The UFC is widely regarded as the elite level of mixed martial arts and a place where the best fighters in the world square off to determine supremacy.
It's the top organization in the sport and the place Eddie Alvarez has been aiming to land for more than a year. That said, a sticky contract situation with his previous employer served to drown those hopes for the foreseeable future. At least it appeared that way, until a wild swing of events on Tuesday landed the Philadelphia native exactly where he wanted to be as the newest addition to the UFC lightweight division.
Where the previous regime at Bellator fought tooth and nail to keep Alvarez in the fold, the new order headed by former Strikeforce owner Scott Coker saw it best to part ways with the two-time Bellator lightweight champion. In addition to his release, Coker also decided to waive any matching period that may have existed in Alvarez's contract, and he was free to test the waters of the open market.
It didn't take long before Alvarez inked both his official contract with the UFC and his first bout agreement, as the Team Blackzilians fighter will mix it up with hard-charging lightweight Donald Cerrone at UFC 178 on Sept. 27.
The pairing between Cerrone and Alvarez has been hovering in rumor mills for weeks and had fans clamoring for it to become a reality, but those fires began to cool when the organization announced "Cowboy" would be facing surging upstart Bobby Green on the Las Vegas card in September.
Yet MMA is an unpredictable game by its very nature, and in a whirlwind deal Alvarez officially signed on with the UFC and replaced Green in the slot opposite of Cerrone. Now, one of the most anticipated bouts of the year is official, and Alvarez's long-awaited promotional debut has a date set on the calendar.
"Everything with the UFC happens real fast and I couldn't be more excited," Alvarez told Bleacher Report. "I'm talking 0 to 100. This is exactly what I wanted. I don't think things could have been done any better to be honest with you. I think this is a fight for the fans, and that's what matters the most in this whole game. When they leave with smiles, the fighters get treated well.
"This is a fan-friendly fight with two guys who have two of the highest finishing ratios in the sport. Neither of us ever want to go to a decision. These are the guys I want to be fighting. I want to be in there with guys who are looking to hit home runs, not looking to eke out a decision."
Alvarez has been eager to jump into UFC waters, and he's certainly coming in at the deep end of the pool with Cerrone. The Albuquerque representative has won his past four outings, with each of those victories coming by way of highlight-reel—and sometimes brutal—finishes.
The 31-year-old Jackson's/Winkeljohn-trained fighter has been storming his way up the 155-pound ladder en route to a potential title opportunity, and those are precisely the circumstances Alvarez wants on the line for his Octagon debut.
"I love this matchup," Alvarez said. "I think Donald is all offensive. He's a well of offense and he fights at a slower pace than most guys. He's methodical and uses his setups, but I think I will do very well. I see some things I can use to my advantage, and I see a lot of holes defensively that I can expose. And I'm going to do just that. I'm going to get in there and get after him.
"I would like to say it's going to be the same me, but I don't think it is. I always rise to the occasion when the weight is on my shoulders. When the guy in front of me is nice and dangerous and people think the world of him; I always do well in those situations. I always do better than what people expect from me. That's what I'm looking to do. I'm expecting my nerves will lead me and will push me to become something greater than what I normally am."
While a high-profile tilt against a divisional staple like Cerrone is a great place to start, Alvarez isn't coming to the UFC just to be another contender in a competitive division.
The 30-year-old Pennsylvania native has competed in multiple promotions throughout his career and obtained championship gold on nearly every stage he's competed on. Alvarez sees the UFC lightweight strap as the most prominent prize in the sport, and he's gunning to add another championship to his resume.
"I've been champion in nearly every promotion I've ever fought for," Alvarez said. "And I didn't waste my time doing it. As a lightweight, I've beaten every lightweight I've fought. I've lost to two guys, but then turned around and avenged those losses. I think I'm No. 1 in the world, and I think the world of myself. I want the guy in front of me to prove me wrong. Until someone does, then I'm going to continue to feel the same way I do right now."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.