Please join me in welcoming Eddie Alvarez to @ONEChampionship! I am super excited for our fans to witness Eddie's high octane, explosive dynamite KO style. Stay tuned for more big news! @Ealvarezfight pic.twitter.com/bM3K0COlie— Chatri Sityodtong (@YODCHATRI) October 16, 2018
For a decade and a half, Eddie Alvarez has guided his career on his own terms. Befitting his nickname, “The Underground King” became a star in the sport before ever competing in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Upon his long-awaited jump to the UFC, he defied the odds and added the organization’s 155-pound belt to a trophy case that already contained a Bellator MMA lightweight title. Now, at 34, he will once again spurn conventional wisdom, taking his talents to the highest-profile organization in Asia, One Championship.
“There’s a lot of money to be made from me and from my fights,” Alvarez told Sherdog.com. “And I just wanted to be able to share in the profit more. That’s all.” Alvarez is well versed in MMA free agency. He was a highlight machine in Dream who left to become one of the promotional faces of Bellator. He then departed that promotion in order to test himself against the best in the world and fill up his bank account in the UFC. He is a fighter that understands his value and the principle of seeking out the highest bidder.
“Whatever promotion got me [would get] one of the best lightweights in the world. That’s a huge asset,” Alvarez said. “I would have been angry, and I would have regretted not having these guys compete against each other for my fights.”
In Alvarez’s mind, testing the market is the only way for a fighter to get an honest evaluation of his worth. “If you’re a fighter, and you just keep re-signing, and you never give these promotions a chance to compete against each other, then you’re never going to get an honest number of what you’re worth,” he said.
To leave the UFC, a promotion he’s called home since 2014, was not an easy decision for Alvarez. “[The] UFC’s offer impressed me. They offered me what would have been one of the highest-paid [deals] in the lightweight division,” he said. Without specifying the numbers on offer, he claims that the guaranteed money would have been at a level rivaled only by champions and a few other fighters. In the end, however, One Championship offered a deal Alvarez could not refuse, one he considers a partnership.
“It’s not just a fight contract, it’s a package deal,” said Alvarez. “It’s not just, ‘You fight and we’re going to pay you X amount when you fight.’ There are other caveats to the contract.” Along with being compensated for work on One’s behalf outside the cage, Alvarez claims the deal will give him a far greater share of the earning potential from his bouts.
“It’s not a 90/10 split,” he said. “If the promotion makes $100 million, they are not throwing me $10 million and saying thank you for your services.”
Alvarez has nothing disagreeable to say about his former employer. He maintains he had a positive relationship with the organization, as they helped him make substantial sums of money while achieving his competitive goals. “I had a great experience with UFC. I have nothing bad to say. I feel like I had a good run,” Alvarez said.
Although money is a key factor in any contract negotiation, for Alvarez, fresh competition is of equal value. “Money means nothing if you can’t be excited about the challenges that are ahead of you,” Alvarez said. New challenges were the reason he left Bellator -- where the only truly attractive fight on offer was a trilogy bout with Michael Chandler -- for the UFC. “I remember when I left Bellator there wasn’t [any] amount of money they could have paid me to stay there,” he said. “I would have what? Won the title again? And fought the same guys again?”
The man who has won titles in five different promotions knows the importance of proper motivation, not only competitively or financially but in terms of health. “It’s very dangerous to prepare for a fight if you’re not excited,” Alvarez said. “You need to have that emotional energy.”
While Alvarez admits there were still some intriguing challenges left in the UFC, he feels that One offered even more, along with the chance to make more history. “I think this was the perfect opportunity to feel that [excitement]. To get that emotional energy. Make some history, win a world title from another major organization [and] make a lot of money while I’m doing it,” he said.
Alvarez is excited about the interesting match-ups that could come in the promotion’s newly announced lightweight grand prix, which he believes will start in March of 2019.
“There’s a few guys that are up there in the top four or five of the weight class that I’ve been skimming through their videos, checking out their highlights and seeing what their about,” Alvarez says. He mentioned Shinya Aoki, Eduard Folayang, Ev Ting and Amir Khan as future opponents that give him that aforementioned excitement.
Along with an uptick in compensation and many new challenges on the horizon, competing in front of an Asian MMA fanbase once again fascinated Alvarez. The Dream veteran recalls his time in the Japanese promotion fondly. The audiences, he says, were composed and quiet, as they sat in appreciation of the athletic display.
“For something to be silent, everybody has to be paying attention to the fight, and patient about how the fight is going,” Alvarez said. He claims he never heard boos, and fans seemed to enjoy pure competition more than who had their hand raised.
“They applauded the contest, not the outcome. Fighting [in and of itself] is valued. They don’t care for all the sh*t talk and all the hoopla. Respect, honor and integrity. That’s what’s valued there.” he said.
This is in contrast to how he feels American fans like their MMA. In his opinion, fans seem more interested in fight promotion than the actual fights. “Here [in the United States] it’s almost like, the fight is [less] valued. The story, the sh*t talk, the grudge, that is what’s more valued. It’s not a good thing, it’s not a bad thing, it’s just the way it is,” he said.
Two months away from turning 35, Alvarez knows that the notion of legacy enters the conversation for an aging fighter. While he does care about the mark he eventually leaves on the sport, he maintains it was not a part of his final decision.
“I don’t focus on legacy,” Alvarez said. “It would be the same as focusing on money. The main focus is competing against the best guys in the world.” As long as he continues to seek out high-level competition -- which he feels One has -- he believes that legacy will take care of itself.
“I think legacy is just a by-product of beating the best guys in the world. When it’s all said and done, people will talk about the fights and the opponents that you fought. And the manner that you fought them,” he said.
“The Underground King” does have one goal for his legacy next year, however: “My intentions are to be One champion by the end of 2019.”