Eddie Alvarez, photo via Bellator.com
There is a pretty strong case to be made that this Saturday's Bellator 39 card is the best in the promotion's relatively young history. Former UFC fighter Ben Saunders adds a level of casual fan familiarity and a tendency to put on the exciting fight that Bellator prides itself on, Toby Imada vs. Patricky Freire should be an exciting bout featuring two very capable fighters, Rick Hawn vs. Lyman Good is a very strong fight as well. But the main event between Bellator's lightweight champion (#6 ranked lightweight) Eddie Alvarez and lightweight tournament winner Pat Curran is the biggest bout on the show.
In a nice twist of fate for the promotion, it also marks a rare Saturday night where the MTV2 broadcast won't be on the same date as a UFC or Strikeforce event. The ratings have not been solid thus far since the move to Saturdays. A fact Bjorn Rebney tries to brush aside:
"What we're doing in terms of building out this brand and this partnership with MTV2 and MTV networks, this is a marathon – this is not a sprint," he said.
So, the executive is not sweating week-to-week fluctuations.
"What I'm getting drawn up in is improving the quality of our production, increasing the quality of our fights, and trying to make this bigger and better," Rebney said. "The fights we've got coming up over the next four weeks are just blistering, so I'm looking forward to seeing what happens and what kind of impact that has both in terms of live event attendance and the ratings we do."
As for Alvarez, he is in an extremely unique position as one of only two non-Japanese fighters appearing in the top 10 of the rankings for any weight while not being under contract with a Zuffa owned promotion (along with fellow Bellator fighter Joe Warren). He's in a position to make very good money fighting for Bellator as the promotion's top star but the number of "impact fights" available to him is extremely limited. The only other two lightweights he can fight in the top ten right now are men he has already faced in Tatsuya Kawajiri (KO'ed by Alvarez in 2008) and Shinya Aoki (submitted Alvarez in 2008). A rematch with either man isn't likely to increase Alvarez's profile in the United States.
The lack of big fights somewhat damages the flexibility that Eddie finds so important in his Bellator contract. After all, what is the point of being able to take fights wherever if there are no fights to take.
In Pat Curran he will be fighting a man who made an impressive run through the lightweight tournament in his first stint in Bellator. He's a capable fighter and while Alvarez is the clear favorite it would be a crushing moment for Eddie if he lost to a relative unknown. And the Alvarez loss would be equally as bad for Bellator.
In the ongoing struggle to establish the promotion it's going to be a struggle to continue to get the tournament format "over" with new fans and establish stars that fans will want to tune in to see. Alvarez vs. Curran should be an exciting battle, but it's pretty clear that Rebney and company will be on the edge of their seats hoping for an Alvarez win.