Eddie Alvarez will defend his lightweight title for the second time at Bellator 58. | Photo: Dave Mandel
Bellator Fighting Championships made Eddie Alvarez one of its cornerstones when it inked the then-24-year-old to a promotional contract nearly three years ago. He has done nothing to diminish the investment since, becoming Bellator’s first lightweight champion with three consecutive rear-naked choke submissions and successfully defending the crown in a five-round duel with Pat Curran.
Now 27, Alvarez will enter his second title defense against the unbeaten Michael Chandler on a seven-fight winning streak at Bellator 58 on Saturday at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla. MTV2 will air the event at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.
One of the few elite American fighters still operating outside of Zuffa LLC employ, the Philadelphia-based Alvarez has compiled an outstanding resume, with wins over the well-traveled and respected Aaron Riley, onetime Dream lightweight champion Joachim Hansen, former Deep lightweight titleholder Katsunori Kikuno, UFC veteran Roger Huerta and 2007 K-1 Hero’s lightweight grand prix finalist Andre Amado. Twenty one of Alvarez’s 24 professional bouts have ended in finishes, including his 2008 “Fight of the Year” with Tatsuya Kawajiri.
In Chandler, Alvarez draws a decorated amateur wrestler who was a four-time NCAA qualifier at the University of Missouri -- the same program that spawned Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren and unbeaten Strikeforce welterweight contender Tyron Woodley. Chandler won Bellator’s Season 4 lightweight tournament with wins over Marcin Held, Lloyd Woodard and Patricky Freire. Based at Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts in Las Vegas, he has stopped five of his eight foes inside the first round, two of them in less than a minute.
With the Alvarez-Chandler title fight as its centerpiece, here is what to watch for at Bellator 58:
Few men in MMA inspire fear like Bellator middleweight champion Hector Lombard, who has earned his reputation as one of the game’s savage finishers. The 33-year-old judo black belt will ride a 19-fight winning streak into his non-title, 195-pound catchweight affair with South African wrestler Trevor Prangley. When Lombard enters the cage at Bellator 58, a staggering 1,576 days will stand between him and his last hiccup -- a July 2007 draw with “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 11 alum Kyle Noke. During his 19-fight tear, which includes four stoppages in less than a minute, the Cuban import has defeated Jesse Taylor, Brian Ebersole, Jared Hess, Alexander Shlemenko and Joe Doerksen, among others. Needless to say, Prangley will have his hands full, and the American Kickboxing Academy representative does not appear to be trending in the right direction. The 39-year-old has lost three of his last four fights by first-round knockout or submission.
Rising From the Head Kick Ashes
Marlon Sandro walked into the Bellator Summer Series with near-deity hype. One kick to the head from Curran took care of the hyperbole. His Aug. 20 knockout loss to Curran notwithstanding, Sandro remains one of MMA’s foremost featherweights, with wickedly powerful hands and a proven pedigree on the ground. Still, it will be interesting to see how the 34-year-old Nova Uniao standout recovers from being wiped out for the first time in his career. Sandro, the reigning featherweight King of Pancrase, rose to global prominence inside the Sengoku Raiden Championship promotion in Japan, where he sent more than one unfortunate foe out of the ring on a stretcher. However, he has not shown that level of dominance since he knocked out Masanori Kanehara in 38 seconds to capture the Sengoku featherweight crown. A decision loss to Hatsu Hioki and two points wins over Genair da Silva and Nazareno Malegarie followed, leading to his ill-fated showdown with Curran. Sandro’s return bout comes against Rafael Dias, an American Top Team representative who has fought inside the WEC and the International Fight League promotions.
Out of Europe
Just 10 fights into his professional career, Jonas Billstein has established himself as one of the more intriguing prospects on the European continent. The 20-year-old German, who relies heavily on wrestling and ground-and-pound, debuted in November 2009 and rattled off nine consecutive wins, eight of them finishes, including a fifth-round technical knockout against the previously unbeaten Mathias Schuck under the German MMA Championship banner. Evidently, Billstein’s efforts drew the attention of Bellator’s talent scouts. He experienced defeat for the first time in June, when he succumbed to a third-round triangle choke from the vastly more experienced and accomplished Atilla Vegh at a Heroes Gate show in the Czech Republic. Vegh was an excellent barometer for Billstein this early in his career, and the setback will undoubtedly serve him well as he moves forward. In his promotional debut at Bellator 58, Billstein will lock horns with Reggie Pena, a 28-year-old who has spent much of his career on the regional circuit in Florida.
Second chances are worth their weight in gold in mixed martial arts. Accomplished muay Thai practitioner Cosmo Alexandre dipped his toes in MMA waters for the first time at Bellator 52 in October, and the result can only be described as disappointing for a man who spent roughly a decade competing and, more importantly, succeeding in the standup arts. Alexandre, a 29-year-old product of Mike’s Gym in Holland, wound up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision to another MMA rookie, Josh Quayhagen, at the L’Auberge du Lac Casino and Resort in Lake Charles, La. He will be given the opportunity to erase some of those memories when he tackles Avery McPhatter, a 22-year-old Floridian, at Bellator 58.