Over the last two months, former Bellator Lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez has been involved in a legal battle with his former employer. Bellator MMA chose to file a suit against Alvarez after he declined to re-sign when they presented an offer matching the one presented to Eddie by the UFC. Eddie and his legal team didn't believe that the Bellator contract actually matched the Zuffa offer and, as predicted by Dana White in December, things have "gotten ugly."
Many MMA fans have sided with Eddie on the grounds that a UFC offer that included both a percentage of PPV revenue and a fight on FOX clearly overshadowed anything Bellator could offer. However, the claims from Bellator and Eddie Alvarez for that matter, are not that cut and dry. In fact, it will be an uphill battle for Eddie to get a judge to overturn Bellator's right to match.
One of the biggest hurdles Alvarez and his legal team face will be justifying their own defense. In their countersuit, they essentially made a log of every change Bellator made to the original Zuffa contract including notably non-material changes. For example, Alvarez's claim makes note of name changes from "UFC" to "Bellator", change of commission from Nevada to New Jersey, "Octagon" to "cage", etc.
This listing approach has already shown itself to be harmful to Alvarez's case. In fact it was one of the first issues addressed by the judge when Eddie appeared before the court in an attempt to gain a preliminary injunction for the opportunity to fight at UFC 159. In response to Alvarez's claim Judge Linares responded:
The crux of Alvarez's argument is that Bellator's failure to provide an identically matching contract amounts to a failure to match. This argument, however, is untenable. Obviously, in any contract that Bellator would match, it would have to change certain words...If, as Alvarez claims, Bellator's substituting its name for that of Zuffa amounts to a failure to match, Bellator would never be able to match the terms of any contract, and thus its right of first refusal would amount to no right at all.
The judge forcing Alvarez to acknowledge that the differences between Zuffa and Bellator do indeed exist, but that they don't inherently prohibit Bellator from matching should be telling with the more substantive claims Alvarez makes. In my opinion, what the judge's statement and decision regarding the injunction implies is that there will be differences between the two offers, but that's to be expected and will not negate Bellator's right of first refusal.
Specifically, I think this mentality will come into play when the court considers the Spike vs. Fox and the pay per view issues. First, neither of these provide Alvarez with a guaranteed amount of income. On top of that, the potential earnings from either being on Fox or a UFC PPV depend on so many variables as to make it almost impossible for the court to estimate. A fact clearly addressed by Judge Linares:
It is speculative to suggest, as Alvarez does, that an inability to compete in the April 27 event will result in irreparable harm in the form of a lost opportunity to obtain notoriety, endorsements, and a wider exposure to viewers. Alvarez's argument requires this Court to make speculative assumptions about what might or might now happen as a result of his participation in the April 27 event. Based on the record before it, the Court cannot make such a assumptions.
Alvarez's argument hinges on the loss of potential income from PPV's and the exposure the UFC and Fox could gain him. The Fox/Spike question is especially dubious, as any income Eddie could receive would come outside the contracts in question. So, even if it's determined that Fox is significantly better for Alvarez, how could that superiority possibly be defined by the court? The same thought stands when considering the PPV portion of Eddie's UFC contract. While it's clear what he'd receive regarding the buyrate, there's no way to say what he'd really be losing. None of his 8 fights are promised to be on PPV and there's no way to determine the success of a future PPV.
Finally, the nature of the case and contract law in general must be taken into account. It's possible this speculation on how the details will be considered is wrong. However, if the court changes it's stance and supports Alvarez's move to the UFC based on their superior branding and visibility, they'd essentially render Bellator's matching rights null and void from here on out.
So, it should not be surprising that rumors are already circulating that Alvarez and Bellator are discussing a settlement at this point. Judge Linares has already stated that Alvarez did not provide a sufficient argument for "probability of success", which should have him thinking that it's time get the most out of his position as possible. On top of that, if Eddie pursues this through a trial, it could very well take longer than it would had he just chosen to wait out his matching period. Overall, I'd say all signs point to Eddie Alvarez returning to the Bellator cage.
HT: Huge thanks to BE member Jonathan. and BE moderator Brandon Starr for all their help.