When your name is Eddie Alvarez, you carry a ton of expectations around with you.
After spending more than a decade collecting titles on various stages around the sport, where he defeated every established name he could get his hands on outside of the UFC, the fighter widely recognized as one of the best lightweights in the world finally found himself inside the Octagon. As he stood across from perennial contender Donald Cerrone at UFC 178 in September of 2014, the moment fight fans around the world had been waiting for was about to jump off.
For years, the dialogue had been that Alvarez was somehow the best of the rest because he wasn’t consistently fighting the best 155-pound fighters the world had to offer. None of this was Alvarez’s doing, because if you know anything about the scrappy Philadelphia native then you have a firm understanding that’s he’s as game as they come. Yet it was still a burden he carried on his shoulders.
And when Alvarez came out on the losing end of his promotional debut, the volume amplified when it came to the doubt that he was ever as good as he’d spent the past 12 years proving he was. That pressure would be enough to shake and rattle even the most seasoned fighter, but Alvarez is a different breed of animal.
The 31-year-old Team Blackzilians representative has forged an elite-level skill set through a mindset that never allows him to take his foot off the gas pedal. When it comes to the previously mentioned expectations, no one expects more from Alvarez than the man himself. He may have stumbled out of the gates, but his decorated career has been built on his ability to overcome adversities big and small, and his next outing against Gilbert Melendez at UFC 188 back in June was the epitome of his ability to endure.
Alvarez and “El Nino” had circled one another for years beyond the reaches of the UFC, and their eventual collision was one 10 years in the making. The build-up to their showdown in Mexico carried pressure for both men, and when Melendez cracked Alvarez with a huge shot in the opening round that broke the Pennsylvania native’s orbital bone, it seemed as if the Henri Hooft-trained fighter was en route to his second setback inside the Octagon.
Yet, despite impaired vision and being down a frame on the judges’ scorecards, Alvarez wasn’t willing to let his mission for victory be denied. He dug deep and battled back in a valiant display of grit and determination to take the final two rounds and defeat the former long-reigning Strikeforce champion turned UFC contender.
While Alvarez is quick to admit it wasn’t the performance he’d expected from himself, he did what was necessary to make sure it was his hand that was raised that night in Mexico City.
“I don’t go around and pride myself on being the best striker or the best jiu-jitsu guy in the world, but I know what I do best and that’s to give damage and take damage and not think too much about it,” Alvarez said. “That’s my specialty and that’s what I’m good at. I have the ability to take punishment and just keep coming to dish it out. That was just another fight and another night for me. It didn’t go the way I would’ve liked it to, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.
“I know who I am and what I’m capable of at this point in my career. I’ve fought the best guys in the world inside the cage and fought the best guys in the world outside of the cage in training. I know what I can do against the best, but I think it’s the public and the media who I feel an obligation to show this to. Just going in there and beating a guy who had just fought for the title twice definitely was a relief. It was good to get that first win out of the way and I’m glad you guys got to see it.”
Alvarez’s victory in Mexico City allowed him to establish a foothold in the competitive ranks of the lightweight division, but his next order of business was to start pushing toward a shot at championship gold. He set his sights on landing one of the biggest names in the 155-pound collective, and was ecstatic when the UFC came to call with a bout against Anthony Pettis on January 17 in Boston.
The highly touted striking machine had just been dethroned in punishing fashion by Rafael Dos Anjos in his most recent outing and, much like Alvarez, was eager to take his first steps toward getting his hands on the 155-pound strap. And while Alvarez was surprised his next trip to the Octagon will come against “Showtime,” due to the former champion taking aim at other potential matchups in the public forum, he sees it as the perfect opportunity to make the caliber of statement he’s been eager to make since joining the UFC in 2014.
“Pettis is a very skilled fighter with good stand-up, and he’s very good at what he does if you allow him the space to do it. This is a fight for me where if I want to take Anthony Pettis down then he’s going down. If I want it to stay on the feet then the fight will stay on the feet. I am going to dictate where this fight is going to go, and going into this fight knowing I can determine the location of where the fight is going to go at any time gives me peace of mind. Now, it’s about going in there and executing.
“I can get the win for sure just by going in there and doing what Clay Guida did to him, but I really want to make a statement in this fight. I really want to show the rest of the division what I’m capable of and I’m yet to do that. Pettis is the perfect opponent to do that against. I also couldn’t ask for a better location because it’s going down in Boston and I know Philly is going to be there representing strong. It’s going to be my house that night and I love it.”
When Alvarez looks at his upcoming matchup with the Duke Roufus-trained product, he sees beyond the surface of the flashy skill set the Milwaukee native possesses, with a particular focus on what transpired in Pettis’ most recent matchup with “RDA.” Early in his title defense against the resurgent Brazilian, the former WEC titleholder ate a stiff right hand that damaged his orbital socket and seemed to take him completely out of the fight.
Where Pettis has typically been the hunter walking down his prey throughout the majority of his professional bouts, that night in Dallas he was fighting for his survival every step of the 25-minute affair. Alvarez saw a crucial crack not just in Pettis’ game, but in what the fighter has beating inside of his chest, and he believes it’s something Pettis knows as well.
“I think fights like what he went through against [Rafael] Dos Anjos force a fighter to be honest with himself,” Alvarez said. “It forces him to find his heart and to be honest. We fighters can lie and say whatever we want, but we know if we gave up. Guys won’t admit it, but they know if they gave up on themselves as some point. A fight like that is a gut check. You either come back twice as strong or you realize you ain’t s**t and that when the going gets tough you kind of bow out. You come to understand that’s type of person you are.
“I’m going to be coming at him the same exact way and I always put the people I’m fighting in terrible positions. That’s just something he’s going to have to deal with because there is no way around it. So he can either get comfortable with it, or he’s going to buckle under the pressure. He’s going to have to make that choice some time in his training camp that he can embrace the idea of getting comfortable in a bad situation or he can just quit because we are going to fight in there.”
In the months leading up to their January showdown, Alvarez will be spending the bulk of his days inside of the gym forging himself into the best version of a fighter who has been competing at the elite level of a sport where consistency is the most difficult thing to obtain.
And though he’s never been one to brag or boast about his accomplishments, the resilient slugger is comfortable with the man he sees staring back at him in the mirror.
That said, when verbal shots are fired before the leather gets slung inside the Octagon, the streetwise Philadelphia product has no problem launching a few barbs of his own. Fighting is what he’s loved to do for as long as he can remember, and if there has to be a bit of friction in the lead-up to the throwdown, then so be it.
“I heard him say in an interview recently that he wasn’t impressed with my last two fights,” Alvarez laughed. “That’s ironic because there isn’t a person on Earth who was impressed with his last fight. At least I had a couple people come up to me and say they were impressed with the way I dealt with the adversity of having my orbital broken and was still able to bounce back from that. At least a few people were impressed, but I haven’t heard a single person say they were impressed with Anthony Pettis’ last title defense.
“He got punched in the face and kind of quit on himself. The way I see this fight shaping up, and knowing what I can do, I think the same thing is going to happen again.”