MMA powerhouse Zuffa -- the parent company of the UFC and Strikeforce -- has most of the world's top 10 in nearly every available weight class under contract, but a few exceptions remain. One of them is former Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, who has long been considered the best 155-pounder out of their control.
That could soon change.
Alvarez has been with Bellator since 2008, and was the promotion's first signing, but he has just one fight left on his deal, and given his status, it's a lock that the UFC will pursue him if he makes it on to the free agent market later this year. UFC president Dana White essentially confirmed that in a recent interview.
"I think Eddie Alvarez is a great fighter," White said from Atlanta. "You know us, we're always looking to get the best fighters in the world in the UFC, and he's one of them."
The 28-year-old Philadelphian is 23-3 in his pro career, and has won eight of his last nine bouts. His only loss in that time came last November, when he lost in a fourth-round submission at the hands of rising star Michael Chandler, a defeat that cost him the Bellator lightweight title. Even still, that bout was pegged by many as one of the best fights of 2011.
Last week, he returned to the cage for the first time since the loss and rebounded to knock out Japanese submission ace Shinya Aoki in just 2:14.
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney told NBCSports.com that they intend to offer Alvarez one last fight before his contract expires in late October, and will reassess his situation then.
"We've got some spectacularly talented 155-pounders who would charge through fire for the opportunity to fight Ed," he said. "I've had four or five call me to beg for that fight, so we'll make another big fight for Ed and then we'll see what happens after that."
If Alvarez chooses to take his talents out on the open market, the UFC can structure a contract in such a way that makes it virtually impossible for Bellator to utilize its matching rights. For example, the UFC recently signed star middleweight Hector Lombard to an offer sheet, and Bellator could not match the deal because it was partially monetized through pay-per-view, an avenue that right now does not exist for Bellator. The promotion is exclusively broadcast through cable television, through a deal with its parent company Viacom.
On the other hand, that Viacom deal could prove an attractive feature for Alvarez, who would no doubt be featured across multiple platforms as one of the promotion's biggest stars.
Either way, Alvarez should have two willing suitors for his services: a growing promotion hopeful of keeping its top home-grown star, and he biggest fight organization in the world.