If Bjorn Rebney was the architect of Bellator, Eddie Alvarez was its foundation, the first major fighter the promotion signed in launching the brand. He quickly became its most recognizable star, and produced some of the best performances in the company's history. But Alvarez's deal, originally signed in 2008, is soon to run out, leaving questions about his future.
However, there is still some time left to iron out a new agreement. Contrary to recent reports that Alvarez's upcoming Bellator 66 bout with Shinya Aoki would be his last under the terms of his current contract, Rebney told MMA Fighting that Alvarez would still have one more fight to go after that.
Beyond that, Bellator has matching rights, so if Alvarez did get to free agency and find a suitor, Bellator would have the opportunity to reel him back in by matching key terms of the deal.
"I would go above and beyond with a guy like Ed, just because he’s such a good guy and he’s been such a key part of the organization’s growth," Rebney told MMA Fighting from Hammond, Indiana, where the promotion is set to begin its sixth season with Bellator 60 on Friday night.
Rebney said that as of now, Alvarez has two fights and seven months left on his contract.
As many have suggested, Alvarez (22-3) is taking a calculated risk by accepting the Aoki fight, as a loss would put him on a two-fight losing streak as he nears free agency. On the other hand, beating a top 10 lightweight would certainly give him added leverage.
"My hope is that he uses this Aoki fight to reestablish himself, and perhaps get a big win against one of the top five guys in the world, then puts himself in position either to continue with us for years to come, which would be great, or to move on somewhere else and do real well," Rebney said. "When a guy does what he’s done for this organization, I want nothing but good things for Eddie, his wife and his kids. So I’m hopeful that he does extremely well, and then we'll see."
Compounding talent matters for Rebney is the impending free agency of his middleweight champion Hector Lombard, another key fighter in Bellator's history. Unlike Alvarez, Lombard's deal is done in terms of remaining fights. The two sides are currently in an exclusive negotiating period, and if that time ends without a deal, Lombard will have a chance to enter the open market, with Bellator again holding matching rights.
Rebney, who has said many times that he considers Lombard (31-2-1, 1 no contest) the best middleweight in the world, said discussions with him are ongoing. Lombard is dealing from a strong hand, having won 20 straight fights dating back to 2007. During his Bellator run, he's gone 8-0 with seven knockouts.
Just last week, while in Australia, UFC president Dana White was asked about Lombard, and while he noted Lombard was still under contract, said that "if he wants to fight in the UFC, then we'll probably end up with him."
But Rebney will have the opportunity to match any offer that comes his way. While his preference isn't to part with either Lombard or Alvarez, the economics of running a growing promotion will certainly come into play, something he acknowledges by noting it may come down to a "business decision" as to whether either or both are kept in the fold.
"Those guys were the first and second big signings I ever did, and the deals have come to their logical kind of end, or at least close to their end," Rebney said. "We’ll see where the negotiations go. Those are both obviously tremendously talented fighters, and and whatever happens, they've been great guys to have underneath our banner."