At the outset, a match-up with Josh Neer appeared to be an all-risk, no-reward prospect for Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. Though the 160-pound catch-weight bout would hold no consequences for Alvarez’s belt, Neer possessed the ability to leave an opponent staring at the lights and the mixed record to turn a victory over him into an expectation instead of an accomplishment.
Alvarez saw it differently. “I don’t think there’s ever a fight that’s an everything-to-lose, nothing-to-gain situation,” the Philadelphian father-of-three said after the fight. “You always gain something from every fight that you fight, no matter who it is. Neer is a worthy opponent. I learned something tonight, you know, and I’m sure he did, too.”
That lesson could be the virtues of tapping out. Last night at Bellator XVII in Boston, Alvarez used slick wrestling, top pressure, and heavy ground-and-pound to control Neer throughout the fight. In the second round, he planted Neer on the mat once again, took his back, and sunk a rear-naked choke. Neer rose to his feet in a futile attempt to shake the hold as Alvarez squeezed. In front of the audience at the Wang Theatre, Neer plummeted to the ground, free of consciousness.
When Bellator announced the signing of former UFC lightweight Roger Huerta to Bellator’s second-season lightweight tournament, a common sentiment was that the tournament was a rubber stamp for Huerta to fight Alvarez. But after dropping a unanimous decision to Pat Curran in the night’s second televised fight, those plans have been delayed. Alvarez, who won his title during Bellator’s first season and had previously competed in the Dream 2008 Lightweight Grand Prix, was unsurprised at the outcome for Huerta.
“To be honest with you, I thought from the beginning that it was going to be unlikely for him to get through the whole tournament as the winner,” Alvarez said. “Not because I don’t think Huerta’s good, but I think it’s very hard—no matter how good you are—to get through an eight-man tournament…Weird things happen in tournaments. Stuff like this happens all the time. It’s not always the best guy that wins. You’ve got to be able to win three in a row.”
The keys to finishing an eight-man tournament successfully, Alvarez continued, are balancing hard training with the reality that you need to stay injury-free to fight several times in a short span. “That and keep the focus on the guy you’ve got ahead of you, not anybody else. Just the one guy in front of you.”
The next guy in front of Alvarez was sitting to his left at the post-fight press conference. The champion will face either Curran or Toby Imada—whom Alvarez submitted in 2009—when the lightweight tournament concludes later this summer. Alvarez said it wasn’t awkward to share the space with his future opponent. “We’re all doing the same thing: We’re fighting for money. I have no animosity toward Josh or Imada or anybody that I fight. It’s something we do to entertain the fans, and we happen to be able to make a living and get paid for it.”