Alvarez aims to put Bellator on map
Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez meets former UFC product Josh Neer
Thursday night's fight is a non-title bout at 160 pounds at Wang Theatre in Boston
The favorite to fight for Alvarez's title belt is still former UFC hotshot Roger Huerta
If for a living young Eddie Alvarez flew trapeze, he'd be among the daredevil group that went without a net.
"Stick my neck out there and hope I come out on top," the 26-year-old Philly fighter is fond of saying.
The current Bellator lightweight champion has willfully engaged in his share of high-risk maneuvers since turning to professional mixed martial arts in 2003. And Thursday evening at Boston's Wang Theatre, this time with the help of seasoned Josh Neer in a non-title affair at 160 pounds, Alvarez expects to entertain, yet again.
Based on their styles, Alvarez should get his wish, consequences be damned. The first main event of a regulated MMA card in the state of Massachusetts, he let it be known, is going to be a good one.
"I'm fighting here. I'm not sitting behind a desk, I want to take risk," said Alvarez, whose 19-2 record happens to be among the best in his division. "Going in there just to win and put on a boring fight, I don't want to be related to anything like that."
Because the UFC released Neer after a points loss to Gleison Tibau last October (a result that dropped the 27-year-old lightweight to 4-6 in the organization), this fight, Alvarez's first in seven months, is essentially an all-lose-nothing-to-gain proposition for Bellator and its champion.
But Alvarez needs to blow off some steam; 80 rounds sparred in the last two months with the likes of Frankie Edgar and Ricardo Almeida didn't cut it, and the same goes for infrequent paydays.
"I'd rather just give my belt up and fight a lot more, fight in tournaments and things like that," he said, half-serious. "As a champion you tend to fight less. I think I'm just going to have to ask for more per fight."
For a guy who's admittedly making more money than ever before, that might come off as greedy. But then Alvarez laughs when he's asked how his promoter is treating him.
"I've been well taken care of," he said. "I want to compensate them for it and put Bellator on the map. That's why I'm in Boston, to do that."
Alvarez underwent surgery in January to repair a torn meniscus, and because of Bellator's ambitious tournament schedule he can't defend the belt he captured in 2009 until a contender is crowned this summer. So he gets Neer (27-9-1), a crafty fighter inclined to bang.
"I believe that in order for me to consider myself one of the top ranked lightweights in the world, I have to go out and dominate the fight," said Alvarez, listed fifth by SI.com at 155 pounds. "I have to take it to Josh and finish him. That's what I'm looking to do. That's what I prepared to do."
Four fighters remain in the draw for a shot at Alvarez's belt this September, and they'll also be in Boston.
The favorite to meet Alvarez is still former UFC hotshot Roger Huerta, who advanced to the second leg of the eight-man tournament four weeks ago by kneebar. Pat Curran, a winner by first-round knockout on April 15, makes the quick turnaround to face Huerta. The other semifinal features powerful wrestler Carey Vanier against Toby Imada, whom Alvarez beat up last July to capture the title. Most fans, and one has to believe his promoter, want Alvarez to swoop past Neer so he can meet Huerta later this year. It's a pairing that would generate the most interest for a fight inside Bellator. But that's getting ahead of the game.
While Huerta appears to have advantages against Curran, a younger cousin of veteran Jeff Curran, one misstep and Alvarez-Huerta could just as easily disappear. On the other side of the bracket, either Vanier (who stopped Joe Duarte late in the third round) or Imada (an armbar winner against James Krause) would make for a quality tournament champion.
When it comes time to defend his belt, Alvarez said he begged Bellator for the opportunity to fight "back home, something towards Atlantic City or Philadelphia," though he's not sure yet if it will happen.
First things first.
"I'm worried about Josh Neer," Alvarez said. "The tournament doesn't concern me until this fight is over."
Officials for Machida-Shogun 2 will be announced Friday
Had judges assigned to their first showdown agreed with the public, Lyoto Machida and Mauricio Rua probably wouldn't be fighting again Saturday night in Montreal. Yet Nelson Hamilton, Marcos Rosales and Cecil Peoples all saw the Oct. 24, 2009, UFC light heavyweight title fight in Los Angeles for the champion, generating controversy and a heated debate that's rekindled as the rematch approaches this weekend.
Of the three officials who scored the original bout, only Hamilton has the possibility to work it again in Montreal. The veteran judge is among the three officials brought in by the UFC to work the card, a representative of the Quebec Athletic Commission told SI.com. Joining Hamilton, are Tony Weeks and Sal D'Amato.
It's expected that two of the three will be assigned to the rematch when the commissioner and head of officials for the QAC make that determination following Friday's weigh-in. The third judge will come from a trio of local officials licensed by the presiding regulatory body: Pasquale Procopio, Claude Paquette or David Therien.
Of that group, Paquette seems most likely to gain the job. Thirteen months ago, at UFC 97, Paquette correctly scored TJ Grant-Ryo Chonan 29-28 in favor of Grant. But, he also had it 30-27 for Eliot Marshall against Vinicius Magalhaes, a score some pundits disagreed with.
Procopio, meanwhile, is more known for his work in boxing, and Therien's résumé is fairly thin to receive such an important assignment.
The QAC is likely to place one of its own as the main event referee -- Yves Lavigne is the frontrunner, followed not too closely by Philippe Chartier and Mark Andre Cote. Otherwise, veteran American refs Dan Miragliotta or Mario Yamasaki could get the nod.
The likeliest group seems to be Lavigne as the in-ring official, with Weeks, D'Amato, and Paquette manning the judging assignments. Since Hamilton was part of the crew that scored the original fight, it would make some sense for him to sit this one out.
Weeks, a respected boxing referee, has judged MMA since the sport became regulated in Nevada in 2001. Notable decisions include a 29-28 tally in Forrest Griffin's The Ultimate Fighter winning effort against Stephan Bonnar in 2005. Weeks was the lone dissenter in the Rashad Evans-Brad Imes contest in 2006 when he saw it 29-28 for Imes.
D'Amato's name popped up last month when he tallied the B.J. Penn-Frankie Edgar UFC lightweight title fight in Abu Dhabi 48-47 for Edgar. Among the three scores handed out that evening, it was the most reasonable. Other notable scores include 29-28 for Dominick Cruz over Joseph Benavidez, and a curious 30-27 total in favor of LC Davis against Javier Vazquez.