Amid speculation of what his future holds, Eddie Alvarez delivered perhaps his best performance under the Bellator Fighting Championships banner.
In the final fight of his current contract, Alvarez landed a well-timed head kick that flattened Patricky Freire along the fence for a highlight-reel knockout with just six seconds remaining in the first round at Bellator 76.
After the fight, Alvarez downplayed the significance of the win, although the former lightweight champion clearly was pumped. Moments after referee John McCarthy waved off the fight, Alvarez hopped the cage and ran into the Canadian crowd at the Colosseum at Caesars in Windsor, Ontario.
"It's just another win, that's all it is," Alvarez said. "The goal never changes -- beat the guy in front of you. No legacies. No money. It's all bulls---. It's about beating the guy in front of you. That's what I'm here for."
It wasn't all smooth sailing for Alvarez. He dropped Freire with a counter left early but then immediately retreated as the Brazilian responded with a flurry.
Getting into trouble early has become somewhat of an unwanted staple of an Alvarez fight, which he admitted afterward.
"It happens to me every fight," Alvarez said. "We work on it. I don't know. It's something I'm learning to embrace."
Alvarez (24-3) certainly will retain his position as one of the top-10 lightweights in the world with this performance. Bellator and the UFC remain the most likely candidates to land the Philadelphia native, who now officially becomes a free agent.
Freire (10-4) falls to 1-3 in his past four fights. Two of the three losses ended before the third round.
Martinez edges Malegarie by decision
Malegarie proved to be a game opponent on the feet, stalking forward throughout the fight and stringing together combinations in the process. Martinez responded with the left hand, measuring counter shots and dropping Malegarie briefly in the final round with a strong left hook.
Final scores may not have reflected how close the fight was, as all three judges scored it 30-27 in favor of Martinez.
"I'm feeling a little roughed up, but winning that fight should make me feel a little bit better," Martinez said. "This tournament is the toughest in the world. If you win and make it to the fight with the champion, you've definitely earned it."
Martinez (13-2) extends his winning streak to four and remains perfect under the Bellator banner. The 26-year-old Malegarie (22-3) drops to 1-3 in Bellator, with losses to Daniel Straus, Marlon Sandro and Martinez.
Fabiano earns quick submission over Stepanyan
Stepanyan stuffed an early takedown attempt from Fabiano, but it only delayed the inevitable. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt worked into a bodylock, took Stepanyan down and immediately passed guard and moved into full mount.
From there, it was a quick transition to the armbar and although Stepanyan showed heart trying to break the hold, he ultimately was forced to tap at the 3:24 mark.
"I have a reason for me to be here," Fabiano said. "I don't come here to be one more. I want this title shot. I've come here to take it over."
Fabiano (15-3) takes the win in his first trip to the cage since suffering a submission loss to Joseph Benavidez under the WEC banner in November 2010. Eight of the Brazilian's 15 wins have come by submission.
Stepanyan (12-4) sees a 12-fight winning streak snapped that began in 2009.
Richman advances with KO of Spoon
Richman (13-1) dropped Spoon in the first round with a headkick his opponent never saw coming. Richman moved in to land more punches, but referee John McCarthy already had seen enough to end the fight.
"That's actually kind of one of my specialties, lulling people into a boxing match and I have a pretty sneaky high kick," said Richman. "It's one of the things we worked on a lot."
The win makes back-to-back highlight finishes for Richman. In April, he unloaded a serious string of offense in a first-round knockout win over Chris Horodecki. The 27-year-old's lone loss came via split decision in February 2011.
After starting his professional career with 12 straight wins, Spoon (12-2) remains winless in 2012 in two appearances.
Shamhalaev finishes Bollinger in first
Shamhalaev was on Bollinger from the start, putting him on his back early in the round and opening a cut near his right eye.
Bollinger threatened with an active guard from the bottom, looking for an omoplata and armbar attempt. Shamhalaev seemed comfortable on top position, though, and seized control of the fight with vicious ground and pound from Bollinger's guard.
Referee Yves Lavigne gave Bollinger plenty of time to respond, prompting a look at one point from Shamhalaev. With 11 seconds left in the round, Lavigne had finally seen enough, as a clearly hurt Bollinger turtled up near the fence.
Shamhalaev (10-1-1) runs his winning streak to four with the victory. Bollinger (13-3) lost for the first time since July 2010.