Following his clash with Dustin Poirier back in May, many of you were probably wondering if Eddie Alvarez would ever be able to bounce back from his devastating TKO defeat to Conor McGregor the previous November.
McGregor put on a clinic that night at UFC 205, as Alvarez was forced to lap up the punishment. On the biggest stage of his life, in front of a packed house at Madison Square Garden, on the UFC’s first card in New York in 21 years, with his UFC lightweight title on the line, Alvarez suffered the most one-sided, comprehensive, perhaps embarrassing defeat of his entire career to a man that he had ridiculed with gusto during the build-up.
Six months later, against Poirier, a man against whom he would probably have been a significant favourite before the McGregor fight, Alvarez struggled desperately. He clearly lost the first round and was lucky to survive some torrid moments in the second. Alvarez returned fire, however, and did hurt Poirier with some legal strikes before a series of illegal ones brought an unfortunate end to a predictably thrilling contest. Rather than a disqualification loss though, Alvarez’s record was instead strangely blemished with a mere no contest.
In many ways, this was vintage Alvarez. He rarely does things the easy way, and roaring back from the brink of defeat is his thing. The fight could have easily turned that way if it were not for the illegal knees, and it did appear to be veering ever so slightly in that direction.
Due to the context in which Alvarez’s struggles occurred, however, there were bound to be doubts and questions.
On December 2nd, ‘The Underground King’ erased those doubts and answered those questions, as he entered a sensational display against undefeated former WSOF lightweight champion Justin Gaethje at UFC 218 in Detroit.
The contest was a dog fight, as expected, but Alvarez showed not only his ability to thrive in such an environment but also more tactical nous and fighting intelligence than Gaethje amidst the chaos. In the end, Alvarez finished Gaethje with a vicious knee in the third round.
It was one of the best performances of the 33-year-old’s UFC tenure, if not the best.
Though Alvarez’s heart and resilience are the stuff of legend, it wouldn’t have been particularly surprising to see the veteran’s success dip dramatically in the wake of a defeat like the McGregor one. It really was a rough night and it came some 13 years into a taxing pro career.
On Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, however, Alvarez explained to Ariel Helwani why he wasn’t broken by the setback like so many other would have been, and it has as much to do with the way in which he frames things in his mind and his love for the sport as it does with heart or resilience.
“This is a long-term thing, I tell everyone. This is a marathon, not a sprint for me,” Alvarez said. “Fighting has been a journey for me – more than just fighting another guy. I put this on my Instagram not long ago, fighting is not just about going in and punching another guy in the face. Fighting for me is a lifestyle, it’s a journey to like find out what the fuck I’m made of and who I am.
“So, when I look at the long-term, it’s very simple to take a loss like that and go, ‘Shit, dust it off, let’s grow and let’s try to get a little bit better.’ But I think if someone don’t truly love the sport, and they are just kind of looking for the money, looking for the fame, looking for all the material shit – they all quit pretty easily. Like, off a big loss or you get embarrassed in front of these millions of fans, they might go, ‘Ah fuck this, I’m not into it.’ But I sincerely love fighting. It’s more of a lifestyle to me than it is a hobby. That’s how I think I’m able to get through that kind of shit.”
That doesn’t mean that the pain of the defeat to McGregor doesn’t still linger for Alvarez though.
“I’m competitive, so I can’t stand the fact that I didn’t put it down at MSG in that big moment,” added Alvarez. “I’m pissed at myself about it and I’d love to get it back, but I think dusting myself off and knowing that this is a longer journey than just one single fight – I think that’s how we get over that kind of shit.”
— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) December 11, 2017
With the win over Gaethje, Alvarez moved from fourth in the UFC lightweight rankings to third, overtaking Edson Barboza. It might be hard to imagine him getting another crack at McGregor in the future, but who knows what’s going to happen over the next few months on the chaotic 155-pound landscape. As long as he keeps winning and hangs around the top 3, Alvarez remains in the title picture.