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Eddie Alvarez, Michael Chandler get back to business in respectful rivalry

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

LOS ANGELES -- Eddie Alvarez admits that back in the day, he would have given Michael Chandler the Diaz mean-mug treatment.

The Bellator lightweight champion was in a Hollywood studio Tuesday, where he and former champ Chandler filmed promos for their May 17 trilogy fight in suburban Memphis.

A younger and less seasoned Alvarez wouldn't have handled the interaction well.

"I would have stayed in my room when he walked past me," Alvarez said during a chat with MMAFighting in his green room. "I would have stared at him mean, I wouldn't have talked to him, I would have been a little more stoic."

But there was little tension to be found Tuesday between Chandler, who took Alvarez's title via fourth-round submission in their first bout in 2011, and Alvarez, who won the title back in handing Chandler his first pro loss in November.

The two exchanged pleasantries as they laughed, joked, and inquired about one another's families. It's the sort of bond that only two fighters who have brought the best out of one another in high-level competition can understand.

"He's a very hard-nosed, talented fighter and so am I," said Chandler. "And we've spent almost 50 minutes in the cage beating the crap out of each other. When you have that kind of connection I guess, you have nothing but respect after that."

The reason they're here, the reason they're in position to carry Bellator's second attempt at putting on their debut PPV, is because they've raised one another's games through their rivalry, like Micky Ward and Artruro Gatti did in boxing and Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson accomplished in Strikeforce.

The poster for the card reads "MMA's greatest trilogy ends here." That's getting ahead of things, as the third bout still needs to deliver in order for it to earn serious consideration for such a distinction.

But boy, did the first two bouts deliver. Chandler's win over Alvarez in the first fight was filled with twists and turns and was considered by many 2011's Fight of the Year. Alvarez regained the belt in November in a hotly debated split decision after a barnburner of a fight, punctuated by a frantic fifth round in which both men went for broke.

"We've had some battles," Alvarez said. "I've got respect for him, we entertained a lot of people and we both dealt with a lot of adversity, I was happy to share the cage with him, I'm happy to share the cage with him again. I just, unfortunately for him, I have to dispatch of him this time."

Chandler returned the sentiments. "He's a fighter, he's my competition. As of now, he's my goal for my career, is to go out and beat him in this next fight. Whoever I fight the next fight, that's what my goal is. But at the end of the day, he's still a human being. He's still a father, he's still a husband, he's still a son, you know, he's still a person."

Last time out, there was a great hue and cry in the fight's buildup. Chandler and Alvarez were originally expected to play second fiddle to a Quinton Jackson-Tito Ortiz fight no one really wanted to see. Most considered Chandler-Alvarez 2 deserving of the lead spot, before Ortiz pulled out with an injury and the lightweight bout was elevated to the main event.

This time, there's no doubt who are the stars of the show.

"We're getting our external validation, and that's nice," Alvarez said. "But, inside of me, I'm always the main event, baby. I'm always the main event. To me, I'm the show, no matter where I am on the card. I'm the show, I'm the guy on the card everyone wants to watch. I think that's why I take fighting as serious as I do. I want to make sure when you tune in to one of my fights, it's a spectacle."

About that poster, though: Don't expect either guy to put too much stock into the event's tagline.

"I'm not too concerned with anything other than training and fighting," Alvarez said. "Anything other than that is bull----. Put whatever you want on the poster, it's not going to change anything to me."

Chandler, for his part, says there's no extra pressure to go out and produce.

"No, not even a little bit," Chandler said. "Eddie's the same guy, I'm the same guy, and we're going to go in there and try to beat the heck out of each other."

As the fight draws closer, no doubt, the tension will rise as Alvarez and Chandler will go into full training mode and the mental switch is flipped. With it, too, will come all the attendant drama, from Alvarez's contract situation, to Bellator shoving aside its tournament format to go straight to a trilogy fight, to the questions about whether people are ready to pay to watch a Bellator pay-per-view when they're watching the company on basic cable most Fridays.

But that's for later. Tuesday was about two guys who have cut through all the clutter and delivered MMA competition at its finest, showing respect and a little levity as they went about the "business" part of the fight business.

"There's no trash talking," said Chandler. "If anything, there's jokes because you've got two guys about to punch each other in the face in about two months and we have to stand an inch away from each other, shirtless, in our gloves, spritzed down, it's almost comical how it is. We do what we have to do for promotion or whatever, and acknowledge it and have a little fun with it.