Ultimate MMA Journeyman Eddie Alvarez Relishing His Next Chapter with ONE

Jeremy Botter@jeremybotterMMA Senior WriterMarch 28, 2019

FILE - In this May 13, 2017, file photo, Eddie Alvarez competes at UFC 211 in Dallas.  Alvarez is a coach on UFC's long-running reality series,
Gregory Payan/Associated Press

Eddie Alvarez swears he doesn't have a wandering eye. In fact, he says he doesn't mind sticking around a place for awhile.

Your skepticism is understandable. After all, Alvarez is about to debut for his 11th promotion in a career that stretches over 15 years and six countries.

His initial attempts to sign with the UFC involved an emotional, expensive and ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit, followed by a return to Bellator to finish out a contract he wanted no part of. He finally signed with the UFC and became the lightweight champion in his fourth fight, silencing those who said he was merely a good fighter who couldn't compete with the elite.

After years of traveling the globe in search of a good fight, it seemed like Alvarez had finally found a home.

And then he was gone.

Alvarez signed with ONE Championship and will make his debut Sunday against Timofey Nastyukhin on B/R Live. He's one of the more high-profile free agents to depart the UFC in recent years.

Alvarez lost to Dustin Poirier in the final fight of his UFC contract, but the promotion still wanted to keep him. It made what Alvarez tells Bleacher Report was "a generous offer...for the UFC," a deal that would place him among the upper-echelon earners in the company.   

But it wasn't enough. Alvarez wanted a larger slice of the pie.

"I've always been under the impression that UFC fighters are severely underpaid," Alvarez says. "There's a lot of money being made by the executives, and it's not being shared. The fighters aren't being paid enough. I've always felt that way. They made a generous offer compared to other UFC fighters. I would have been one of the higher-paid UFC fighters. But there's still a lot more money out there to be earned. I wasn't willing to settle."

CALGARY, AB - JULY 28:  (L-R) Eddie Alvarez lands a spinning back fist against Dustin Poirier in their lightweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Scotiabank Saddledome on July 28, 2018 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LL
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Alvarez is the kind of fighter the UFC normally covets. He is a top-level fighter with a passionate fanbase, and he can't help but have exciting fights. With a new television deal having launched on ESPN in January, the UFC needed fighters like that. However, the company wasn't willing to match or beat the terms ONE offered.

"If you're the biggest show in town, you gotta be writing the biggest checks in town," Alvarez says.

The money wasn't the only thing that appealed to Alvarez. He'd fought in Japan before, in the now-defunct DREAM promotion, and he appreciated the way fighting in Asia was viewed as a sport rather than the strange mixture of sport and entertainment that defines the MMA industry in the United States. He hated the promotional aspects that were required during the lead-up to a UFC fight, hated being urged to say things about his opponents to build interest in his bouts.

"The UFC wants to be compared to other sports like baseball or basketball, but when it comes to us, we're not treated like athletes," Alvarez says. "We're treated like fighters. So being with ONE has been great. I feel like an athlete."

He knew from his days in DREAM that he'd be able to focus solely on fighting.

"They don't want any of that stuff," he says. "It's a different culture. It's a different fan. The fan here just wants to see good technical martial arts."

CALGARY, AB - JULY 26:  Eddie Alvarez interacts with the media during the UFC Fight Night Ultimate Media Day event at Hyatt Regency Calgary on July 26, 2018 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Alvarez has a crowd-pleasing style that translates across all fighting cultures. If you had to distill it into something pure, it can best be described as "kill or be killed." Yes, it's a worn-out cliche, but it's true for Alvarez. Even when he intends to go into the cage and fight smarter or take less damage, that goes out the window once the first strike is thrown.

These days, he doesn't even pretend something different will happen. He is who he is—a gritty fighter from Philadelphia who is either going to hurt or be hurt—and he's comfortable with it.

"I'm okay with swinging for the home run and missing," he says. "It's just a part of my character. It's who I am. I tried to run from it and tried to be less risky, but I can't run from it. I love to play the game. I love the high stakes."

He's also aware his style comes with more than just the risk of being knocked out or losing a fight. There are consequences he may not feel until long after his fighting days are done. He doesn't need a scientific study to tell him that repeatedly getting punched in the head might lead to problems down the line.

When he makes his ONE debut Sunday in the opening round of the lightweight grand prix, and he'll do the exact same thing he's always done. It's who he is, and it's too late to change.

He pauses slightly when asked if he ever worries about the toll he's exacting on his future self.

"Yeah," he says. "But I just can't allow myself to think about that stuff. I married this sport when I was 19 years old. I committed to it. I said my vows. I'm fully committed. I'm not going to start thinking about all the terrible things that could go wrong.

"I'm aware of the bad things that are involved with it. But I'm also aware of the good. And I think the good outweighs the bad.

"I've chosen a life that I love, and I feel like it does way more good for me than bad."