By Raphael Garcia
Bellator 66 may have hosted the second most important bout of the weekend when Shinya Aoki faced off against Eddie Alvarez. The two lightweights locked up in a rematch of their 2008 battle, and the former Bellator lightweight champion found a way to knock out the Japanese star and bring the series to 1-1. Now, two of the most important lightweights outside of the UFC are both at important points in their careers.
Eddie Alvarez (23-3)
Alvarez went into this bout with much to lose. The former BFC champion had recently lost his title to Michael Chandler and refused to enter the lightweight tournament to earn a second shot at the belt. To make things more interesting, this bout was one of the last two on his current Bellator contract. He has been ranked in the top ten of many media outlets for the last few years, and now the Philadelphian fighter is in a position of power against his employer.
As he stated in his post fight interview, “Show me the money,” is the right phrase. The organization can’t get him to sign another long-term deal and place him in the tournament, but they also can’t forego their foundation and give him a rematch against Chandler. The worst outcome is if he fights a meaningless bout, destroys one of their top contenders, and then walks away from the organization to sign with the UFC. They lose out completely. Alvarez is in a very strong position as a mixed martial artist, and this victory placed him there.
Shinya Aoki (30-6)
Not only did Aoki have his seven-fight win streak snapped; he also was unable to successfully carry the Japanese MMA flag into the North American cage and defeat a top name in the sport. He is 1-2 on American soil, losing to Alvarez and Gilbert Melendez, while defeating unheralded Lyle Beerbohm. Japanese fighters have continued to struggle in America and that is a tough fact to swallow, especially as mixed martial arts continues to struggle in Japan. Aoki may not be the most loved individual in his home country, but it’s still without question that he was the last true Japanese superstar in the sport who had a chance to prove the country’s worth to mixed martial arts by performing well on American soil. To be defeated by Alvarez -- and defeated soundly -- was a knockout that was felt across the board of Japanese MMA.
Going forward, not only will this loss potentially knock him from many top ten rankings, but his overall worth to the UFC, Bellator, or even Strikeforce is completely washed away. Even if Bellator has multiple appearance options in their contract with the fighter, where would they place him if he wouldn’t agree to enter the tournament? Aoki will have to go back to Japan, facing their best and continuing the domination that he has been enjoying through most of his career -- a great position for those who are seeking the payday, but the fact that he was not successful in the strongest MMA locations when it mattered will follow him around.
Main event matchups do not always have to be about titles in order to be important. Shinya Aoki and Eddie Alvarez competed in a bout that will greatly shape the direction of their careers.
April 23, 2012
By Raphael Garcia