Eight days ahead of what was supposed to be their landmark foray into the pay per view format, Bellator MMA was forced to re-shuffle their deck, after main-event competitor Tito Ortiz withdrew from his promotional debut against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, citing a neck fracture.
While Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney quickly pulled the plug on the for-pay portion of the event, scratching Jackson from the card altogether, the news is not all bad for the Newport Beach, California-based organization, as lightweight champion Michael Chandler will defend his world title against former strap holder Eddie Alvarez on November 2 at the Long Beach Convention Center. The highly anticipated rematch will air at 9 PM on the Spike network.
"I've never seen a better fight than Alvarez-Chandler one. It was awesome, and I wanted incredibly bad to make the second fight," comments Rebney. "It's obviously got a lot of the soap opera and intrigue behind it ... two of the top lightweights in the world facing off."
Chandler and Alvarez first met in November 2011 at Bellator 58, with Alvarez entering as the favorite. But after four action-packed rounds of back-and-forth striking, both competitors bludgeoning each other with heavy blows, Chandler walked away the new 155-pound titlist, handing Alvarez his first loss in the Bellator cage, a submission via rear-naked choke.
The lightweight championship rematch is part of Bellator's 13-fight card that also features another world championship matchup, a featherweight title tilt between incumbent Pat Curran and season six tournament winner Daniel Straus, and a battle for the interim 205-pound crown, pitting Emmanuel Newton against Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, who will square off for the second time this year, with Newton taking the first meeting via first-round knockout. Also on tap is the finale of Bellator's Fight Master reality show, a welterweight contest featuring Joe Riggs and Mike Bronzoulis.
But the focus remains on Chandler and Alvarez.
"Ed [Alvarez] to a large extent represents what was the face of the organization from its first start ... right through the loss to Michael Chandler, where there was almost a passing of the torch where Chandler became a face of the organization," adds Rebney. "Ed can re-write his history if he can beat Michael Chandler. Chandler can, in one night, answer any questions that other people have about how good he really is."
Adding to the drama and tension of the November 2 rematch is the resolve of a long-standing contractual dispute that kept Alvarez out action for the last year. After completing his previous obligations to Bellator in 2012, Alvarez was set to jump ship for competing promotion the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but Rebney exercised a matching-rights clause to retain his services, paving the way for a bout that many expect will top their first encounter.
Determined to avenge his tap-out defeat to Chandler, a match that was named 'Fight of the Year' by several reputable publications, Alvarez, a Philadelphia native, relocated to Boca Raton, Florida, where he has been refining his game at the Jaco Hybrid Training Center with his team the Blackzilians, making the necessary adjustments to reclaim the Bellator lightweight title.
"I think Michael Chandler is more disillusioned by our first fight, and I think that's to my advantage ... he fought the worst me there was and I still almost beat him," offers Alvarez. "You judge a man's character to see how he deals with adversity. And I fell, I made some mistakes, I lost my title, and it's important to see how I fight back from that. I'll win the world title, and I'll do it in dominant fashion."
Chandler, who hails from the St. Louis area, is a former NCAA Division I All-American wrestler, who burst onto the mixed martial arts circuit in 2009, ascending to the rank of Bellator champion in just two years of professional competition. Still undefeated in his MMA career, Chandler has amassed an impressive 12-0 record, finishing 10 of his opponents by way of knockout or submission.
And while none of his victories have been more impressive as his first triumph over Alvarez, Chandler is adamant that he will assert his dominance on November 2, and propel himself to new heights as a fighter.
"I truly believe in that nobody can put limits on me in this sport and I really can become ... not just best [lightweight] in the world now, but to have ever competed," states Chandler. "I have an advantage in the striking, in the grappling, the wrestling, so no matter where the fight goes I think I'm gonna be in a good position to not just win, but finish. It's gonna be thee most exciting fight on the card, hands down."
With Bellator's pay per view aspirations currently on hold, Saturday's event will inevitably be remembered for the fight that didn't happen, but Chandler and Alvarez, as well as the 20 other fighters on the card, can still entertain at world-class levels, regardless of where their fight is broadcast.
As for Rebney, he remains unfazed by the set back, certain that his promotion will grow, and eventually make the transition to pay per view.
"The build up of this company is a marathon, it's not a sprint, and I still think we're in the early stages of brand development and the evolution of this company," comments Rebney. "My pursuit of my goals is... pleasantly relentless. Pay per view is something that we could get into and I would always consider it frosting on the cake."