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Bellator grants lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez his unconditional release

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Esther Lin

Eddie Alvarez's long and often-contentious relationship with Bellator MMA is officially over.

The company's lightweight champion, who underwent a protracted, bitter contract dispute with the company under former CEO Bjorn Rebney, was granted his unconditional release on Tuesday by new Bellator boss Scott Coker. Alvarez will relinquish the title. ESPN.com originally reported the news of Alvarez's release.

"We've granted Eddie his unconditional release this morning," Bellator CEO Scott Coker stated in a press release. "Eddie is free to explore the free agent market, we hold no matching rights, and we wish him the best in the future."

Alvarez had been with the company from its launch in 2009. He believed himself to be free from his contract the company in 2012 when he received an offer from the UFC during a negotiating window, but Bellator claimed matching rights. Their dispute led to dueling lawsuits and dragged into the summer of 2013 before the two sides settled on a two-fight deal and Alvarez returned.

In the cage, Alvarez (25-3) is best known for his pair of fights with Michael Chandler. The first bout, in Nov. 2011, saw Chandler submit Alvarez in the fourth round to win the title in what was widely considered the greatest fight in Bellator history and one of the greatest fights of all-time. After Alvarez returned from his contract dispute, the two rematched in Long Beach, Calif. in Nov. 2013. After another epic fight, Alvarez regained the title via split decision.

The two were scheduled for a trilogy fight to headline Bellator's inaugural PPV event on May 17 in Southaven, Miss. But Alvarez suffered a concussion in the run-up to the fight and had to pull out. Will Brooks took his place and defeated Chandler to win an interim title.

There was no immediate word on whether Brooks will lose the interim tag and be promoted to the full championship. Coker indicated to ESPN that he sees a Brooks-Chandler rematch potentially happening in November.

For his part, Alvarez made it clear he has no bad feelings toward the new Bellator regime and simply wanted a fresh start.

"This was a long process but it's a decision that everyone seems happy with," Alvarez said in the press release. "I think it's important to say that I am genuinely thankful for my time at Bellator. I know that sounds a little crazy given everything I went through, but I've fought there since 2009, and have been involved in some really amazing fights. The staff there always treated me great, and I'm going to miss seeing a lot of those familiar faces around for sure. Myself and my team had some really good discussions with Scott, but in my heart I knew I was ready to move on and start the next chapter in my career."