Bellator MMA lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez has suffered concussions before in his 11-year mixed martial arts career -- but it’s never felt quite like this.
Over the weekend, Alvarez (25-3) was forced to pull out of a trilogy bout against Michael Chandler because of lingering effects of a concussion he suffered April 23. The bout was supposed to headline the first-ever Bellator pay-per-view on May 17 in Southaven, Miss.
Alvarez, 30, is no stranger to head injuries. In fact, five weeks prior to reclaiming the Bellator title in a decision over Chandler in November, Alvarez says he was knocked out during a sparring session and had to take two weeks off.
“I actually got knocked out before the last Chandler fight,” Alvarez told ESPN.com. “I got knocked out by a head kick. I didn’t go unconscious, but I had a little amnesia and I just took two weeks off from full contact.”
Alvarez had hoped a similar strategy would allow him to compete again this time, but a week away from contact had a limited effect on his symptoms.
The injury occurred during wrestling practice, when Alvarez slammed his head into the hip of Blackzilians teammate Abel Trujillo. Later in the practice, Alvarez got hit again, this time in the chin by the heel of a different teammate.
The next day, Alvarez experienced dizziness during a light grappling session. By the end of the week, he couldn’t brush his teeth without feeling pain.
“It felt like something was squeezing my brain,” Alvarez said.
He eventually flew to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Joseph Maroon, a neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Doctors there were hopeful Alvarez would make a full recovery within a week and still be able to compete.
Alvarez’s condition failed to improve, however, and Saturday, at the encouragement of his team, he officially pulled out of the fight.
“The timing was awful,” Alvarez said. “It was a really tough decision. If it weren’t for doctors, coaches, management -- I might have taken the fight and I would have been in a very bad position if I had taken another punch to the head.
“Thank God I have the people around me, because as a fighter, I probably wouldn’t have made that decision on my own.”
Alvarez is confident his symptoms will not keep him out long term, as he's been told to expect a full recovery within weeks. He added that Bellator had given him full support during the past couple of weeks.
In the meantime, Chandler (12-1) has agreed to fight Will Brooks (13-1) this weekend for an interim Bellator title.
The Bellator 120 card remains a PPV offering, despite the loss of its main event. It is the company’s first PPV. No formal plans have been announced for a second one.
Alvarez says he’s pulling for Chandler to beat Brooks to set up the trilogy fight and is firm in his belief that bout will still appear on PPV and not Spike TV.
“I will be back in the gym very soon,” Alvarez said. “Doctors are saying so long as I rest and do what’s required, this is not a 'couple of months thing.' This is a 'couple of weeks thing.'
"This was such a huge deal for me -- headlining my first PPV. It was going to be a good gauge to see where my value is. This was big, man.
"[My next fight] will be on PPV, for sure. I want Mike Chandler to win. He deserves a rematch. He gave me a rematch and I honestly feel bad about the whole situation. If I needed to apologize to anyone, I'd be saying sorry to him."
Alvarez and Chandler first met in November 2011. Chandler won the bout via rear-naked choke in the fourth round to capture the Bellator 155-pound title. The two met for the second time in November, where Alvarez evened the rivalry 1-1.