The Greatest 155-Pounder in MMA History Isn't Who You Think He Is

Matthew Ryder@@matthewjryderFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2017

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 02:  Eddie Alvarez celebrates after defeating Justin Gaethje in their lightweight bout during the UFC 218 event inside Little Caesars Arena on December 02, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

The title of "Most Violent Man" in the UFC has been settled.

UFC 218 saw to that.

In a memorable lightweight brawl last Saturday, Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje did their part to stake claim to the title. After nearly 15 minutes of blood spilled and guts displayed, it was Alvarez who landed a crushing finishing blow.

The Most Violent Man in the UFC, he unofficially was.

What was perhaps less evident in that moment, in the sultry afterglow that only rocket-fuelled violence can often provide, was that Alvarez has just earned another title for himself: the greatest 155-pounder in MMA history.

The one they've long called The Underground King was underground no more, on the top of the heap among his contemporaries in MMA's deepest class.

A 14-year pro career has revealed things about Alvarez that MMA commoners can only dream of. He opened with 10 straight wins across nearly four years, then five more wins in the following year. By 15-1 he was Mixed Fight Championship welterweight champion and had already moved on to Japan to begin conquering the world at lightweight.

After losing to Shinya Aoki back when that was nothing to be ashamed of, Alvarez jumped to Bellator—where he would truly make his name with the North American audience—and went on a seven-fight win streak.

He stopped former UFC stalwarts Josh Neer and Roger Huerta not long after becoming Bellator lightweight champion by winning the promotion's Season 1 tournament. As one of the most respected athletes not fighting in the UFC, he defended his title against Michael Chandler.

That loss did nothing to diminish that respect, as he wildly slugged it out with Chandler for four rounds before finally succumbing to a rear-naked choke in what many felt was the 2011 Fight of the Year.

His response to the loss?

Avenging the loss to Aoki with a TKO, stopping Patricky Freire with a first-round head kick, then beating Chandler in another sadistic slugfest that many picked as the Fight of the Year in 2013.

After losing his UFC debut to Donald Cerrone at UFC 178, Alvarez proceeded to go on one of the greatest runs in lightweight history. He beat former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez, former WEC champion Anthony Pettis and then-UFC champion Rafael Dos Anjos in succession, reaching the apex of his sport and setting himself up for a fight with Conor McGregor.

Though he lost to McGregor, the rub from the Irish star surely helped Alvarez as a sellable face for the UFC. His willingness to talk a little trash and engage in back-and-forth banter with McGregor allowed people to see his personality, and the pay cheque he received as being part of the promotion's first foray into New York City would be life-changing for anyone.

But Alvarez remained true to what got him there.

Before it was called off due to an illegal knee, his fight with Dustin Poirier at UFC 211 in May was shaping up to be the type of pandemonium the sport has come to expect when Alvarez makes the walk.

His win over Gaethje—another success over an unbeaten champion of a rival organization—was all that and more: a blend of the excitement that has made Alvarez an unmissable viewing commitment and the evolution of a fighter who still has some new tricks up his sleeve.

Now the sport sits in an eerie calm after UFC 218, waiting for the next fight or the next fighter to shake it to its core.

So in that calm, consider this: No one has done the things Alvarez has done.

He's beaten former or current lightweight champions in no fewer than six different organizations and has fought from Jersey to Japan to Cleveland to Canada to Dallas to Detroit. In 35 fights, only five men have beaten him and only six have survived to hear the final bell when he's won.

At his best, who could honestly claim to be better? Benson Henderson? BJ Penn? Takanori Gomi?

Perhaps. But Alvarez has a resume to match any of them, and has shown time and again that his skill level matches up with anyone in the sport.

He proved it with certainty in his latest performance.

Most violent man in the UFC?

Hard to argue that.

Best 155er to ever do it?

Even harder.

      

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