Free agency and mixed martial arts (MMA) aren't often used in the same sentence, seeing as how there really isn't a market to test the waters because Zuffa -- parent company to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) -- has a stranglehold on the sport, owning the top two organizations in the world (the aforementioned UFC and Strikeforce).
The next best promotion is arguably Bellator and its tournament-style formats, which have proven to be very successful. One of its biggest, if not the biggest star on the roster, is former Bellator Lightweight champion, Eddie Alvarez, who is about to become one of the most sought after free agents in the coming months.
One of the top 155-pound fighters in the world, regardless of promotion, Alvarez proved to the MMA world that he is indeed one of the division's elite, taking out another top contender, Shinya Aoki, in a little more than two minutes of the opening round at this past weekend's Bellator 66 in Cleveland, Ohio.
With the victory, not only did Alvarez get back to his winning ways after losing his title to Michael Chandler at Bellator 58, but he also got his long-desired revenge on the Japanese submission specialist who defeated him at Dynamite!! back in 2008.
Sporting an overall 23-3 record with wins over the likes of Roger Huerta, Pat Curran, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Joachim Hansen, Alvarez is all but ready to take his talents to the world's best MMA proving grounds grounds:
Of course, there is still a matter of fulfilling his contract with Bellator, which Alvarez cleared up today (April 23, 2012) on "The MMA Hour:"
"It's not based on one fight. (contract expiration) It's based on either a fight or four months, then we would be going into negotiations and can start taking offers with any company. I'm thinking now, and I told my wife today, I am completely injury free, I wouldn't mind taking a fight in a month and getting the negotiation periods on with. I feel perfectly fine. I don't know how my management feels about that, but there are very few fights where I leave but I am injury-free and I'm in great shape right now."
Alvarez is more than ready to take his game to the UFC and face the cream of the crop when it comes to a very stacked and talented Lightweight division:
"Yeah man, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't interested in fighting for the UFC. You have to be crazy, that's every fighters , that is the mecca of all fighting and we all sort of strive for, to get in there and get that belt. I'm still obligated to a contract and I'm going to fulfill my obligations for the contract. I don't even know what I can say or anything. I'm going to fulfill my obligations, and then we will figure out and maybe take bids from other companies. I made an agreement with Bjorn four years ago and I want to fulfill that agreement. I'm not trying to be a bad guy or anything, but like any employer, if you are with a company for four years, I think everybody that has been with Bellator so far, who have been there for four years have got a raise, you know? They have got their contracts renegotiated and got raises. I'm an employee of Bellator and I feel I have that right, after these four years they can asses my performance and what I have helped the company with and they can say if I deserve a raise or if I don't, and at that point, maybe another company can step in and say what they are offering"
Ultimately, Alvarez says the decision will be based on the people who he is most loyal to, his family:
"To be honest with you, I don't feel like I have any loyalties to any one promotion. My loyalties are to my family and to make the right decision for our future and that's it. As well as my management team, in the last couple of months they have become an extension of my family. My loyalties are to a small circle of people. Promoters want me for the same reason that I want them and it is all based upon, you know, the dollar. My only loyalty is to my family. It's not to Bellator, not to UFC, not to anyone, it's to make the right decision for my wife and kids what is going to benefit us the most. When offers do come in, when things are assessed, that's how I will base my decision, on what goes on next."
When asked when he would be fighting this time next year, Alvarez had this to say:
"This question is better asked to Dana White and Bjorn Rebney, them two can battle it out. Or Dana White, Bjorn Rebney and Lorenzo , I don't know who makes the decisions, Dana or Lorenzo, I'm not sure, but we are going to let the two, you know I am just a fighter, I'm not, I don't have a ton of money and I can't make that decision. It is going to be up to them to duke it out."
Get your check books ready Dana and Bjorn, it's time see who has deeper pockets.
The UFC has already offered a contract to another one of Bellator's top stars, Hector Lombard. Bellator, of course, has the chance to match the offer or choose to pass. Perhaps by passing on Lombard and using the funds to keep Alvarez, who made $100,000 for his beat down of Aoki, could be a strategic move on Rebney's end in the the hopes of retaining at least one of the two.
Then again, Zuffa's pockets might be more than deep enough to steer the two stars away from its biggest competition.
Anyone care to guess where Alvarez will by swinging leather once the negotiation period begins?