LONG BEACH Calif. -- By the time Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez took to the cage Saturday night, Bellator 106 had the feel of an all-time disaster of a card.
From poor event pacing to gassed fighters during championship rounds, the action at Long Beach Arena did nothing to dissuade the notion this was an event run under a dark cloud.
Two of the competitors the company had invested the most time and effort in promotion over the past couple years, Pat Curran and "King Mo" Lawal, had just looked listless in losing back-to-back feature fights.
It was especially damaging for Lawal, who wears a crown on his head and talks a big game, but whose biggest purpose in Bellator thus far has been putting Emanuel Newton on the map.
As the crowd lost interest in back-to-back, five-round title fights, some in the audience amused themselves by chanting expletives at Tito Ortiz, seated cageside, which only served as a reminder of the pay-per-view main event which wasn't between Ortiz and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
Somewhere in England, James Thompson's ear was about to explode all over again, and he wouldn't know why.
Had Chandler and Alvarez put on a dud of a rematch Saturday night, we'd be comparing Bellator 106 to the night Seth Petruzelli knocked out Kimbo Slice and the evening in New Jersey in which "Bigfoot" Silva pummeled Fedor Emelianenko right out of Strikeforce.
But Alvarez and Chandler, in the face of all the pressure of having to carry the card and live up to their 2011 classic, put on a sterling display of mixed martial arts at its finest, one which deserves all the accolades it's received.
So instead of having to face the music on a fiasco of an event, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney was all smiles at the post-fight press conference, knowing that the one fight on which the entire evening hinged was good enough to lift the entire company.
"If you asked me two hours ago whether I know all's well would end well, I wouldn't have been so confident," Rebney said. "But, all's well that ends well. I'm leaving here with a smile."
This isn't the first time we've seen a next-level display from a pair of fighters over five rounds. But even within the context of the great 25-minute fights in MMA history, it's rare we've seen so many twists and turns. Chandler started strong. Alvarez found his footing in round two and turned it up in round three. Chandler answered with a hellacious round four, one in which, frankly, it was a bit surprising he didn't earn a 10-8 or two. Alvarez somehow answered in round five, which had as many twists and turns as the previous four rounds combined. Both fighters, sensing a close fight, went for broke.
In the end, Alvarez took two of three 48-47 scores in a fight which could have went either way. But unlike Curran and Lawal before him, Chandler doesn't drop in esteem after his first career loss. Not when you've given the fans an effort like that.
Alvarez understood this, giving his dance partner a verbal tip of the cap at the post-fight press conference.
"I'm going to take zero credit for what happened tonight," Alvarez said. "It takes two people to put on a fight like that. Not just me. Me and Mike Chandler. The guy fights his ass off. The heart of a lion. At the end of the fight, I didn't give a s--- who won. I was just happy to be a part of it."
That was all we heard from either fighter after the fight. Chandler was getting stitched up by the commission doctor. Alvarez walked very slowly to the podium, and his left eye looked like it had been worked over with a tire iron. Alvarez departed after those remarks to go to a local hospital.
Which left Rebney to do the talking for the rest of the night. And while it's a promoter's job to hype the card, everything Bellator's CEO had to say about Chandler-Alvarez 2 rang true.
"Whether it's mixed martial arts or boxing, sometimes guys just gel stylistically," Rebney said. "You watch the fight and you can't believe these guys did that again. Ali-Frazier. Gatti-Ward. We've had a few of them in MMA. These two guys just fit like a glove when they fight each other."
The better fighter usually emerges over the course of a trilogy. By the time fight number three rolls around, you usually have a pretty strong gut feeling where the final fight is headed. Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos bore this out two weeks ago, just like Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture did in 2006.
But going into a third fight, whenever that may be, Alvarez and Chandler remains every bit a tossup.
"Ed Alvarez can beat anyone in the world at 155," Rebney said. "In any given moment, whether they're fighting here or fighting in the UFC. ... With Michael Chandler it was a razor-thin fight. I think no less of Michael Chandler. I think on the next night when those two guys are healthy, Mike could win again."
Had Alvarez and Chandler not delivered, Bellator was looking at an all-time stinker of a major event. Instead, Rebney left Long Beach Arena with not just the buzz of a classic fight, but the knowledge that his company will likely host what might go down as the sport's finest trilogy.
"I feel good about it because the fight was so incredible," he said. "When you get a fight at that level, you get that kind of performance out of two guys, you can't help but feel good about it."