At the ripe old age of 19, Philadelphian Eddie Alvarez had his first pro MMA fight in Elizabeth, N.J. He would go on to fight six more times in the Garden State over the next three years. He would win every single fight he was in.
From there, he would join the short-lived BodogFight, where he tussled in such exotic locales as Costa Rica and St. Petersburg, Russia (where he experienced defeat for the first time in his career – a T.K.O. loss to journeyman fighter Nick Thompson.) Following a dominant one-and-done showing for EliteXC (remember that?), Alvarez took his trade to Japan in 2008, where he finished the year with a 4-1 record (his sole defeat being a New Year’s Eve submission loss to Shinya Aoki, who at the time, was considered by many publications to be the best lightweight fighter on the planet.)
For the next five years, Alvarez would split his time between U.S.-based Bellator and Japan-based Dream. From 2009 to 2014, he went 11-1, in the process avenging losses to two of the only men – Aoki and Michael Chandler – to ever defeat him in battle. One of the hottest free agents in MMA, he was eventually signed to the UFC in 2014, where, in his first bout fighting under the Zuffa banner …
… he lost. Granted, it wasn’t an annihilation – indeed, his UFC debut against Donald Cerrone was a fairly close contest – but after all of the hype and the build-up, it couldn’t be considered anything other than a massive disappointment. Could it have been that we had all vastly overrated Alvarez, the same way the UFC bet the house, and then dearly lost, gambling on other highly touted outsiders like Jake Shields and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou?
Well, Alvarez followed up his debut loss with a razor thin split decision victory over Gilbert Melendez (which, as fate would have it, Alvarez would’ve won regardless since Melendez tested positive for P.E.D.s afterwards) and after that, yet another super-duper-close split decision win over Anthony Pettis. Despite his many, many accomplishments over the years, Alvarez nonetheless went into his title shot against Rafael dos Anjos a considerable underdog.
And then, something amazing happened. All of that hype and potential we’d been hearing about for years turned into clearly visible kinetic energy the night before UFC 200, as Alvarez positively unloaded on the Lightweight Champion en route to a stellar first round stoppage victory. As it turns out, Alvarez was very much the fighter we thought he was, and after years and years of paying dues, he finally became the fighter we all knew he would one day become – the undisputed king of the 155 weight class.
Which makes it more than a little curious that his first defense of the UFC Lightweight crown isn’t against any of the division’s super-hyped up-and-comers – your Khabib Nurmagomedovs, your Michael Johnsons, your Tony Fergusons, etc. – or even one of his old foes, like Donald Cerrone or Anthony Pettis. Instead, the MMA darling beloved by Sherdog forum members the world over since 2009 will defend his strap against the 145-pound title-holder, in a “super fight” we haven’t even had as a matchmaking option until mid-July.
Yes, all of the media hype is on Conor McGregor. Sans the verbal sparring capabilities of Nate Diaz, the UFC hasn’t really been able to hype Eddie Alvarez as the same sort of Great White Hope Slayer. But what Alvarez lacks in promo skills – seriously, I’m not even 100 percent sure what Eddie’s voice sounds like – he more than makes up for it with sheer in-cage talent. By now, it’s pretty apparent that Alvarez doesn’t need remarkable oratorical skills to market himself. As those who have been following him since his days in Saitama beating up on Tatsuya Kawajiri and Joachim Hansen can certainly attest, Alvarez is the kind of guy who does all the talking he needs to with his fists … and the periodic submission hold.
McGregor is a terrific fighter. He knocked out Jose Aldo in less time it takes to set a marshmallow on fire and after all the questions about his cardio, he went in there and outpointed Nate Diaz in one of the most exciting rematches in MMA history. He’s got knockout power, fairly underrated wrestling skills and when fights go the distance, we know he has enough gas in his tank to pull a full 25 minute shift. He’s the definition of a multifaceted fighter, and his striking is feared for good reason.
The thing is, Eddie is better than McGregor when it comes to ALL of the things listed above. He’s a more dynamic striker, with much better striking defense. He has a much better takedown game, offensively and defensively. When it comes to subs, he’s much more skillful. And cardio-wise, Alvarez is one of the best conditioned fighters in any weight class. The only mathematical advantage McGregor has is his reach, and while that five inches he has on Alvarez is significant (boy, I can’t wait for someone to take that line out of context), is that alone enough to give McGregor the victory in a long, drawn-out, half-an-hour-long war of attrition?
Of course McGregor can knock Alvarez out cold. We’ve seen him do it time and time again, and all it takes is one miscue or one miscalculated shot and Eddie will be counting the ceiling lights at MSG. But considering how well Alvarez has done against fellow strikers like Melendez, Cerrone and Pettis (all of whom have more, let’s just say complex, ground games than McGregor), I’m struggling to pinpoint what sort of approach and technique the Irishman can utilize – besides getting a well-timed, unguarded straight shot to the jaw in the opening round – to beat the former Bellator champ.
Really, this isn’t even a stylistic mismatch – it’s just a plain, old-fashioned mismatch in every sense of the word. Alvarez, in just about every capacity you can think of, is a better fighter than McGregor, but heading into the UFC 205 headliner, it’s Alvarez who is being promoted as the scrappy underdog.
The UFC brass has almost airbrushed Eddie out of the fight. It’s not being touted as a clash of extremely skilled lightweight talents, it’s pretty much being advertised as “hey white people, order this PPV and watch Conor McGregor try to win two belts at once from this kinda’ Mexican guy.” The entire bout, so it seems, is being used as nothing more than a platform to make McGregor an even bigger star than he already is, with Alvarez serving as little more than a convenient prop holding the title belt.
It’s hard to think of a more fitting card for a UFC fighter to make history and simultaneously hold belts in two different weight classes. Just in terms of sheer “good for business” booking, you KNOW the UFC wants McGregor to win this one. But by giving McGregor arguably the highest platform they’ve ever given any fighter, they may very well wind up inadvertently propping up the other competitor in the cage for the limelight.
McGregor, if all goes “according to plan,” will walk out of NYC a bigger, brighter star than ever before. MMA – being a real sport – however, is prone to things going a little bit different than your advertising team had desired. The spotlight may be dead center on McGregor, but if I were a betting man? I’d stake the house that at the end of UFC 205, all we’re going to be able to talk about will be Alvarez’s performance instead.