Saturday night at Bellator 106, Lightweight Eddie Alvarez rematched the man who took his title. Michael Chandler came in with the belt and favored by the oddsmakers. However, after a second war of attrition, Alvarez was once again crowned as the Bellator Lightweight champion. Although winning over a highly regarded opponent can never be considered a 'loss', it will likely still hurt Alvarez in the long run.
Despite the marketed 'unfinished business' that Bellator promoted heading into 106, it's no secret that Alvarez and Bellator/Viacom were at odds just months before the fight. Following his last contracted fight with the company in October 2012, Alvarez received an offer from the UFC. It was a lucrative offer that promised PPV points, a very generous base pay, and star appearances. Bellator purported to 'match' that offer and sued when Alvarez refused to re-sign with them.
Eventually Bellator and Alvarez settled into an agreement that included Alvarez fighting at 106 for the title. Had Alvarez lost against Chandler, he'd become a free agent with a loss against the champion of the second-best MMA promotion. With the win that he earned, he's now obligated to face that Chandler again in a rubber match.
And therein lies the the trouble of the settlement. Alvarez cannot come out a long-term winner under these conditions. After Bellator waived their exclusive negotiation period at the end of 2012, Eddie received an extremely generous contract offer from the UFC. It included a starting base of $70K to show/$70K to win with $5k increases with each victory. Additionally, it included a promise of a Lightweight title bout and pay per view revenue, etc.
However, when Alvarez entered the Bellator cage Saturday night, he knew a win meant another fight with the organization he'd battled with, while a loss meant free agency. Essentially this was a no-win situation for Alvarez. Yes, he won the Lightweight title and proved himself the better fighter. However, he still can't move on. He once again has to face the man who's given him two of the most difficult fights of his career.
On top of that, after the rubber match, he doesn't have near the position in negotiations he had before. Bellator having the right of first refusal granted him a big leg up in talking to the UFC. Zuffa knew they needed to put forth a difficult offer for Bellator/Viacom to match. They found a loophole to challenge, but that's beside the point when looking at Alvarez's leverage.
Regardless of the outcome of the third and most likely final fight against Chandler, Alvarez will not have the same leverage he had in 2012. He won't have the second-best promotion in MMA with a major monetary backer behind him with matching rights. Instead, he'll be an unrestricted free agent with a win or two over what UFC president Dana White considers a "CFL" champion.
This isn't to say he'll get a typical TUF contract, but it's unlikely Alvarez will see anything as lucrative as he saw last year when he first approached Zuffa for an offer.