When they first met at Bellator 58, which took place inside Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla., on Nov. 19, 2011, Eddie Alvarez walked in having been Bellator MMA’s only Lightweight champion and walked out defeated by Michael Chandler in round four. Alvarez lost the title the same way he had won the inaugural belt — submission to a rear-naked choke.
For the still undefeated (9-0) Chandler, this surprising victory launched him into a new conversation previously occupied by Alvarez — best 155-pound fighter not signed to an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) contract. He’d go on to prove his merits with three straight wins, including two title defenses, the most stunning of which was dropping “Caveman” David Rickels in just 44 seconds at Bellator 97.
Alvarez would bounce back from his loss to Chandler with two straight wins of his own, finishing “The Baka Survivor” Shinya Aoki via technical knockout at Bellator 66, then knocking out the man Chandler beat to earn his title shot — “Pitbull” Patricky Freire — six months later at Bellator 76. “Pitbull” is as tough as they come in the division, but Alvarez got it done with six seconds left in the first round of the main event with a fantastic kick to the jaw.
That set the stage for what was to be Bellator MMA’s first-ever pay per view (PPV) event. The Convention and Entertainment Center in Long Beach, Calif., was booked for Bellator 106 on Nov. 2, 2013. A fight between Tito Ortiz and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson to hook the casual fans into paying for the card fell apart when Ortiz withdrew with an injury, so Bellator changed directions and decided to air the entire event free on Spike TV.
With that fight scrapped, the Chandler vs. Alvarez rematch emerged as the true main event it deserved to be all along. Alvarez had a bit of a chip on his shoulder by this point, trying to jump ship to UFC only to have then-Bellator President Bjorn Rebney block the move in court because he still had fights left on his contract. Alvarez lost his bid for injunctive relief and —even though he returned reluctantly — he still came back to put on a war.
Alvarez tried to pick his shots in the first round and avoid getting eaten up by Chandler’s hard right hand again, but what he needed to worry about more was not getting caught in another rear-naked choke. Chandler caught him in a scramble on the ground and it seemed like history was about to repeat itself, but Alvarez survived and escaped with short time left in R1.
That set the tone for what was to be a back-and-forth war the entire fight. Chandler’s takedowns were more effective in round two than they had been for most of the first match, but Alvarez also managed to pop back to his feet each time and avoid being caught in another submission. Chandler seemingly walked through a vicious uppercut late in the frame without being rocked, but his bloody face between rounds told a different story.
To this point Chandler was the more aggressive fighter, but Alvarez may have smelled blood in the water, because the next five minutes saw “The Underground King” turn on the gas. If you love drama though the last minute of each round found a way to deliver, as Chandler again managed to score a takedown and fish for potential submission finishes. He finished the round on top, visibly spent but leaving the impression you’d want on the judges.
A medical professional examined Chandler before the start of round four and he seemed to want no part of it. He proved how anxious he was to get back into action by exploding into Alvarez with a flying knee. As with the uppercut Alvarez landed earlier this blow didn’t seem to wobble the recipient, but it did draw blood. Chandler ultimately got on top and laid in a vicious ground-and-pound that could have caused a doctor’s stoppage the other way.
It was a potential two-all tie at this point. Chandler absolutely won the first and fourth rounds, while Alvarez seemingly having done more damage in the second and the third, though either of those could have seen a panel of three disagree on who was more effective. Regardless the fifth round was absolutely crucial to both men and each left it all inside the cage. Chandler got a takedown and went for a neck crank but Alvarez escaped. Alvarez took Chandler’s back against the fence and smashed his face with rights. An ill-advised escape allowed Alvarez to jump on top with the hooks in and fire away. A bloodied Chandler managed to spin out and get on top in guard. Alvarez scrambled to his feet but got taken down again with 15 seconds left. He kept the action grounded until the bell as Alvarez gave a thumbs up to the cameras and the fans.
The grueling war to settle the score left both men battered, bruised and covered in each other’s erythrocytes, but as they stood awaiting the announcement it was clear only one could leave with the prize. By the narrowest of margins (48-47 x2 and 47-48), Eddie Alvarez regained the title via split decision. A rubber match to break the tie would have been an epic conclusion to this series and Bellator MMA seemed to agree.
To this date, though, that bout has not taken place. Alvarez suffered a concussion a week before Bellator’s second attempt at a PPV, and by the time he was ready to go both sides finally agreed to move on, with new Bellator President Scott Coker giving Alvarez an unconditional release that finally allowed him jump to UFC. Although we may never see the trilogy fight, they left a pair of unforgettable bouts behind that are always worth watching.
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