Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alvarez -- Bellator Lightweight Championship
What a strange trip it's been. Established juggernaut Eddie Alvarez (24-3) was unseated by Michael Chandler (12-0) in a dramatic, back-and-forth "Fight of the Year" candidate at Bellator 58. Alvarez rebounded with fury, notching 1st-round TKO stoppages over former lightweight (now featherweight) submission gangster Shinya Aoki and respected scrapper Patricky Freire. The palpable anticipation for a championship rematch was then stunted by a prolonged contract dispute between Alvarez and Bellator, with the UFC's interest in acquiring Alvarez adding more fuel to the fire. Granting promotional newcomers Quinton Jackson and Tito Ortiz main-event status for Bellator's first foray into the pay-per-view business seemed ... out of place, or not quite right.
But the bright side to those past complexities is that the Rampage vs. Tito fight has been scratched, the card has been slightly altered and moved to a free broadcast on Spike TV, and the rematch between Alvarez and Chandler is at the helm.
If you haven't watched their first fight, don't recall it clearly or just desperately want to avoid my over-flowery and embellished description of the mutual massacre ... behold:
Literally, within the first 20 seconds of the fight, Chandler popped Alvarez with a left hook, Alvarez answered with a right and a left hook of his own, Chandler connected again and seemed to be flurrying for the kill until Alvarez snapped him out of it with a stiff right. The frenetic see-saw battle continued throughout, which explains why everyone has been salivating over the rematch.
Not be a Debbie Downer, but I firmly do not expect the same level of drama for tonight's showdown. In my opinion, each time either fighter was wobbled can mostly be attributed to excessive aggression and gameness, and a noticeable lack of defensive basics. In other words: despite being two of the most dangerous and skilled lightweights in the game, these dudes were charging forward and throwing heaters with nary a concern for counter-punches, even though they'd both been staggered by return-fire early. It made for one hell of a fight though.
It'd be senseless for Alvarez or Chandler to actually endeavor for a repeat performance. Call it a keen sense of intuition, but I'm guessing that neither are intent on getting punched in the face repeatedly, and, after watching the replay, that both fighters acknowledged their careless defense as the most obvious and easiest fix. And they'd be correct.
But that shouldn't remove any of the rematch's luster. While I'm predicting that the pair will be less obscenely reckless and more methodical and calculating, that only means that this contest will likely be decided by elements such as skill, technique, composure and Fight I.Q. rather than unadulterated gameness and durability. The beauty is that there's no possible way either Chandler or Alvarez could fight timidly or complacently; if they did, it'd be a first for both. So I expect all the exciting stuff too, only in smaller portions.
A popular opinion is that Chandler has the better chance to display marked improvement, which is hard to argue. In general numbers, Chandler just completed his fourth year in MMA and had only two years of experience for the first clash. And the rate at which Chandler has improved is truly amazing, as evinced by his shocking domination of Olympic Judoka Rick Hawn. However, there's absolutely no reason to assume that Alvarez isn't still improving himself. Actually, there's a case to be made that Alvarez is dead-center in the peak of his career right now; at age 29 with a respectable record against many of the world's top lightweights.
For the technical fight goodies here, these two are rather similar: they both have solid wrestling (edge to Chandler), exemplary athletic qualities (strength, quickness, agility, explosiveness, etc.), monstrous punching power (even?) and sound boxing technique (slight edge to Alvarez). I feel they're pretty evenly matched skill-wise, which puts a lot of the focus on all the aforementioned intangibles along with who makes the better adjustments.
Last time, Chandler pressured Alvarez at a ridiculous pace, to the point where he was almost sprinting after him in pursuit. That same level of pressure will be key this time, but I expect Chandler to sustain that pressure with much more composure and patience. Regardless, as Chandler is stalking him, Alvarez will have to carefully select his angles and stay vigilant with his footwork to stay out of the champ's wheelhouse. Rather than colliding at all costs and unloading home-run blows in the pocket, look for both competitors to adopt more of a judicious striking format: Chandler by tempering his furious bull-rush and intelligently harmonizing his striking and takedown attempts; Alvarez by utilizing lateral movement to avoid being cornered or trapped on the fence and attacking with tighter flurries and with in-and-out patterns.
I'm OK with Chandler being the favorite here -- he deserves it. I do think this is a tad closer than the betting lines reflect though. Some believe this boils down to fairly equal striking and better wrestling on Chandler's side. That might be all there is to it, especially if Eddie lets his hands stray too far from his chin. My personal opinion is that Alvarez has the slight edge in striking technique -- his accuracy, speed, and technique seem a tiny degree more polished -- and that he can hold his own well enough in the takedown department. Chandler used his takedowns to stifle Eddie's rhythm and momentum the first time, but I have a fleeting suspicion that Alvarez will anticipate the champ's level changes this time around and tailor his striking accordingly.
My Prediction: (I really don't mean it to sound this bold ...) Eddie Alvarez by TKO.