Twenty-five-year-old Philadelphia native Eddie Alvarez may just be the best American-born lightweight fighter currently not employed by the UFC.
He is quietly considered to be as high as the No. 3 lightweight in the world by some publications, trailing only UFC champion B.J. Penn and WAMMA champion Shinya Aoki.
In other words, he’s firmly placed ahead of a group of well publicized UFC lightweights that includes Kenny Florian, Diego Sanchez, Frankie Edgar, Sean Sherk, and Gray Maynard.
Alvarez, now 17–2 in his professional MMA career, burst onto the scene in 2008 at the DREAM Lightweight Grand Prix that was held in Japan.
Before the tournament was over, he had gone from virtual unknown to bonafide superstar in the “Land of the Rising Sun.”
Now Alvarez has his sights set squarely on the United Stateswhere he finds himself as the centerpiece of the newly formed Bellator Fighting Championships.
He is currently in the midst of the first ever Bellator Lightweight Tournament. With consecutive victories over Greg Loughran and Eric Reynolds he has earned a spot in the championship fight which will take place on June 19 in Hollywood, Fla.
His opponent will be Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Toby Imade, who pulled off what many are calling the submission of the year in the semifinals when he used an inverted triangle choke to defeat the heavily favored Jorge Masvidal.
Eddie graciously took time out of his busy training schedule to discuss his meteoric rise in Japan, a potential rematch with Shinya Aoki, his love for tournament formats, and what his future holds after the completion of the Bellator FC tournament.
Check it out.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com): I want to start by going way back to your last fight at welterweight. Nick Thompson handed you your first career loss in 2007. Was he simply too big, and did that fight make you realize you needed to be at 155 for good? What did you learn from that experience?
Eddie Alvarez: When I fought Nick Thompson, I wasn’t experienced enough. That was the first person that put me in a real fight. Before Nick nobody had put me in a fight where I had to struggle. He made me deal with adversity and helped me become the fighter I am today. I needed to know what it was like to be in a fight, to be in a battle, a win or lose battle. He put me in a fight and I lost. I learned from it. I’ve come a long way since.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com): You really burst onto the scene in 2008 in the DREAM lightweight grand prix. You knocked off Andre Amade, Joachim Hansen, and Tatsuya Kawajiri in succession but then the officials would not let you continue into the finals against Shinya Aoki because of a cut you sustained in the Kawajiri fight. How bad was the actual cut?
Eddie Alvarez: They didn’t stop it because of the cut. They would’ve let it go on if it was just a cut. My actual eyeball was swelling and it was starting to protrude out of my eye socket. They didn’t let me go on because of my eyeball, not actually the cut.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com): Did you agree with their decision to not let you continue fighting?
Eddie Alvarez: That night I didn’t. It cost me $100,000. There was a lot of money on the line and I could’ve used that money for my family. Looking back in retrospect, that’s why they have officials there because as fighters we don’t always make the right decisions for ourselves.
I’m very emotional and I worked real hard for that tournament. If they would have let me I could have went on and went blind. You need people who are actually thinking with their heads and not their emotions. Looking back I think their decision was a good decision.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com): You’re sitting there watching Hansen take the crown after you had already beaten him and were the only undefeated fighter at the end of the tournament? What’s going through your head watching it all unfold? Do you still feel like that title belongs to you?
Eddie Alvarez: I think everything happened for a reason. I don’t try to dwell on it too much. It’s in the past. I was sincerely happy for Joachim Hansen. He dealt with more adversity and wins and losses than all of us. He worked harder than anybody in the tournament and he put his time in so he got what he deserved.
The longer I’m in this sport the more I realize that it’s not about the wins and losses that makes you a good fighter. It’s about putting the time in and fighting the best guys possible and going after them. The outcome will take care of itself.
It’s about going in there and fighting with good spirit. Joachim deserved it that night. He dealt with his wins and losses and put his time in. He got the check. That was only I was mad about was that I didn’t end up with the money. Other than that I was happy with my performance and there was nothing I could have done anymore to change the outcome of that night.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com): You took on Shinya Aoki next under the K-1 banner and he was able to catch you with a heel hook in the first round. Do you feel like you made a mistake in that fight or did he simply catch you and you have to tip your cap to the guy?
Eddie Alvarez: I think I have to tip my cap to the guy. I was in the best shape of my life. I felt very ready and very prepared. I think I underestimated the whole leg lock submission. I didn’t respect it. I think the way to win that fight was to put him in my world and capitalize as soon as possible and end the fight.
And vice versa for him, he had to put me in his world and end the fight as soon as possible. He was the better man that night. He got me. That’s over with. Like I said I moved on and I’m anxious to continue.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com): Would you hesitate for a rematch with him?
Eddie Alvarez: I would love to. I actually have one more fight left in Japan and if it could be a rematch with Aoki that would be cool.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com): I understand Aoki tweaked your knee a bit. How bad did he hurt your knee with the submission? Did you tear anything? How long were you out?
Eddie Alvarez: He tore up my MCL and my LCL. He didn’t tear them completely. I just had to be out and rest and everything. I’m 100 percent now, but after that fight it was pretty bad. It was hard to walk.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com): After that you entered the Bellator lightweight tournament. Your second tournament in as many years. You must like the tournament format. Are there benefits to fighting in tournaments and why have you made them a big part of your career so far?
