Eddie Alvarez possesses what one can call hard-hat eyes. If he was not pounding people in the cage, it is easy to envision the former Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight titleholder on a North Philadelphia construction site, busting up concrete with a jackhammer in his hands. He wears a kind of old-school grainy, black-and-white film demeanor that also makes it easy to see him fighting in any era.
That is why it was so hard to hear what he did driving down the New Jersey Turnpike the day after he lost to Conor McGregor at UFC 205 in the first Ultimate Fighting Championship event to ever take place in historic Madison Square Garden. Alvarez was stopped inside two rounds, and his 128-day title reign was the shortest of any champion in UFC divisional history. Alvarez admits getting over the McGregor loss took him longer than he expected.
“The next morning, we packed a van and drove straight home, and I cried almost the whole ride home,” Alvarez told Sherdog.com, a tinge of trepidation in his voice. “It was weird, because I was in front of my kids and my wife. I felt a lot of things, like I let people down. I was angry. I was disappointed. I had a lot of feelings going on. I’m not a crier, but I am emotional and I do put my heart and soul into fighting. I harped on the McGregor loss longer than I should have, but I am glad that I’ve moved on. I’m at peace with myself. It was tough being at peace with myself for a while.
“When I fight, I expect something great to happen and expect that because of how much work that I put into it,” he added. “To go inside a cage and have that happen was a bitter pill to swallow. I didn’t get a chance to show the world who I am, and like the Olympics, it happens every four years; you don’t get a chance to get it back. So if I can describe it, it’s like getting a big tattoo on your chest. It will always be there. It will never go away. You deal with it. You fight the outside doubts. I battled with myself, gaining that peace with myself.”
Alvarez will get an opportunity at some more redemption at UFC 211 on Saturday, when he takes on 28-year-old Dustin Poirier at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
“The idea of just fighting again and forgiving myself and pushing past all of the s--- that went on and becoming vulnerable again, that’s the fun part,” he said. “When you make yourself vulnerable and something really bad happens, with all of this press and media, it’s hard to make yourself vulnerable again. I think just being able to do that again and being OK with it, that’s what I’m happiest about.
“Dustin is young, well-rounded and a southpaw, which over the last two years I don’t think I’ve faced an orthodox fighter,” Alvarez added. “He’s good -- he’s good everywhere -- but I don’t think he’s great. I think what makes him shine anywhere is his fighting spirit, to stay in there and fight a hard fight. He’s very beatable.”
Alvarez will have his hands full with Poirier, who is 5-1 since he returned to the UFC lightweight division in April 2015. He is also five years younger than Alvarez. Poirier, however, is not McGregor. Few are.
“I changed my form, and being a martial artist, you’re always changing form,” Alvarez said. “In this camp, I saw not just physically but mentally how I changed form, and it will show on Saturday. I’m a little bit violent, I’m a little bit peaceful and I’m where I need to be. My sparring has been incredible and at a high level these last couple of weeks. I feel good, and I feel I’m going to feel good all the way, walking up to the cage and when I’m walking out.
“All throughout fighting, your biggest fear is that nightmare where you wake up in a classroom naked,” he added. “Well, I woke up in a classroom naked [in the McGregor fight]. My biggest fear is being knocked out in front of millions of people. After it happens, there is this calmness about you that says everything is going to be OK. Life goes on, and everything is still the same. I learned all of these things you think about before a fight is all bulls---. You should have gratitude of the whole process and not be fearful of any of it.”
Alvarez’s first reaction to watching a tape of the McGregor fight was seeing himself focused. Then he got tagged, and that changed everything. He went into an instinctive mode. He began moving right when he should have been moving left -- away from McGregor’s power. Everything that worked during camp dissolved. Alvarez could have made better choices, but McGregor is rangy, controls distance exceptionally well and has impeccable timing.
“I was too impatient,” Alvarez said. “It was a matter of the illusion: He’s there, and then he takes it away. My coach dives deep into tape, and I don’t wrap my head around that too much. I don’t want to bind my head too much in what [Poirier] is good with. When fighters do that, you start to think and wait for him. What I’ve done is work on where I’m good.”
Joseph Santoliquito is the president of the Boxing Writer's Association of America and a frequent contributor to Sherdog.com's mixed martial arts and boxing coverage. His archive can be found here.