Alvarez beats Chandler to regain title
Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez renewed acquaintances Saturday in Long Beach, California, producing prodigious moments of mixed martial arts for the second time in two years.
Unlike their epic match in 2011, which Chandler won by rear naked choke on the fourth round to capture the Bellator title at 155 pounds, Alvarez lasted to the final bell, earning the belt back via split decision.
Judges at cageside saw it 48-47 twice for the repeat champion, with one dissenting opinion of the same score for Chandler. ESPN scored the fight for Alvarez 48-47, giving him Rounds 2, 3 and 5.
Both men were busted up after 25 minutes of hard, competitive fighting. There weren't the sort of dramatic swings the memorialized the first encounter, but it was nonetheless dramatic.
The slick lightweights moved well at the start, slipping and throwing punches. After mostly missing, action picked up in the second half of Round 1. Chandler worked to cut off the cage and score with right hands. Alvarez landed as well, until he was dumped down headfirst to the canvas and had to fend off a choke attempt.
The first response from fans came when Alvarez regained his feet at the close of the round. The 26-year-old challenger ate a series of jabs to start the second, but he scored with a solid counter left and began targeting an early-forming mouse under Chandler's left eye. An uppercut combined with a left hook put Chandler on the defensive, though a late takedown made things close.
Alvarez opened the third with a high kick and another pounding attack. The damage on Chandler's face was too clear to miss. Unlike the epic third round from 2011 in which he took unabated punishment for more than two minutes, Chandler was competitive. He also looked tired and sluggish, though that might have been a case of playing possum. Alvarez scored with left before being dumped again to the canvas.
A cageside California State Athletic Commission doctor checked Chandler between rounds, but there was nothing in his performance in the fourth that suggested the previously unbeaten face of Bellator was anywhere near done.
Chandler worked over his challenger for much of the period as fans begged for more.
Chandler's ground-and-pound opportunity came after he, again playing possum, bided his time along the fence before leaping forward with a jumping knee. The shot knocked Alvarez backward, and Chandler rolled him up into a takedown. Most of the damage came when Chandler trapped Alvarez's right arm and poured down punches and elbows.
Still, Alvarez pushed through to the fifth, which caused fans inside the Long Beach Arena to erupt.
The challenger and soon-to-be champion came out swinging punches. Neither fighter could have known how the judges had it, and in their 10th round, together they delivered.
Alvarez did well all night denying Chandler's wrestling. This paid off for him in the final round, as they mixed stand up and grappling sequences with intensity.
"I'm going to take zero credit for what happened tonight. It takes two people to put on a fight like that. Not just me. Me and Mike Chandler," said Alvarez. "The guy fights his ass off. The heart of a lion."
"At the end of the fight, I didn't give a shit who won. I was just happy to be a part of it."
For a full round-up of Saturday's UFC action, visit ESPN.com
Download ESPN's new UK sport app, a fresh and powerful new way to follow your favourite UK sports news, scores and video.