Alvarez Earns International Recognition in Japan

International Recognition

By John Lee May 9, 2008
Eddie Alvarez (Pictures)'s gutsy victory in the inaugural Dream lightweight grand prix left an indelible impression on fight fans around the world. But ask the kid from Philly if it was a breakthrough performance and he'll curtly reply, "No. Not really."

It's neither hubris nor modesty that motivates this response; rather, it's quiet confidence in his abilities.

"Going into the tournament, I had to convince myself that I was among the top and elite lightweights in the world, and I'm already past that point. I'm above and beyond that point," Alvarez said. "I know I belong in the tournament. Not only do I belong, but I want to prove to people that I'm the best in this tournament."

He proved his point all right -- by bludgeoning Andre "Dida" Amade, a tough striker from Chute Boxe who had made it to the finals of the K-1 Hero's lightweight tournament last year.

The win itself wasn't necessarily what was so impressive -- it was how Alvarez had battled back.

He looked in control early, but then the lights suddenly went out.

Recalled Alvarez of the flash knockout: "I got caught. I mean, we all get caught. I actually took two shots before that that were harder than the one that put me down. I got caught because I was countering. I got caught off my own counterpunch. He came over the top and got me."

Alvarez averted disaster by instinctively shooting in for a double-leg, which he managed to transition into a body-lock takedown.

"Whenever I get rocked in practice, just for fight reasons and to help myself to react in the right ways, I do that," he explained. "After I get rocked, I'll practice getting close and trying to close the distance right away. It became second nature. I do it often, and it helped out right in that situation."

The tactic allowed Alvarez to recover and rally back. After a flurry of transitions, he secured the mount and rained down a barrage of debilitating strikes. As the referee pulled Alvarez off, his opponent lay scrunched up and motionless on the ground.

The win was so dominant that it had critics wondering why Alvarez hadn't dropped in weight earlier in his career.

"It was something that was always talked about," said Stephen Haigh (Pictures), Alvarez's trainer. "But he was doing really well at 170, and it was kind of like, ‘Well, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.'"

It wasn't until his much-bandied about loss in Bodog Fight to a larger Nick Thompson (Pictures) that Alvarez tasted defeat. Yet to this day he refuses to accept that size had anything to do with the desultory loss.

In fact, he wanted to avenge the defeat so desperately that he went as far as to lock horns in a dragged-out ordeal with executives at Bodog.

"Basically, I was trying to get a match with Nick Thompson (Pictures)," Alvarez said. "I kept asking the higher powers, but after a while we had some disagreements and it didn't seem like it was going to happen. So I thought it would be better when Elite offered me an opportunity to fight for them."

Looking to start afresh in EliteXC, Alvarez turned to the newly instated 160-pound division to build his career. After a successful debut at the weight against Ross Ebanez (Pictures), his next goal was to prove he was a legitimate contender in the lightweight division. Opportunity came knocking.

"I wanted to fight a lot more and I wanted to fight big, reputable names. Monte Cox [Alvarez's manager] then called me and told me about this tournament. That gave me an opportunity to do both in one shot," said a beaming Alvarez. "I took advantage of the opportunity, sucked it up and now I'm getting down to 154 and fighting there."

Alvarez plans to continue fighting at 154 for Dream, but the weight cut is far from easy. He works his way down from roughly 175 pounds.

"It's just a constant struggle," he said, his voice taking on an uncharacteristic tinge of fatigue and weariness. "You just gotta stay strong mentally and keep going. … It's easy for it to get a hold of you and break you down, but you just have to keep going."

Stories of hard work and sacrifice in training often fall on unsympathetic ears in MMA. Fans and promotions can be quick to chastise when it seems a fighter hasn't laid down life and limb in training. But by the same token, MMA is also a pure form of meritocracy in which recognition is quickly awarded to those who put in the time and are able to perform.

Case in point: Eddie Alvarez (Pictures). His performance against Amade stood out in an overall stodgy tournament that failed to live up to initial expectations.

The reception from fans, pundits and fellow fighters has been overwhelming. Asked which match they thought was the most exciting, the majority of fighters mentioned Alvarez's. Joachim Hansen (Pictures), whom Alvarez is slated to face Sunday in the second round, also noted the impressive showing.

In Hansen, Alvarez faces arguably his toughest challenge to date. The Norwegian is a seasoned veteran with a laundry list of marquee fights under his belt. Alvarez, though, remains confident about fighting one of his favorite fighters.

"I'm not going to let the fact that Hansen has more experience distract me from achieving my goals or doing what I have to do," he said. "He's just another guy in the way of me winning this whole tournament. Just like any other opponents, my team and I have weighed out our weaknesses and our strengths. I have a very good game plan to go in and win this fight."

Alvarez's camp will be the first to agree that there aren't many flaws in Hansen's game. At the same time, they seem certain about Alvarez's strategy and his chances of success.

"I've been watching Joachim for years, and he's just ultra-tough and ultra-versatile," Haigh acknowledged. "I don't know if he's bad in any one area. So it's kind of tough to exploit weaknesses on him. But then again Eddie [has] matched up well versus other southpaws."
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