The long awaited rematch is set. Tomorrow night, live on SPIKE TV, Michael Chandler will put his title on the line against the man he took it from close to two years ago. Eddie Alvarez makes his return to the Bellator cage after being tied up in legal issues with the promotion, but he couldn’t be more motivated for a fight. For many, the first match was considered to be the fight of the year in 2011 – he rematch is sure to be fireworks and could very well be another contender this year.

Since their first match, Chandler has gone on a tear. He’s shown constant improvement in every fight earning three straight finishes over Akiiro Gono, Rick Hawn, and Dave Rickels. Alvarez, on the other hand, has been sidelined since his head kick knock out of Patricio Freire in October of 2012, although he did also score a TKO victory over Shinya Aoki prior to that bout. Neither fighter having shown any signs of weakness to any opponent other than each other since their first match.

What we will look for most in this fight is to see which fighter steps up their striking defense as in the first fight both fighters threw caution to the wind and tagged each other on numerous occasions with some wild punches. Chandler’s right hand found its home on Alvarez’ chin so it’s going to be up to Alvarez to keep his hands up and circle away from his power side. That said, Alvarez was also able to take advantage of Chandler dropping his lead hand and landing his right cross when Chandler was loading up his punches and he was able to counter the champion’s left hooks effectively. He was also landing some good body shots which effected Chandler in the later rounds. Chandler was able to drop Alvarez very early in the fight and rock him in the fourth, Alvarez was able to drop Chandler in the third. Both fighters had a tendency to leave their chins exposed, so whichever fighter tightens up their striking defense will surely find more success on the feet.

When it comes to grappling and wrestling, Chandler’s wrestling credentials are very well known. The speed of Chandler assists his wrestling very well and allows him to mix up his striking and keep his opponents guessing. Chandler scored one take down rather easily in the second round after pressing Alvarez against the cage while Alvarez easily defended another later on in the round and made Chandler pay for the attempt. Alvarez has a great ability to return back to his feet and keep the fight where he wants it – but his Jiu-jitsu game will most likely be used specifically to control Chandler should he find himself on his back and to return to his feet. Submissions off his back aren’t very likely against Chandler unless the champion gets sloppy and gives him his neck.

There are two x-factors in this fight. One being Alvarez’ unnatural ability to recover. We see him hurt often in his fights but he almost always recovers. Chandler needs to be very careful and not get reckless if he finds himself hurting Alvarez, because he could end up lying on his back without even realizing what happened if he gets careless when he thinks he has him hurt.  The other is, of course, the year lay off of Eddie Alvarez. This is a very tall order – making his Bellator return against the tenacious Michael Chandler who has looked better than ever in his last three fights. Ring rust may play a factor.

Prediction: Michael Chandler def. Eddie Alvarez by TKO in the second round

Chandler is hungry. He’s shown dominance ever since obtaining the lightweight belt. He’s also shown constant improvement, something that was impossible to see from Alvarez as he hasn’t fought in almost a year.  To have that long of a layoff and then be put up against one of the biggest rising stars in MMA is a very, very large  challenge and I do not believe Alvarez is up to it. Alvarez hasn’t been focused on MMA as much as Chandler has lately which I believe has slowed down his improvement – the legal issues he was tied up in took a large part of his focus away, at least when compared to Chandler. The result of this is going to be a much crisper Chandler landing at a much higher volume and with much more power. By the time Alvarez catches on to the speed of the champions overhand right and starts to time it out, it’ll be too late. Chandler may mix up his striking a bit with a couple of take down attempts, but look for the champion to finish this fight on the feet rocking Alvarez late in the second and finishing him off by TKO. This isn’t a fight you want to miss!