In this week’s edition of Pundit Arena’s ‘Fighter Of The Week’, we’re going to take a closer look the ‘Underground King’ himself, Eddie Alvarez.
Eddie Alvarez is just not like most fighters. For many, the road to the top of the MMA game consists of a steady rise and sometimes years of obscurity. Alvarez, ever since his early twenties, has known nothing but championship success in the furthest reaches of the planet and though he was considered a veteran when he finally won his first UFC title, the Eddie Alvarez story is one that extends way back into his days grinding out his reputation on the international circuit, a reputation that is encapsulated perfectly in his nickname, the Underground King.
With Eddie set to attempt to put the memories of UFC 205 firmly in the rearview at this weekend’s UFC 211 against Dustin Poirier, the time is perfect to remind ourselves of why the Philadelphia native is among the most entertaining, gutsy and ultimately successful fighters to ever compete in the UFC’s lightweight division.
Eddie Alvarez’s early days contain some of the frankly ridiculous shows of grit and determination that would end up playing a definitive part in his makeup as a fighter in the years that followed.
During his run in the now-defunct DREAM promotion, his ascent through the talent-stacked lightweight grand-prix of 2008 was halted only due to an eye-injury he sustained against the legendary Tatsuya Kawajiri. This was the only reason he did not face off against the equally-legendary Shinya Aoki (a man he would go on to fight twice, going 1-1) in the final.
The man drafted into replace the injured-Philly brawler was the Norweigan Joachim Hansen, someone who Eddie had knocked out of the tournament prior to his pullout. The contest between Hansen and Alvarez was just about as thrilling a showdown as you will ever see in this sport, one that showed Alvarez’s chin and sometimes inhuman recovery skills at their finest throughout.
After his time in DREAM, he moved to join Bellator MMA, another promotion where he was able to consistently prove his worth and world-class talent by winning their lightweight title on two separate occasions. Ten fights saw Eddie lose just once, a late submission against the champion Michael Chandler, but when he had the chance to avenge that crushing loss, he did so in the most amazing fashion imaginable.
Chandler/Alvarez 2 stands among the greatest lightweight battles of all time, one where both men truly gave their all until there was nothing left to give, and though it was Eddie whose hand was raised, Chandler was – and still is to this day – one of the very best 155lb-rs on the planet.
It really is hard to explain to someone what it is exactly that makes Eddie Alvarez so remarkable unless you actually see him fight in front of your eyes but if you ever feel like spending an evening and playing through a fighter’s career in chronological order, then there are few whose resumés I would put ahead of this guy.
He just comes to fight in a way that you can’t teach. He’s that Philly-underdog incarnate, a real-life Rocky Balboa in action.
Following his Bellator title win over Michael Chandler, the UFC came knocking and in his first bout in the world’s premier mixed martial arts organisation, he was paired up with the equally-gutsy Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. Unfortunately for the Underground King, the muay-thai attack of the always-game Cowboy proved too much for him on the night, causing him to succumb to a unanimous decision loss in his UFC debut.
The momentum and the excitement caused by the idea of seeing the electric multi-time champion in the UFC was halted somewhat by his underwhelming debut but wins over the former-champs Gilbert Melendez (Strikeforce) and Anthony Pettis (UFC) were enough to see Eddie – once again – in line for a shot at promotional gold.
The champion at that stage, Rafael dos Anjos was slowly edging into that ‘greatest lightweight of all-time’ discussion and if you watched his wins over Benson Henderson, Anthony Pettis and the aforementioned Donald Cerrone, you’d be hard-pressed to make a viable counter-argument that didn’t at least acknowledge this guy’s undeniable skill inside the octagon.
When Eddie met RDA in July of 2016, the unthinkable happened as the underdog clipped the Brazilian in the very first-round, causing him to flail completely off-balance for a good 30 seconds or so before the ref rightly stepped in and ended the relentless Alvarez onslaught that was ensuing.
Once more, Eddie Alvarez was the champ but this time, it was on a stage bigger than any he had ever encountered and his next opponent would be one unlike anything he had ever encountered, despite all of his years on the road.
Conor McGregor, the featherweight champion of the world, had made his desire to achieve two-weight world champion status known to the UFC, and given his remarkable achievements both inside and outside the octagon up until that point, the fight was signed and Eddie found himself with the eyes of the world now watching him.
Conor McGregor’s meteoric rise to the top of the fight-game contrasted Eddie’s in every conceivable way and when the pair met inside the octagon at UFC 205, it was undeniably his night.
He bet Alvarez in the type of dominant performance that will go down amongst the very best to ever be seen in this sport. It was a Silva/Griffin, Dillashaw/Barao-level dismantling and though Eddie recovered and managed to survive until the second round, it was undoubtedly the worst performance of his career and one which makes his upcoming UFC 211 return that bit more interesting.
How does one bounce back from losing like that on the biggest stage possible? Have the years of brave and gutsy showings finally caught up with Eddie Alvarez? Or will he find that despite losing his belt, his most famous quote will ring true when Dustin Poirier learns in the worst way possible that this resurgent Eddie Alvarez is now ready to let to dog that resides in him loose once more?
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena