Lightweight says he just wants to be in big fights
The quest to become recognized as the top lightweight fighter in the world is a difficult road to travel.
Over the past three years, the weight class has experienced an emergence of quality with well-rounded combatants all capable of claiming the top spot. Each one of them, on any given night, possesses the ability to claim the No. 1 spot, after which they have to prepare for the next hungry and battle-ready challenger.
Now imagine you are Eddie Alvarez.
Over this time span, the Philadelphia native has been considered one of the top 155-pound fighters on the planet. After building buzz in Japan, Alvarez returned Stateside to run like a buzz saw through Bellator’s lightweight tournament. Once he claimed the organization’s inaugural title, things began to slow down. It became increasingly difficult for Bellator to find top-ranked opposition, and despite matches with UFC veterans Josh Neer and Roger Huerta, respect and validation were on the short side due to his bouts coming outside of the UFC.
After his stoppage win over Huerta, Alvarez’s next two fights would come more than six months apart, leaving the champion feeling uncertain of what his next step would be. A fighter through and through, the only thing Alvarez wanted to do was compete – but without an opponent who could raise his stock amongst his peers, it became a game of hurry up and wait.
Then came the perfect storm of tournament winner Michael Chandler, a dark horse opponent who seemingly came from out of nowhere. Behind a tireless work ethic, Chandler fought his way into a championship bout with Alvarez at Bellator 54. The consensus thought was the bout was a lose-lose situation for Alvarez, while Chandler had everything to gain. What Chandler eventually gained was the Bellator lightweight title, and what Alvarez lost was his footing among the elite in his weight class.
Rather than spin his wheels, Alvarez jumped right back into the fray, and after making several key changes in his training and management, he is once again poised for a run to the top of the mountain. Alvarez spoke exclusively to HeavyMMA about his ambitions, the decision to skip the next Bellator lightweight tournament and a long-awaited rematch with Japanese superstar Shinya Aoki.
“I still have eight or nine months left on my contract with Bellator or one or two fights,” Alvarez said. “I’m waiting to finalize things, but I believe we are going to be doing the fight with Shinya Aoki. That would be on April 20, but we just received the contracts and we are looking them over. Nothing is 100 percent right now, but that is what we are aiming to do.
“I asked for the Chandler rematch before this Aoki fight came up. It’s something I’ve already asked for, and it’s not going to happen. I would have to jump through a bunch of loopholes to get the fight with Chandler – and I’m not interested in taking that route. I want to fight big names and have matchups that will progress my career. I don’t want to be in fights where it’s a lose-lose situation for me. It just doesn’t make sense.
“In all honesty the lose-lose scenario was my last couple of fights. It was a matter of me going out there and competing regardless of what people said the fight meant or didn’t mean. Any fighter, no matter how good, given 10 fights there is a good chance he’s going to lose one in that run. That’s the sport of MMA, and that’s the way it goes. I’m looking past it now and I’m moving on.
“I’ve been in this sport nine years. I’ve put my time in. I know I’m capable and I want to be involved in big fights. I’m going to go with the biggest fights I can get and right now. (Bellator CEO) Bjorn Rebney put Aoki in front of me, so that is what I’m going to do. It’s a big fight against a big name, and people will want to see it. He’s considered to be top five by most people’s consensus, so that is a start for me to get to where I want to be. It’s a chance to redeem myself after this recent loss and it will put me back in the rankings. I’m excited for it.”
Listening to Alvarez talk, it becomes clear the juice wasn’t exactly worth the squeeze over the past two years. While he enjoyed the rapid-fire pace of fighting in a tournament format, what people would consider to be the benefits of being a champion were actually a drawback for Alvarez. As a fighter constantly wanting to push himself, those options became difficult as he waited for the next opponent to emerge.
“It was very good in the beginning at Bellator because of the tournament structure,” Alvarez said. “There were a lot of fights right out of the gate and I stayed active. But just like any other time, when you become champion, all of that slows down. I’m not at a time in my career where I’m ready to slow down.
“It’s almost sad to say but what comes with being a champion, almost makes it undesirable for me. It’s great to be a champion, but it’s more important to keep fighting. This is how I make my living and I chose this profession because I love to fight. If you’re only going to fight me once or twice a year, I’m better off getting another job because it’s just not enough for me. It’s not enough for me to sustain a livelihood, and it’s not enough for my own personal wants and needs as far as my development as a fighter goes. I need to keep competing and improving.
“My goal isn’t even to necessarily win every fight – it is to get those tough fights against top guys. I want as many as I can, because when I do get in the place where I’m ready to challenge for the world titles and get those big opportunities, I’ll be ready and it will make it that much easier. I just want to get in there, get as much cage time as I can and fight against the best competition we can get. That’s my goal right now and we’ll go from there.”
With redemption on his mind and the passion to get after it, Alvarez recently changed up both his management and training situation. Signing with Glenn Robinson’s Authentic Sports Management and getting in time with the “Blackzilians,” Alvarez believes he has put himself in the best possible position for success.
“I recently switched management and I’m with Authentic Sports Management now,” Alvarez said. “I’m training with the Blackzilians and I’ve recently had the chance to meet everyone. It’s a great group of people and a family atmosphere. I’ve been very happy so far with the situation. I’m still based in Philly, but I’ll be splitting time in South Florida. I’ll be getting in some good sparring down there and using the resources available to me to become a better fighter.
“Activity is my biggest goal, and I’d love to fight four or five times a year. That is where I’m at my best. I fight to the best of my capabilities when I’m very active. Fighting in Japan or early on in Bellator, the more active I stay the better I perform. It keeps me in the gym, constantly improving, and it makes me stay sharp.
“I need to beat Shinya Aoki, because after that I’m back in the rankings. I need to beat him in impressive fashion and get him back for our last fight in Japan. I’m very motivated to train for this fight, outsmart him and beat him in every aspect of the game. After the fight with Aoki, I honestly can’t even predict a goal because I don’t know where contract negotiations will go. With that being said, my focus is beating Shinya Aoki and redeeming myself.”