In theory, Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez's next (and likely final) fight for the promotion, seems to be a foregone conclusion. When recent tourney winner Will Brooks seized a surprising split decision over Michael Chandler at Bellator 120, he also captured the newly created Bellator interim lightweight strap, and in doing so, appeared to jump the line in the Alvarez sweepstakes.
Afterward, though, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney revealed that part of Alvarez's settlement agreement for his dispute with Viacom dictated that his last contracted fight complete the trilogy against Chandler on pay-per-view, just as Bellator 120 was supposed to do before Alvarez dropped out with a last-minute concussion. Thus, Rebney explained, it would be up to Alvarez to decide whether he'd want to fight Brooks next or revert back to the Chandler trilogy, regardless of the relevance of interim titles.
"I've never picked a fight in my whole career," Alvarez told host Ariel Helwani on Tuesday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I'm not a promoter, I'm not a manager. I've never picked a fight. I've simply gotten the call from the promotion to tell me who I'm fighting, and I took the fight. I get very uncomfortable when you ask me who I want to fight. I think that's a s--ty part of the sport.
"But when you put an interim title up, it's only fair that the guy who wins that title should get the next fight with the champion. It only makes sense. Things get kind of weird for everyone if you end up fighting a guy who's not the interim champ. So just to keep everything correct and not getting ugly, I think the interim champ should get the shot."
Of course, matters such as these are rarely as cut and dry as they seem.
While Alvarez expects to be fully recovered from his concussion within the next few weeks, Bellator officials have yet to announce their intentions one way or the other. The lack of any definitive statement has lead Brooks to publicly (and continuously) voice his doubts as to whether he'll be getting the Alvarez fight at all, while Alvarez says no parties within Bellator have contacted him in regards to the decision.
"If I'm not fighting Will Brooks, who everybody believes that's who I should get next, then yeah, the decision will be being made for me," Alvarez explained. "Look, I didn't write that settlement agreement. I didn't write it, I didn't come up with the words and the language in that agreement. I'm not that intelligent. I'm just following the settlement agreement. Whatever they want me to do, I'm going to do. I'm not going to push back. I'm going to do what I'm told."
Not long after Alvarez's explanation, Brooks himself joined the call as a scheduled guest of the show. And almost immediately, the interim champion set out to state his case for why he deserves the fight against Alvarez, rather than Chandler.
"Right now, the way they set this whole thing up with this interim belt, it's basically he has half of the belt, I have half of the belt, if you really step back and look at the big picture," Brooks said. "How do you put those belts together? You fight the two guys with the belts and unify the belts. That's what happens a majority of the time within an organization when there's an interim belt."
For the most part, Alvarez agreed with Brooks' characterization, reiterating that a match-up between the two lightweights would be the fairest outcome.
Although Alvarez did bristle at Brooks' notion that the two were each part owners of the same belt.
"I'm not trying to get controversial, but I was out for a week and they came up with an interim belt," he said. "So to me, it's just sort of a trophy."
Yet while both men appeared to agree on the same core issue, it quickly became apparent that Brooks took exception with two different aspects of Alvarez's stance.
First was a claim made by Alvarez earlier in the conversation, which alleged that Chandler was injured before Bellator 120 and effectively diminished Brooks' accomplishment; second, the fact that Brooks believed Alvarez was not doing all he could to press the issue regarding his next fight, and instead preferred to relinquish final matchmaking control over to Rebney, rather than publicly campaign against the coveted spot being awarded to Chandler.
"Look, I'm here to fight the best guys," Brooks said. "I don't understand completely what Eddie's situation is. He might be done after his next fight and he's going to be moving on. But at the end of the day, I just don't want anybody trying to sneak around and get out of something clean. And I'll be honest -- this is just how I feel -- if you don't take this fight with me, I feel like you're just trying to get out of Bellator clean and fight the guy, fight Chandler, who you already know.
"You said it yourself, you trained [three] training camps for this guy. You basically know him like the back of a book, so why wouldn't you jump on him? ... (You could) just roll out of Bellator, and say ‘I whooped their top guys' and then walk out. Or are you going to end up taking a fight with Chandler and taking an easy victory?
