by Tom Hamlin – MMAWeekly.com
You’d be hard pressed to find an avid MMA fan that didn’t want to see Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson face off with East Coast standout Eddie Alvarez.
While Thomson carries the belt of an organization poised to be the next serious player in the MMA market, Alvarez’s popularity in recent years has run parallel to the American Kickboxing Academy product.
Alvarez’s fight contract was one of 42 acquired in Strikeforce’s purchase of ProElite assets, touching off speculation on the 25-year-old’s future home. In November, Alvarez signed a deal with Bellator Fighting Championships, whose 12-week tournament based show debuts on ESPN Deportes in April.
Monte Cox, Alvarez’s manager, confirmed to MMAWeekly.com last week that his fighter was under exclusive contract with Bellator and would meet his obligations to the emerging promotion, which included its first tournament pairings in April and, if victorious, the second and third rounds scheduled for May and June. If Alvarez were to fight for another promotion, it would be at the discretion of Bellator, said Cox.
But Bjorn Rebney, CEO of Bellator FC, says there is room for Alvarez, and others, to roam.
“From our perspective, the agreements that we have with numerous different fighters we’ve signed, that contractual opportunity absolutely exists,” he said. “We have the wherewithal and ability to put together matches and put together fights that people want to see across promotional platforms. Those are open doors.”
Rebney said he had not met Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker, but had great respect for the San Jose, Calif.-based promotion.
“I’ve been traversing this landscape for the last two and a half years, putting everything in motion,” said Rebney. “One guy who I have heard nothing but good things about is Scott. His record speaks for himself. Those of us in the fight industry who have been able to consistently operate in a positive margin – that speaks volumes.”
So far, Strikeforce has sustained only one co-promotional relationship, with now-dormant EliteXC, though it was borne out of a contractual snafu with one of its chief stars, Frank Shamrock. In December of 2006, the former UFC middleweight champion nearly caused a lawsuit by announcing his intention to fight for Elite less than two months before a Strikeforce event proposed for April of 2007. The crisis was averted when the two promotions came to a limited co-promotional agreement.
Rebney hoped any possible fighter exchanges take place under better circumstances.
“I’m kind of old school,” he said. “If the best fighting the best means that (Strikeforce) fighters would match up through our ESPN alliance on Bellator shows, that’s what will happen. If the best fighting the best would mean there’s an opportunity to test an Eddie Alvarez or a Wilson Reis or a Jorge Masvidal against the best that fight for Strikeforce that would be very cool from my perspective.
“I’m not the kind of promoter that says you’ll fight under this banner and this banner alone,” said Rebney. “If we can make those things work – and I think Scott’s shown a pretty open willingness to make those kind of things happen – and it were the right kind of fight, I’d be completely open to it.”
At the time of this writing, Strikeforce is in the final stages of booking its April 11 show, as well as a proposed May card in Tacoma, Wash., with new broadcast partner Showtime. Showtime executive Ken Hershman said 10 Strikeforce cards would air by the end of 2009. Coker was to fly to New York next week to schedule the remaining eight events with Hershman and his team, but was held up by negotiations for the spring events.
Bellator is expected to announce locations and dates for its April, May, and June cards on Wednesday.