After the War He Promised with Justin Gaethje, Eddie Alvarez Is Unequalled

Matthew Ryder@@matthewjryderFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2017

7DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 02: Eddie Alvarez (R) battles  Justin Gaethje (L) during UFC 218 at Little Ceasars Arena on December 2, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Always forward.

Thud. Thud, thud, thud.

Forward.

Thud. Thud, thud.

Forward again.

Thud.

A crowd screams.

Chaos, in one form, ongoing for the past 15 minutes or less, is over. Chaos, in the form of an exhausted, back-flipping celebration and an arena full of screaming and shocked and awed fans, is also just being unleashed.

That's been the rhythm of a Justin Gaethje fight 18 times before UFC 218. The UFC's most violent man—a title he lusted after for years and earned in the eyes of most after precisely one UFC fight—has engaged in combat one more time as only he can.

Only this time, on his 19th try and against his stiffest competition ever, former UFC and Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, the grim end he long knew was coming finally came.

Alvarez was too wily a veteran, too steadfast in his resolve and too rugged in his physicality to be broken by MMA's foremost breaker of men. He stopped Gaethje in the cage and stopped his swelling momentum outside of it.

For the first time since Gaethje has been a fighter, the rhythm of one of his fights was upset. The shock and awe was because he finally couldn't do it, whatever the hell type of stomach-churning bedlam "it" had come to be when assessing one of his bouts.

And Alvarez did it by out-Gaethje-ing Gaethje.

Always forward.

Thud. Thud, thud, thud.

Wild hooks in the clinch.

Thud. Thud, thud.

Ripping hooks to the body.

Thud.

A monumental knee to finish it off and send Gaethje reeling to the canvas for the first time in his career.

Turns out the UFC's most violent man was actually Alvarez all along; he simply needed his crack at Gaethje to prove it.

And yet for all the savagery the two men provided to one another, and the sheer viciousness and gameness Alvarez displayed in his win, there was an element of polish in him that showed surprising development for a man of his experience.

Some 35 fights into his career and with nearly as many years walking this planet, it was a different Underground King who dispatched Gaethje. He was still fearless and still matched his man everywhere it mattered, but he was a bit slicker.

Great head movement.

More patience, even in spite of the wild pace and the expectations the entire sport had for the fight.

A commitment to tactics that might well have been the difference in his having a hand raised to the lights instead of having his toes pointing up at them.

If the Alvarez who was one of the best lightweights alive heading into UFC 218 was scary, the one who left the event is positively terrifying. He's all the best things he's always been and all the newest things someone needs to be to outlast a living demon the likes of Gaethje.

He can fight for 15 minutes, end up looking like a crippled Popeye and still leave victorious. He's the old line "you think this is bad, you should see the other guy" come to life.

After his UFC debut in July—a memorable, probable Fight of the Year against Michael Johnson that looked quite a bit like the Alvarez fight, save for the outcome—Gaethje stood in the center of the octagon and boldly asked where his equal might be.

At the time, it was hard to imagine the answer.

Now we know it to be Alvarez, it's hard to imagine who'll equal him.

     

Follow me on Twitter @matthewjryder!

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