For the better part of the last two years, Eddie Alvarez has spent as much time in courtrooms, talking to lawyers and dealing with promotional and political back and forth that fighting had to feel almost secondary. While he was always regarded as one of the best lightweight fighters in the world, his desire to leave Bellator Fighting Championships to sign with the UFC became a bigger story than any single fight he ever had during his career.
Alvarez originally received an offer from the UFC in 2012 when he became, for lack of a better term, a restricted free agent as his contract came to an end. Bellator did retain matching rights, however, and they opted to offer similar terms but in the sense of MMA, pay-per-view and exposure there was no real way they could equal the UFC’s offer and this set off a chain reaction of lawsuits and public bashing rarely seen between a fighter and a promotion in this sport.
It all came to an end on Tuesday, however, as the new powers-that-be at Bellator including former Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker granted Alvarez his full release and within minutes he had an offer tendered from the UFC to fight on September 27 against Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone. It was all Alvarez had wanted for the past 24 months and in a blink of an instant, he finally had it in the palm of his hand.
"It’s been a wild day, things happened quick," Alvarez told FOX Sports after the deal was done. "I’m sort of ready for that. I think this isn’t going to be the only that happens really fast. When there’s this many people watching and this many eyes on you, things move quickly, I’m ready for it. I’m excited about it.
"I’m just excited to get it done. Now we’re ready to move about."
Look, I’m going to be as clear as I can — I’m going to enter the UFC, I’m going to shake things up, I’m going to show people something different, I’m going to show something people have been waiting to see for a long time
— Eddie Alvarez
As frustrated as Alvarez was when this whole process started, at some point he finally had to let the stress and anger go in favor of controlling the only thing that no promoter or lawyer could take away from him. Alvarez spent every waking moment from that day forward in the gym, training to get better and preparing for whatever fight he had coming up next.
He allowed his manager and the attorneys working on his behalf to handle the legal drama in his life and Alvarez just worried about being the best fighter in the world — for whoever employed him when the dust settled.
"One thing I learned throughout the last two years, the only thing I have any control over is going to the gym everyday," Alvarez said. "Lawyers, attorneys, promotions, things happen and I have zero control over it so I try not to focus on it unless I’m able to do something about it. I’m able to get up everyday, get in my car and head to the gym and hone my skills and sharpen my tools. That’s my biggest concentration.
"Everything else to me is just an illusion. It happens quick, it goes away. I feel like I’m just at a point in my life where I can have a keener focus. I know what I’m able to control and what I’m not."
It was certainly crazy to think before the ink was dry on his unconditional release from Bellator that he already had a bout agreement sitting in front of him from the UFC offering the fight with Cerrone in just over one month’s time.
While the shock of the moment was like a cold splash of water to the face, Alvarez quickly snapped back into fight mode and started to contemplate his arrival in the UFC. He was the most coveted free agent two years ago and now he enters the Octagon with an incredible record and a reputation for being one of the most exciting and dangerous fighters in the entire division.
It’s a reputation he plans on sharing with every other lightweight in the world, starting with Cerrone on September 27/.
"Look, I’m going to be as clear as I can — I’m going to enter the UFC, I’m going to shake things up, I’m going to show people something different, I’m going to show something people have been waiting to see for a long time," Alvarez said.
"I can’t give you a reason I would lose. I can’t give it to you. I’m excited to go in there and I put myself into positions to be successful and I can’t wait."
When the UFC came calling today, Alvarez had no idea that Cerrone was going to be the name of the fighter on the end of his bout agreement. While rumors have swirled for the past few weeks that the bout was already being discussed, Alvarez insists that until today he had no clue this was all going to happen.
Now that it’s in front of him, Alvarez is happy to accept the co-main event slot at UFC 178, but it’s Cerrone’s misfortune that he has to take on the former Bellator champion as he cruises a path towards the top of the lightweight division in his new home.
I would like to fight Gilbert Melendez. I feel like we can settle this finally. I signed with his promotion and I came for him. I didn’t fake sign and try to get more money. I came for him
— Eddie Alvarez
"Cowboy, he always struck me as one of the more fan friendly fighters and I respect Cowboy. I like the way he fights. He’s going to allow me to express myself the most of anyone on the roster and I feel like I can be most dangerous against a guy like him," Alvarez said. "I respect him, but my quest and my goal is not about Donald Cerrone. It has nothing to do with anybody in the division. It’s about me and letting the fans understand that I have a goal and I’m going to get there, I’m going to be No. 1 in the world and I have the opportunity to do that."
Following this bout at UFC 178, Alvarez isn’t too worried about what comes next although a title shot against the winner of Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez would seem like the most likely scenario to play out. As it turns out, Alvarez doesn’t have beef with anybody in the UFC except the man who nearly signed to fight him in Bellator not that long ago and there’s still a residual distaste leftover from that entire deal going sour.
In a perfect world, Alvarez would settle that grudge while competing for the UFC lightweight title next year.
"Of all people in the division, I have no personal problems with anyone except I’d love to get my hands on Gilbert (Melendez)," Alvarez revealed. "That’s the only one I can think of. If someone says ‘hey, who would you like to fight in the lightweight division’, I would like to fight Gilbert Melendez. I feel like we can settle this finally. I signed with his promotion and I came for him. I didn’t fake sign and try to get more money. I came for him.
"That’s the only person in this division I would personally want to fight. The rest is just business."
And business is going to be good. Alvarez undoubtedly signed a whopper of a contract to come to the UFC and now he gets the chance to deliver on all the hype surrounding his arrival. But just like his contract negotiation that took two years to finally come to an end, Alvarez is just worried about the one thing he can control and the rest fades to the background like white noise.
"My goal is the same as it was on day one for my first fight — it’s to look across the cage at the guy in front of me and beat him," Alvarez said. "It’s not for legacies or for a belt. It’s to beat the guy in front of me and it keeps things real simple for me."