"I'm a little annoyed," Brooks continued, "Because you turned around and you made all these (excuses). You were saying how Chandler went into the fight hurt, or making excuses for your buddy or whatever, and I just didn't really appreciate that. I don't know if it's like, you have hurt feelings because I went in there and did something that you weren't able to do, and walked out with less damage than you were able to walk out with, or have not as close of a fight?"
"Just to clarify things," responded Alvarez, "Mike is hurt. I don't need to put it out there like it's an excuse. He's hurt, and Mike's not going to say it ... but he took the fight anyway. That is the truth, so whether you like it or not don't matter.
"And I'm saying I'm picking you, so you should be happy," Alvarez continued.
"You need to talk to your promoter, not me. At the end of the day, I'll fight anyone at any time."
"You're the champ though," Brooks replied. "When you're the champ, you have more say-so. When you have the belt, you have more say-so. You can go to the promoters and tell them, listen, this is what we want to do, this is what we're going to do. I just feel like it's been dancing around too much. There's nobody really making any moves, there's just too much going back and forth about it. Look, if you guys want to fight Chandler, and Bjorn wants you to fight Chandler, you guys go do that. You guys go do your trilogy or go figure out your hurt feelings between each other or whatever you're doing. I'm just tired of people asking the question and talking about it. How about we all just get on the phone with Bjorn and get it done?
"To me, I guess there's not enough explaining," added Brooks. "I'm just hearing a lot of stories about who's got power and who can do this, and who's doing this and if it was up to Eddie we'd do this. Now you turn around and say it's up to Bjorn. The thing that drives me crazy is because I feel like you two guys got this whole personal thing between you and Bjorn, and now my career, my next move, is caught up between you and this guy bumping heads, and that's what I'm not trying to be a part of."
"Will, I love the fact that you think you could win," Alvarez countered. "If anything, that drives me more than anything. But you gotta know, you're saying I got all the power because I'm champion. If I was champion with a contract like you are... you got a contract, bro. I have an out-of-court settlement. I don't have a contract. You have a contract with Bellator. I have an out-of-court settlement. That means I went to court, I was sued, I sued them back. I don't have say, dude. Like, I have no say. So this is my way of trying to get you. This is my only way that I can get you."
"I'm going to just say this, man," responded Brooks, "If Bjorn doesn't make the fight, he paints himself into a corner. He makes himself look bad, on top of all the other stuff that is happening in his organization, he just makes himself look even worse because all he's doing is pretty much making a point that even before me and Chandler fought, he already had Chandler picked."
"I hope we make it," Alvarez agreed. "Will, whatever conspiracy theories people are coming out with, I'm letting you know, I'm the realest dude you're going to talk to in this. You're talking to promoters and managers... don't buy it, dude. As a veteran of this sport -- you've been here a couple years -- trust fighters. Don't trust managers and promoters. Trust what a fighter tells you. When I say that you're the fight I want, you're the fight I want, dude.
"I could easily go to the media and day, let's do Chandler-Alvarez III. It makes more sense financially for me to do that. That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying it's you. I'm trying to help you out. I'm trying to get you a title shot.
"And in all honesty," Alvarez finished, "I'm doing it because I think you're the easier guy, and I am trying to get out of here easier."
The sudden bluntness of Alvarez's statement seemed to take Helwani aback, as the host followed up by asking the injured champion whether he actually believed what he just said.
"I do," Alvarez reiterated with a smile on his face. "I think Mike is a tougher match-up, so I'm trying to get the easier match-up here. You're right."
Not surprisingly, that affirmation was all it took to set off the third man on the line, as from that point on Brooks appeared incredulous that Alvarez would actually admit to slighting him like that.
"I just went in there and I beat Chandler with skills that I haven't even perfected yet," he fumed. "I'm still learning. I've only been in this sport for three and a half years now, and just now, just this past training camp, I'm starting to learn skills. I'm starting to learn how to strike, and I just went out there and almost knocked this kid out, hurt or not hurt, with skills that I haven't even mastered yet.
"This is what I'm saying. I'm trying to fight guys like you and Chandler just to see how far I can push myself. And if you think for one second that you're going to have an easier match-up with me... I'm telling you homie, whatever you got with the UFC, it's not going to look pretty for you. If that's really what you think, you're not going to walk out of Bellator clean. I promise you that. Your best bet is to change the way you think, or maybe sit down with your management and let them you coach you up on something. But I promise you, if you think this is going to be an easy fight, you outside of your mind, homie. I'm telling you that right now."