Free agency should have been the most exciting time of Eddie Alvarez’s professional career. Unfortunately for Alvarez, it has been everything but that.
Alvarez is in the middle of a legal tug-of-war between UFC and his former promoter, Bellator. The fighter wants to compete in UFC; Bellator, however, isn’t ready to relinquish his services.
But on Friday, Alvarez’s future could become a little clearer. His attorneys and those representing Bellator will appear before United States District Court judge Jose L. Linares at the Martin Luther King Federal Building in Newark, N.J., to argue whether Alvarez can compete at an upcoming UFC event in April.
UFC 159 is scheduled for April 27 at Prudential Center in Newark, just blocks from where Friday’s hearing takes place. Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones defends his title against former top middleweight contender Chael Sonnen.
Alvarez will walk into the courtroom hopeful, but his emotions will be tempered -- just in case the ruling doesn’t go his way. These are difficult times for Alvarez; his future is at stake.
But he is prepared for a long, hard fight.
“I’ll be very relieved [when the Friday hearing concludes],” Alvarez told ESPN.com. “Hopefully, they will come to a judgment this Friday. But I’m not setting my expectations too high; I’ll just be setting myself up for disappointment.
“I just want to take things as they go; I’m not trying to control things that are not in my control. If we manage to get this thing settled this weekend I will be very happy. If not, then me, my management team [Authentic Sports Management] and the attorneys who are working this on my behalf are patient; we’ll wait and get the result that we want.”
If Linares rules in his favor, Alvarez says he is prepared to compete in a UFC 159 main-card bout against a high-ranking lightweight. Alvarez has been training regularly at Ricardo Almeida’s gym in Hamilton, N.J.
Whether he is allowed to fight at UFC 159 or not, Alvarez will continue his vigorous training sessions, which serve as a way to keep his mind off the legal issues.
“Sometimes when you don’t have a fight yourself, you can live vicariously through your training partners. It helps you stay competitive and work on different things.
“I tried to take my mind off this court thing after the first couple of weeks because it was really bothering me. It affected my training. I’ve come to grips with the fact that there is really nothing that I can control, except for my training. So, that’s what I’m concentrating on -- getting better and learning some new things here at Ricardo Almeida’s with my training partners.
His training partners include former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar (who makes his featherweight debut Feb. 2 against titleholder Jose Aldo in Las Vegas) and fast-rising lightweight Edson Barboza.
Going through intense sparring sessions regularly, against high-caliber fighters, has Alvarez ready for live competition.
“I can do three five-minute rounds this weekend. A championship fight, I can be ready for in 6-8 weeks,” said Alvarez, a former Bellator lightweight champion. “We’ve been really competitive in here [at Almeida’s gym].
“I’m in shape right now.”
Alvarez is 29 years old and in his physical prime. And as far as he is concerned this legal dispute probably represents the final opportunity for a shot at fully testing his skills and maximizing his financial earnings.
He has no personal animosity toward Bellator, but believes UFC offers the best chance to achieve his personal and professional goals. It’s just business.
“I think everybody knows where I want to go without me saying,” said Alvarez, who is 24-3. “I want to fight the best guys in the world. I want to compete at the highest level. And I want to make as much money as I can in this sport in the few years that I have left.
“The thing is I want to see how far I can push myself, how far I can take this, how good I can become at this -- for my kids, my family.”