Jeremy Botter, leader writer for MMAWeekly.com official content partner Bleacher Report, on Sunday afternoon spoke at length with Eddie Alvarez. The former Bellator champion opened up about the details of his lawsuit with Bellator MMA and parent company Viacom, why he’s going through such trouble to free himself from his contract and what happens after the court battle is over.
Botter: So take me back to the beginning, when you were still under contract with Bellator. I heard Bjorn Rebney say on numerous occasions that if you wanted to leave Bellator, he would shake your hand and let you go to the UFC because you were friends. Was that the way you were feeling at the time? Did you think that if you wanted to leave, he was going to let you?
Alvarez: Yeah. It was perceived that way. I mean, I took it that way and I think he made it sound like I had fulfilled my obligations. What he did say is that if the UFC comes in with a high offer like Hector Lombard, then we won’t try to match. But if they do come in low, he told me they would. So he didn’t go back on his word with what he said. But that’s not the case between the actual numbers.
This is what everyone is getting mixed up with. In MMA, it’s not necessarily the numbers that everyone is seeing. You know? The numbers that everyone sees are the small numbers. They’re the little numbers. They are the ones you see all over the place. It’s the opportunity. A fighter’s lifespan is small, and it’s about opportunity, not so much the up-front numbers.
He’ll admit that the opportunity in the UFC is much greater. He’ll admit that. And if he said anything different, he’d be lying.
Botter: When you first got the notice that they were matching your contract, what went through your head?
Alvarez: The way it was said is that they matched everything number for number, dollar for dollar. And even if you did match everything that you said you did, what you’re saying to me, “We matched everything number for number,” we did everything we had to do. What he’s saying is that, “Our pay-per-view is just as great as the UFC’s pay-per-view.”
We all played the match game when we were younger. It’s supposed to be exactly the same, you know? If you have a red card, your next card has to be red. It can’t be maroon. It can’t be any other shade of red, or it’s not a match. And the opportunities are different. The pay-per-views are different.
It’s almost impossible to call it a match.
Botter: I’ve seen your contract offer from the UFC, and they say that they intend to give you a title shot. They say that they intend to put you on pay-per-view. You were supposed to be on the St-Pierre vs. Diaz card, and the fallback was the Jones vs. Sonnen card. But the intention, and obviously I’m not a lawyer, I guess what Viacom is saying that they matched the guaranteed numbers and that they don’t have to match the intended items. Even though, if they put you on a UFC pay-per-view, you’re going to make a lot more money. Is that the way you took it?
Alvarez: They’re not reading the whole contract. Not reading it all the way through. I’ve read the whole thing, and if you read it all the way through, it’s guaranteed. They’re giving me the fight. The reason they have to put “intention” in there is because you can’t guarantee a fight. You don’t know if I’m going to suffer something that keeps me out of the fight. That’s why you can’t put that it’s 100 percent guaranteed. That’s impossible to do with any contract for a promoter.
But, if you read it in its entirety, they’re giving me the fight. One hundred percent giving me the fight, when you read the whole contract. UFC wasn’t trying to pull a fast one by saying “intention,” you know?
What’s funny is that they’re the king of picking out a word, right? And saying, “Oh, they said intention.” But what they didn’t tell anyone is this: They gave me my release early from my negotiation period. I was given that early release. And it was because they were so grateful and they were so saintly in doing that. They’re good people and they like me and they’re my friends, so they’re going to give me my early release and let me get this done with quickly, right?
That’s how they made it seem. But when they sent me my early release, they changed the wording in my original contract. They changed the wording “all terms matched” to “material terms.” Because they know they cannot match all the terms of the UFC offer.
So I sent the contract to my manager, Glen Robinson. Glen and the attorneys right away told me, “Wait a minute.” Viacom sent the contract for the release to my house. They sent it to my house, when they were supposed to go through my attorneys and my management. But they sent a different copy, a copy to my house, thinking that I would sign it and send it back.
I informed my management that I got the contract at my house. And I’ll show you guys. We have it. And this is the whole case, to be honest with you. This is what the whole case is about. It’s about matching. And what they did when they realized that this is going to be very tough, that they weren’t going to be able to match it. They only way they were going to be able to match it was if they gave me an early release and changed the wording on the contract, and I would sign it.
Botter: Was this Bjorn that you were dealing with, or were you mostly dealing with Viacom?
Alvarez: They’re owned by Viacom, you know? What happens is that I was dealing with Bjorn the whole time. A huge part of this case is the idea of matching the terms of the contract. And Viacom took over and they looked over the contract and they had all their lawyers look over it, and they thought they had a good case, that they had a good chance of winning. I understand.
So they took over and they gave me my early release, and then said, “Put this in there,” the part about material matching. And if I signed the contract that said material terms, it means they would only have to match the win and show money.
Not the pay-per-view bonus or what networks I’m on. Those are the parts that you really make money off of. You make retirement money off those, not just money to pay your bills.
Botter: So when you sent the contract to Glen and told Bellator about changing the material terms to all terms, what was the response from Viacom?
Alvarez: They said no problem and that they would change it. They got caught. They tried to be nonchalant about it. They said, “Oh, we’re sorry.”
Botter: What have your dealings been like with the Viacom folks since they took over? Maybe you can’t say this to me, but do you feel like Bjorn has less power than he used to have? Is he still in charge?
Alvarez: Bjorn now, from what I’m told, only owns like 20 percent of the company and maybe less than that. He’s just a grunt in my eyes. He’s a mouthpiece for the organization. He has no say, you know? He used to. I believe he used to. I don’t think that they don’t listen to what he has to say. I believe that what he says is taken into consideration. But at the end of the day, this is Viacom and this is Spike. They’re the ones doing it.
Botter: You mentioned something on Twitter about Zack Makovsky and how they screwed him over. Can you go into a little more detail about that?
Alvarez: Zack’s a friend of mine, you know? We started this together. We’re from the same fight camp out of Philadelphia. Zack is humble. He’s a great face for an organization. He fights unbelievable fights, you know? Just a solid dude altogether. And he was their champion. He flew the Bellator flag the way he should have. He spoke the way he should have. He’s a great dude.
And he wasn’t making tons of money. He was paying his bills. He was making enough to pay his bills and live comfortably, and to keep fighting. After he lost, basically he was given a choice. Contractually, he was supposed to fight for X amount of dollars. I’m not going to mention numbers. But contractually, he was supposed to fight for X amount of dollars.
Well, he needs to fight. He has bills to pay. So he was told that they weren’t going to fulfill their end of the obligation. He was told, “We’re not going to pay you that, because that’s too much money.” And if he didn’t like it, he could just sit. They were going to pay him $2,000 less than what they contractually agreed to. “We’re sorry, but we can’t afford to pay that.”