Eddie Alvarez: You get good very fast. You get back there in the gym and you’re constantly improving upon the things that you’ve learned. You’re able to compile a lot of money in a short amount of time, as long as you keep winning, and you always get to face top competition.
As you move on in the tournament and work your way up the competition only gets better. There’s no beating around the bush, no picking opponents, no bullshit. The two best guys get to fight each other and you rarely get to see that in regular fights. With the tournament structure it’s the best two guys. No bullshit.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com): You’re known for your standup first and foremost, but you have submitted both of your opponents in the tournament so far. Is your ground game evolving and what do you attribute that to?
Eddie Alvarez:My ground game has always been good I’ve just never really used it. People say I’m good at standup. I don’t even think I’m that great at standup. I just hit hard. I don’t think I’m super technical or anything like that. I got a couple knockouts. I think I just hit hard more than anything.
I have a very good ground game and very good wrestling. People just underestimate it. That’s it. I want to keep it like that. It’s been working for me the last couple fights so I’ve been fighting there. People are surprised I’ve taken them to the ground and finished them out. I’ll just keep them guessing.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com): You’re now facing Toby Imade in the finals. He’s won eight fights in a row and is coming off a pretty sick submission of Jorge Masvidal in the semifinals. First of all, what did you think of his inverted triangle? Have you ever seen anything like that?
Eddie Alvarez: No, I haven’t, it was cool as hell.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com): Have you been scouting Imade and what do you know about him? What are his weaknesses?
Eddie Alvarez: Yeah, I’ve been scouting him. Any fight I get I scout. I’m doing my homework and come June 19 I’ll be able to exploit his weaknesses. I’m not going to say what they are and what I know and what I’ve been studying because that would just be stupid of me. Come June 19, everyone will see.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com): You obviously have one more fight left under Bellator and you said one more over in Japan. What is going to be your mentality after you complete those two fights? Are you going to explore all your options at that point?
Eddie Alvarez: No, I’m very happy with Bellator. The thing with K-1 is that I signed with them a while ago and I just so happened to still have one fight left for a rainy day or if something happens.
Right now, my main concern is Bellator. I’m out here with Bellator and they’re treating me good. I want to continue to have success with Bellator and to have myself grow as a fighter along with the promotion.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com): The UFC houses a large group of some of the best lightweights in the world. To your knowledge, has Dana White or anyone from the UFC ever inquired about your services?
Eddie Alvarez: My services? (laughs) No one ever worded it like that before. I’ve never heard that.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com): (laughs) Well whatever you want to call it.
Eddie Alvarez: I believe my manager Monte Cox spoke with the UFC but the money wasn’t right. I don’t believe they could agree upon how much they were willing to pay. Not to say it’s never an option, that I’m never going to go to the UFC, but right now it wouldn’t make sense for me to do that. I’m happy with the people I work with at Bellator. I just assume stay here as long as me and Bellator keep each other happy.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com): If they were to contact you is the fact that they have no tournaments and have exclusive contracts two strikes against them already?
Eddie Alvarez: No, I’m cool with that. But me, it’s about fighting and doing what I do. I’m the type of person that puts my heart and soul into something and I want to be compensated correctly for it. I don’t want to dump my heart, my soul, my life into my occupation and then have my boss tell me “fuck you, we’re gonna tell you what we’re gonna do.”
I’d rather have some sort of say in what I do as well as be compensated correctly for my hard work. Right now that’s happening and I’m comfortable. I don’t worry about money and money problems and when my next fight is. That’s not a concern of mine.
As long as I’m not worrying about that I have to concentrate better on my fights and become a better fighter. The whole UFC thing is about security for me. I want to have that security that the money is going to be there and the money is going to be right for the hard work I put in.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com):You mentioned your desire to fight Aoki again earlier, are there any other guys out there in the UFC or Strikeforce or anywhere else that you’d like to test your skills up against?
Eddie Alvarez: No, not really. I told Monte (Cox) when I first got with him I wanted him to be my manager and I wanted him to give me a lot of fights and I want him to give me some of the toughest guys in the world and he’s done that.
Hopefully he continues to do that and gives me the amount of fights I want to use to gain experience and get up against some of the best guys in the world. That’s really my main concern. I’m not picking anyone out of the crowd and saying this and that.
Whoever anyone considers the best in the world, I want to fight them. That’s my mentality right now.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com): Is it safe to say that your goal is to now fight the best in the US and become a star here since you’ve already done so overseas in Japan?
Eddie Alvarez: I don’t care about being a star. If I can get paid and beat some of the best in the world I’m good with that. Not being able to leave my hotel room without getting mobbed isn’t a cool way of life for me. I’d like to keep that in Japan.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com): Well Eddie that’s all I had for you. Is there anything you’d like to pass along to your fans out there or any sponsors you would like to mention?
Eddie Alvarez: I just want to thank everyone for their support. Like I said I dump my heart and soul into this sport and I love it. I want to thank every one of those loyal fans that stick by me in my wins and losses. Believe me I’ll continue to train hard and try to improve as a fighter everyday as well as a person. Thank you to everyone out there who allows me to do this for a living and do what I do.
Derek Bolender (BleacherReport.com): Thanks again Eddie. We’ll do it again in the future. Best of luck to you.
Eddie Alvarez: Thanks man.
This article was originally featured on InsideFights.com, where Derek Bolender is a writer. He also has had his work featured on MMAmania.com, BloodyElbow.com, CBSSports.com, etc., in addition to Bleacher Report.