything about money," Alvarez said. "I'm here to fight."
Fair enough. Since he brings up fighting, while he's been out of action awhile, Alvarez (24-3), who now trains with the Blackzilians, simply looks ready to fight, checking in at 162 pounds on Thursday morning and showing off an absolutely ripped physique during his workout.
"I'm around a team of phenomenal athletes, phenomenal coaches, great facility, great area," Alvarez said. "I just want to do things that align with my goals. Now that I got [the legal situation] out of my way I can start working hard toward that No. 1 spot."
But can it happen again? Can they recreate the magic? Rematches of thrilling fights, after all, don't always live up to the hype (anyone remember Forrest Griffin-Stephan Bonnar 2?).
Chandler (12-0), for one, expects nothing less than Alvarez's best.
"When you look at myself and Eddie, he's a great competitor," Chandler said. "Nothing's changed, he knows how to prepare, knows how to train, he's coming for the belt and he wants it bad. ... I'm just believing that I want it more, it's going to take me getting knocked out or choked unconscious or a limb breaking and the ref stopping it for it to end on my part."
And Alvarez says his head is in the right place.
"The first time I fought Mike Chandler I was thinking about money way too much," Alvarez said. "I was thinking about the end of my contract. My focus was way off. I didn't believe in the people that were guiding me. Everything is going to be different."