The career of Eddie Alvarez is one that deserves to be mentioned alongside some of the best to ever compete in the lightweight division.
A perennial underdog, he has made a living out of defying the odds, odds that are stacked against him once more ahead of his upcoming super fight with featherweight champion Conor McGregor.
It’s the perfect time to put together a list of what I believe to be Alvarez’s top five definitive fights, ones that – when studied – illustrate perfectly the type of fighter, and the type of man, the Philadelphia-born lightweight really is.
5. Eddie Alvarez vs Tatsuya Kawajiri (DREAM 5 : Lightweight Grand Prix, 2008)
To start things off we have a classic Eddie Alvarez barn-burner. A high-tempo was set by both men early on with Kawajiri landing possibly the bigger strikes. The first few minutes showed us a relatively patient Alvarez, with him electing to keep on the outside and shoot for a few takedowns, all while beginning to work the lead-leg of his opponent.
However, around the three-minute mark of the ten-minute opening round, Alvarez saw his chance and began to unload on the Japanese fighter, sending him tumbling to the canvas. He was unable to finish however, and the fight resumed with Alvarez pressuring Kawajiri up onto the fence, employing the dirty boxing that has always been a staple of his high-output style.
In true Alvarez fashion he managed to get dropped by a stiff right hand halfway through the round but after surviving off of his back he pulled himself to his feet, turned up the volume and blitzed his way to a TKO victory, overwhelming Tatsuya and finishing him with some ground-and-pound.
This fight is Eddie Alvarez 101. We know he gets hit, but we also know he can take a shot and recover from it. His ability to turn the heat up in a matter of seconds was what won him this fight, with his raw animalistic intensity a constant throughout his career, showing itself most recently in his title-winning bout with Rafael dos Anjos.
4. Eddie Alvarez vs Joachim Hansen (DREAM 3 : Lightweight Grand Prix, 2008)
Another classic Alvarez performance this time around; one where we saw a 24-year-old Alvarez take on BJJ black belt Joachim Hansen in a Fight of the Year contender. I touched briefly on the ability to change gear the American possesses in the last section but the pace he set in this fight made the Kawajiri bout look like a snail-race.
Within 30 seconds Hansen had been knocked to the ground by a strong right hand, something that set the tone for the rest of the fight. Hansen’s tricky guard never proved a problem for Alvarez and his comfort from top position allowed him to dish out some effective ground-and-pound.
Though he was fighting the taller, longer man, Alvarez’s offence on the feet was crisp and accurate and his takedowns consistently drained Hansen throughout the bout. Alvarez’s head movement kept him out of trouble for the most part and despite some submission attempts on the ground, he never really looked in danger of losing.
This bout showed a very green Alvarez utilising all of his major skills to come away with a decision victory, his pace, takedowns and head movement all playing a key part in this win.
3. Anthony Pettis vs Eddie Alvarez (UFC Fight Night 81, 2016)
This one here is the bout many have been looking towards as a supposed blueprint on how Alvarez can defend his title against Conor McGregor. In Anthony Pettis, you had a former champion whose flashy but powerful kicks made up a large portion of his offensive arsenal. His two losses to Clay Guida and then-champ Rafael dos Anjos were cited as examples of the ‘Pettis riddle’ being cracked.
When Alvarez went into that fight he took a leaf out of both of their respective books and closed off any space between the pair early on, cutting off any opportunities for Pettis to wind up with his kicks.
Alvarez’s clinch work in this bout was phenomenal and his ability to wear the Milwaukee fighter down over three rounds saw him catapult himself to a title shot, one he would take full advantage of.
Perhaps not the most entertaining bout in the views of some, but as far as seeing what a perfectly executed game plan can do, it most certainly deserves a spot on this list. Do not be surprised to see Alvarez employ something similar against McGregor should he feel the power of that left hand early on.
2. Rafael dos Anjos vs Eddie Alvarez (UFC Fight Night 90, 2016)
Alvarez’s win over Rafael dos Anjos earlier this year was undoubtedly the biggest of his career so far. In Dos Anjos, we had a champion who many were beginning to consider to be among the greatest to ever fight at 155lbs and a highly difficult task for anyone to conquer at that time.
His style of suffocating his opponents through constant pressure had seen him best the likes of Benson Henderson, Nate Diaz, Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone in his prior bouts. His kicks are amongst the most brutal in modern MMA and he holds the type of power in his hands that can change the course of a fight in moments.
So when Alvarez went into that contest he was branded immediately as an underdog, as usual. In the opening exchanges there was nothing surprising on the side of the champion, his constant pressure was very much there and he was looking to break the spirit of the man standing in front of him just as he had done to so many before him.
The 32-year-old seemed to be looking to shoot back with a counter right whenever Dos Anjos advanced, throwing it five or six times in the opening few minutes but the Brazilian was unfazed, continuing to march forward. Unfortunately for RDA though it only took one clean shot from Alvarez to wobble him, something that caused the mother of all gear changes from the former-Bellator champion.
‘The Underground King’ rushed at Dos Anjos, pelting him with everything in the tank, almost losing his advantageous position in the process through a poorly-judged flying knee. But alas, when RDA got back to his feet, Alvarez continued to fire shots, with the belt almost in reach and despite not knocking the champion on his back, the ref Herb Dean had seen enough, halting the bout and declaring Alvarez the new champion.
1. Michael Chandler vs Eddie Alvarez 2 (Bellator 106, 2013)
This was a title fight that had absolutely everything. With Alvarez coming off of a loss in the pair’s first meeting, there was a score to settle and a noticeable tension in the air, and with the Bellator lightweight title up for grabs these two went at it in every sense of the word.
Alvarez’s movement was a key factor in this fight, with him managing to land early on with some solid handwork. The first round ended with Michael Chandler almost sinking in a choke, one that Alvarez was just able to roll out of. Chandler, the champ at the time, was able to take him down with relative ease and his ground-and-pound came with brutal fluidity throughout.
Once the championship rounds began, Chandler managed to nail Alvarez with a perfect flying knee. Of course being dazed was familiar territory for Alvarez but after a swift recovery was still on the receiving end of some more high-intensity ground strikes.
In the final round, Alvarez was caught once more with a powerful uppercut by Chandler, one that rocked him and caused him to concede yet another takedown to the champ. From there Chandler tried to work a submission but against all odds the battered Alvarez sprung out of it, took top position and went on to win the round and from there, and the fight by a razor-thin decision.
It was a classic bout and a Fight of the Year-winning contest. In it, you got to see each facet of Alvarez’s character as a fighter, and for that reason it has to be considered his defining win as a mixed martial artist.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena