by UnderGround Columnist Ralph Welch
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Welch reviews the Eddie Alvarez contract dispute, Strikeforce’s demise and Jon Jones
Ugly Alvarez battle could still leave Eddie sitting pretty
Dana White promised the Eddie Alvarez situation would “get ugly” and this week events deteriorated into an unedifying public war of words, in which the legal profession is the only winner.
As teams of lawyers pored over the small print of contract offers from UFC and Bellator, Alvarez and Bellator chief Bjorn Rebney presented their own cases for the prosecution. Depending on your interpretation of potential pay-per-view bonuses, either Alvarez is being denied the opportunity to maximise his worth in the sport’s undisputed premier brand, or Rebney is meeting every legal obligation required of him to maintain the services of his company’s star asset.
Since men first laced up gloves and fought for reward in front of a baying crowd, financial posturing has been a necessary evil of the sport. Fame and adulation is an enjoyable by-product of a successful prizefighter, yet the reality is that these men and women are ultimately fighting to pay the bills.
For Alvarez, a 29-year-old with a family to support, this is an opportunity that has been ten years in the making. He’s within touching distance of the sort of salary that he could only dream of when he first stepped into the caged battlefield. His determination to scrap for every last dollar is understandable.
Equally, one should not rush to demonise Rebney as another in the long line of unscrupulous promoters that has lingered in the dark hallways of combat sports.
Rebney is a bright, innovative and savvy steward of Bellator. Under his stewardship, the brand has enjoyed its finest hour. The partnership with media giant Viacom offers greater recognition and reward for his roster of fighters. If nothing else, his refusal to cave in to the UFC affirms his own genuine belief in Bellator’s bright future.
Once the court has rendered a verdict Alvarez will still emerge as a man at the top of his market value with his biggest paydays ahead of him, irrespective of who signs the checks. Reaching the top of this most precarious of professions demands plenty of mental and physical sacrifice. This week’s experience was just another one of them – but it will be worthwhile.
Strikeforce roster ready for curtain call
Eddie Alvarez isn’t the only man agonising over his career this weekend. A stacked Strikeforce card marks the end of the promotion and will see many hopefuls auditioning for their places on the big show.
Some weeks ago UFC President Dana White insisted that all of the Strikeforce fighters would be making the switch to his organisation. Yet given that the UFC roster is already baulking under the considerable weight of 400+ fighters, it’s logical to suggest that only those with the most impressive credentials will be invited into their new home.
Stars such as Gil Melendez, Daniel Cormier and Luke Rockhold are amongst those assured of a new paymaster. For others, their fortunes are less clear cut. Expect these guys to come out swinging Saturday night and fight for their futures.
Coker’s fond farewell
When the smoke clears at the Chesapeake Energy Center, spare a thought for departing CEO Scott Coker who will bid farewell to the promotion he has championed for over two decades.
The death of MMA’s second largest brand has been slow and agonising, and no one has felt this harder than Coker. The man who spearheaded Strikeforce’s rise from regional kickboxing promotion to a global brand showcasing such talents as Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem and Ronda Rousey, has been powerless to prevent the spiral of decay that afflicted his brainchild since Zuffa’s 2011 takeover of their closest rival.
From that day, he struggled in the role of an authority figure with no discernible authority, unable to neither answer the barrage of awkward questions that came his way from a doubting media, nor assuage the fears of his fighters who saw their paychecks dry up and their livelihoods threatened.
Perhaps the most unfortunate outcome of the somewhat inevitable post-Zuffa decline is that it has tainted the legacy of a promotion that gave us some of the sport’s most memorable moments. Years from now we should remember the electric rivalry between Cung Le and Frank Shamrock, the worldwide shockwave caused by Fedor’s tap to Fabricio Werdum and the meteoric rise of Ronda Rousey.
After Saturday night, Strikeforce will be no more, and a chapter of MMA’s short history will be consigned to the record books. Coker may never be mentioned in the same breath as UFC founder Art Davie or the Fertitta brothers, but his contribution to a sporting success story has been a remarkable one.
It’s been a tumultuous year for light-heavyweight kingpin Jon Jones. Vilified for his refusal to fight Chael Sonnen at short notice at UFC 151, “Bones” regained a measure of respect by despatching Vitor Belfort and now opposes Sonnen as a coach on “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series. With his relationship with Dana White seemingly stronger than ever, the prospects are limitless for a man widely tipped to become the greatest of his era.
However, when it comes to Jones, some people have long memories. And none more so than the UK’s respected MMA journalist Gareth A. Davies. The latter is the voice of the excellent ESPN UFC podcast, essential listening for MMA fans on both sides of the pond. Those who tuned in this week heard Davies once again take Jones to task over a seemingly innocent litter-dropping incident dating back to 2010. Jones, at the time a wide-eyed prospect with the world at his feet, made the mistake of de-flowering Davies’ Mercedes with said litter en route back from a press conference. Despite apologising at the time for his indiscretion, subsequent encounters between the two have seen Jones sheepishly deny the infraction.
Davies responded this week as any proud man should - by bringing in someone significantly stronger to fight the battle on his behalf. This week he implored podcast guest Daniel Cormier to teach Jones a violent lesson for his litterbugging should the two ever meet in the 205lb division.
Davies is rightly among the nominees for MMA Journalist of the Year. If he reacts with such fury to some rogue wastepaper, just imagine the consequences should the journalistic jewels go elsewhere.
If I were Ariel Helwani, I’d be glancing nervously over my shoulder.