Remember that kid you heard about sometimes when you were out on the playground? He went to another school and was 10 times tougher than the toughest guy at your school; if he ever showed up for some elementary school fisticuffs you could rest assured you'd be dead and so would everyone else who dared to cross him.
Ah, the pleasures of youth.
Well on a bigger scale, that's basically what MMA is: A place where every one of those tougher guys from tougher schools all happened to meet at the same playground. They got bigger and stronger, they accented natural athletic talents with technical mastery and now they get paid to try to bully other rough customers.
For the most part, there's only one place where any of that bullying or matured schoolyard ruggedness gets attention, and that's the UFC. The biggest and baddest are there, and if you're not, then most people assume you don't meet one of those descriptors.
Except Eddie Alvarez.
Alvarez has been a Bellator mainstay for years, a multi-time lightweight champion in the promotion and a guy most had pegged to be an immediate impact player in the UFC should he ever get there.
He's that kid you heard about, all grown up. He just never managed to find the playground where all the other tough kids were.
Only now he has, and at UFC 178 he'll meet his first test in Donald Cerrone. Cerrone is a wakeboarding, ass-kicking lunatic who happens to have won four straight fights and taken performance bonuses in each outing.
The wind is at his back, and he's upwardly mobile in the division, riding his penchant for caged anarchy to dizzying fan support and verbose praise from his boss.
Now, seemingly out of nowhere, he's Alvarez's problem. By signing with the UFC for a relatively short-notice bout with Cerrone, Alvarez may as well have been demanding a meeting by the flagpole at three o'clock.
He has his chance to prove what he's all about, and they don't get much better than Cerrone when he's on. It makes one wonder what, should he be unsuccessful, a loss might do to Alvarez.
He's had years of underground hype and a pair of legendary battles with Michael Chandler, but are those enough to overcome stumbling out of the gate on the big show? Cerrone is nasty, but the Alvarez legacy is founded on beating nasty guys up for money.
That doesn't lend itself to sympathy from fans should he fail to do that at UFC 178.
It's a tough spot to be in for Alvarez, who's being tested off the hop as few often are when they join the UFC. He's got all the tools to be great, maybe even contend for the title, but he'll do himself no favors by becoming a victim of Cerrone's.
That's why they're out on the playground, though. That kid you heard about is coming to the yard, and you're fixing to see just how much of him was talk and just how much of him was for real.
That's been interesting since grade school, and this time is no different.