Whenever Eddie Alvarez decides to walk away from mixed martial arts, he will do so as a historic figure in the lightweight division. The former Ultimate Fighting Championship and Bellator MMA titleholder’s path now leads him to one of the most anticipated fights of 2017.
Alvarez will take on onetime World Series of Fighting champion Justin Gaethje in a delightful UFC 218 pairing this Saturday at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. The three-round lightweight showcase crackles with potential. Alvarez has compiled a 3-2 record since arriving in the UFC a little more than three years ago. The 34-year-old Philadelphia native last competed at UFC 211 on May 13, when his encounter with American Top Team’s Dustin Poirier resulted in a no-contest after Alvarez landed a pair of illegal knees. Nevertheless, he carries with him one of the sport’s most respected resumes. Alvarez boasts 22 finishes among his 28 professional victories and owns wins over Gilbert Melendez, Shinya Aoki, Roger Huerta, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Joachim Hansen, among others.
As Alvarez prepares to face the undefeated Gaethje, here are five of the moments that have come to define him:
1. Give and Take
For more than 18 minutes, Alvarez and Michael Chandler went at one another, each man equally unwilling to yield. It remains the best fight in Bellator MMA history in the minds of many. Chandler submitted Alvarez with a fourth-round rear-naked choke to capture the promotion’s lightweight championship in dramatic and emphatic fashion in the Bellator 58 headliner on Nov. 19, 2011 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Both men were pushed to the brink across three grueling rounds, setting the stage for a remarkable finish. Somehow, Chandler emerged for Round 4 re-energized. After re-establishing his jab and wobbling Alvarez with a stout right hand, he followed with a well-timed shot. The champion lost his balance and Chandler began to pound and pass. In what can only be described as a last-ditch effort at self-preservation, Alvarez surrendered his back. Chandler sank both hooks and flattened out his fading opponent. A deep rear-naked choke came next, and Alvarez tapped out almost immediately, the end coming 3:06 into the fourth frame.
Not all rematches live up to expectations. Chandler and Alvarez made sure theirs did. Alvarez reclaimed the Bellator MMA lightweight championship in another scintillating encounter with Chandler, as he escaped with a split decision over the previously unbeaten NCAA All-American wrestler in the Bellator 106 main event on Nov. 2, 2013 at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, California. All three cageside judges scored it 48-47: Steven Davis and Derek Cleary for Alvarez, Mike Beltran for Chandler. A stiff left jab and a commitment to lateral movement were key weapons in the Alvarez arsenal. He left Chandler with severe damage to his left eye, which was bleeding heavily and virtually swollen shut by fight’s end. Alvarez punctuated his victory with a superb fifth round. There, he ripped into Chandler with punches along the fence, moved to his back on the ground and nearly ended it with a rear-naked choke. Blood was everywhere. While Alvarez chipped away on the feet, Chandler leaned on his wrestling. He delivered repeated takedowns against the Philadelphia native and threatened to finish him with a rear-naked choke inside the first round. Alvarez survived and forced the champion into deeper waters. Chandler was at his best in Round 4, where he struck for another takedown and tore into Alvarez with ground-and-pound. However, he failed to carry the momentum into the final five minutes and, as a result, lost his grip on Bellator gold.
3. Last Obstacle
Alvarez executed his game plan to perfection, as he eked out a split decision over Roufusport star Anthony Pettis in the UFC Fight Night 81 co-headliner on Jan. 17, 2016 at the TD Garden in Boston. All three cageside judges scored it 29-28, two of them siding with Alvarez. Pettis enjoyed success at range, as he peppered the two-time Bellator MMA champion with punching combinations, occasional knees and kicks to the legs and body before a crowd of 12,790. Bleeding from his nose and from a cut near his left eye, Alvarez pursued a taxing clinch, kept his head glued to the Milwaukee native’s sternum and landed a series of takedowns that left Pettis drained and frustrated. His work paid dividends, giving him a signature victory inside the Octagon and making him the UFC’s No. 1 contender at 155 pounds.
4. Pinnacle Performance
He believed, even if few others did. Alvarez became the eighth lightweight titleholder in Ultimate Fighting Championship history, as he took out Rafael dos Anjos with first-round punches in the UFC Fight Night 90 main event on July 7, 2016 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Dos Anjos absorbed a hellacious beating, until referee Herb Dean had seen enough and called for the stoppage 3:49 into Round 1. Alvarez picked his spot and did not miss. The former Bellator MMA champion whipped a wide right hook around dos Anjos’ defenses and set him on rubbery legs. The Brazilian never recovered. Alvarez swarmed with an incredible burst of power punches, briefly wound up on his back after a wild attempt at a flying knee and closed out the Kings MMA rep with a final volley of violent hooks and right uppercuts along the fence. The loss snapped dos Anjos’ five-fight winning streak and made Alvarez the first fighter in history to capture both Bellator and UFC gold.
5. Irish Prize
Alvarez wound up on the wrong side of history on the biggest stage imaginable. Conor McGregor became the first competitor in Ultimate Fighting Championship history to hold titles in two weight classes simultaneously, as he stopped Alvarez on second-round punches to capture the lightweight crown in the UFC 205 headliner on Nov. 12, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Alvarez succumbed to blows 3:04 into Round 2, giving McGregor possession of championship gold at 145 and 155 pounds. Alvarez elected to stand with the SBG Ireland superstar and paid a steep price. McGregor kept the Philadelphia native on the end of his punches, floored him twice inside the first five minutes and established his superiority with breathtaking ease. A little more than midway through the second round, he cut loose with a blistering four-punch combination that sent Alvarez crashing to the canvas and prompted referee John McCarthy to intervene on his behalf.