Bellator’s foray into the world of pay-per-view took a big hit when lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez was forced off the card due to an injury. News came down on Saturday -- one week from the fight -- that Alvarez had suffered a concussion in training, ultimately forcing him from this coming weekend’s trilogy fight with Michael Chandler in Southaven, Miss..
Since then Bellator has announced that Season 9 lightweight tournament winner Will Brooks will replace Alvarez on the card, and that the event – which still features bouts between Quinton Jackson vs. Muhammed Lawal as well as Tito Ortiz against Alexander Shlemenko -- will remain a PPV. The new headliner will be the grudge match between Jackson and Lawal, the finalists from this season’s miniature light heavyweight tournament.
Alvarez appeared on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour to talk about the injury, which he said happened a couple of weeks ago while training at the Blackzilians gym in Boca Raton, Florida.
"It was during one of [coach] Kenny Monday’s wrestling practices," he told host Ariel Helwani. "Me and Abel Trujillo were wrestling. I shot in, he defended like with a hip check, sort of hit me, and I just remember feeling like it was a significant blow. Well, we just kept wrestling and kept going, and there was a couple of exchanges later, I had a separate partner. I had a single-leg, and they pulled out of the single-leg and their heel hit me underneath my chin, and that was only about two or three minutes later after I shot on Abel. So, it was a series of significant hits that I took."
Alvarez said that though he knew he got rattled, he didn’t realize that he was concussed until later.
"Kenny Monday’s wrestling practice is pretty intense. You normally feel exhausted and dizzy after regardless, so I didn’t know whether just to take it that I was feeling the symptoms because I took a hard shot or I was just tired and exhausted from practice.
"So, I went home, I rested, and when I came in the next day my head was feeling pressure when I got like really light impact. And then the following day, Friday, it got even worse. So I needed to call [my manager] Glenn [Robinson] and let him know what was going on. That’s sort of what happened."
Alvarez said he was optimistic he’d be able to go through with his trilogy fight Chandler, which will be biggest bout in Bellator history. The reason for the optimism early on was basic experience in taking big shots in training before.
"I’ve been hit harder," he said. "I got knocked out before the last Chandler fight, probably five weeks before the fight I got knocked out. All I did was rest. I kind of took off live training for like two weeks and then I went right back into it and fought Mike. So, concussions and getting hit hard is not something that’s new to me. These particular symptoms were all new to me, I had never felt these before, so I got a little afraid of what was going on."
As for a timetable for his return, Alvarez said he was going to rest and take care of it rather than push himself for a quick recovery. Even still, he projects it’ll be "weeks, not months" before he gets back to training. The symptoms that he became aware of have abated over the last couple of weeks, but not entirely, especially in the gym.
"When I get into the training room, any kind of impact training, even when I shadow box -- if I throw my own punches, just the stopping and the jolting motion -- it really puts pressure on my brain," he said. "Really, if I can describe it, it feels like my brain was like sort of bruised. It feels like a squeezing of my brain. My doctor says it was vestibular system that was sort of out of whack, which is the system that controls my head and my eye movement.
"So whenever I would try to do this motion, or if something happened really fast to my left or right side and I’d try to look, I would get a super, really like excruciating pain in my brain. So, I was probably foolish for thinking I could fight. But I was already too invested in my training camp to just say no. It was stupid to me to think about when I look back in retrospect, but I was very invested in the fight and I felt like I was going to be able to get past it."
The 30-year old Alvarez said he will be pulling for Chandler to prevail over Brooks for the interim lightweight title, so that they could still have their rubber match. No matter what happens, Alvarez said it was his understanding that his next fight -- whether it’s against Chandler or Brooks -- would need to be a PPV event, per his contract.
After that, he will be able to test the free agent waters. Back in 2012, Alvarez signed with the UFC as a free agent, leaving Bellator with the first right of refusal to match the offer. Bellator did, ultimately, which set up an ugly court battle that ended up with him signing a deal with Bellator.
When it was brought up that Chandler, who was on The MMA Hour earlier on Monday, had mentioned that perhaps Alvarez should ask himself if he really wanted to keep fighting, the Blackzilians fighter fought back a laugh.
"It’s laughable," he said. "He’s angry because I beat him and I’m the champion, and he has to fight for a sh---y belt that adds up to nothing. He can say whatever he wants to say."