After agonizing journey, Eddie Alvarez finally reaches pinnacle as UFC champion

Kevin Iole
Eddie Alvarez celebrates after winning the UFC lightweight title on Thursday. (Getty)
Eddie Alvarez celebrates after winning the UFC lightweight title on Thursday. (Getty)

LAS VEGAS – Winning titles is nothing new to Eddie Alvarez. But succeeding – really succeeding, being able to provide for his family financially the way he wanted to – is quite new.

Alvarez won the UFC lightweight title Thursday with a first-round finish of Rafael dos Anjos at the MGM Grand, putting him atop one of the sport’s hottest divisions and sending him into a reflective mood.

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He won just about everywhere he went but rarely made much money. He said in one of his early bouts that he had to pay the promoter $250 for the right to fight.

He thought he’d found the road to riches when he signed an offer sheet with the UFC while he was in Bellator. Then-Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney said he’d matched the offer, but Alvarez contended he did not.

The case went to court and the costs piled up. The process was lengthy and the settlement he was forced to take galled him. It left him angry and embittered.

“I’ll be honest with you: I was put through the ringer,” Alvarez said. “We don’t make a ton of money fighting, especially if you’re not fighting in the UFC. I’d made some investments and I had to sell them, just so I could stay afloat when I was going through that court case.

“I was really dwindling down toward nothing. My mind was really getting bitter toward MMA. MMA asks everything of you, every inch of your soul. It wants everything, but sometimes it gives back nothing. It tells you when it wants to give back. Every day, I put my heart and soul into it. I called it the ‘B’ word sometimes. It’s tough and I dealt with a lot. But I’m a pretty positive guy and I kept my eye at the little light at the end of the tunnel.”

Even when he got to the UFC in 2014, things didn’t immediately turn around. He made his promotional debut against Donald Cerrone at UFC 178 and lost a hard-fought unanimous decision.

Eddie Alvarez punches Rafael Dos Anjos during their UFC Fight Night card. (Getty)
Eddie Alvarez punches Rafael Dos Anjos during their UFC Fight Night card. (Getty)

After the bout, UFC president Dana White suggested Alvarez was too small to compete with the UFC lightweights and ought to consider moving to featherweight.

Alvarez was defiant, and if ever there was one thing he believed deeply in, it was his talent and his ability to persevere.

A Philadelphia native, he was training in Florida before he got to the UFC and had to deal with the heartbreak of not seeing his youngest daughter, who, in his words, “was struggling” at the time.

He got to the UFC and felt he’d finally found the promised land, only to hear White suggest he was in the wrong division.

“That was a quick decision off of one fight,” Alvarez said. “I told [White] it wasn’t even a thought of mine. But at that time of my life, it wasn’t a good time. I’d just lost to Donald Cerrone and a lot of people were saying, ‘Oh, he’s just a Bellator guy who will never make it in the UFC.’ I had a baby daughter and she wasn’t doing too well at the time and I was living in a different state.

“So many things were going not well that I kept telling my wife, ‘Something big is going to happen. Something’s got to go really good for us because this is really bad right now.’ ”

Alvarez controlled the fight with dos Anjos, whom he called the best lightweight in the world, from start to finish. The beginning of the end came courtesy of a right hand that he called “the anaconda” that was taught to him by his coach, Mark Henry.

When he got dos Anjos in trouble, he swarmed, because he did not want to see a second round.

“This guy is a champion through and through,” Alvarez said, pointing toward dos Anjos. “And you can’t allow a guy to overcome that situation because if he did, he’d come back at me twice as hard in the second round.

“I just said to myself, ‘Step on the gas and don’t let this get out of the first round, because if it does, I could be in for a long night.’ ”

He finished it at 3:39 to claim the belt and put himself in position for some big paydays.

He was asked about fighting featherweight champion Conor McGregor and took the chance to throw some shade at the outspoken Irishman.

“I’ve been taking on the top guys in the division, so I might ask Dana White to please give me an easy fight against Conor McGregor,” Alvarez said. “I deserve that. I’ve been fighting the best guys, so I deserve a gimme fight. I would welcome that.”

After that performance against dos Anjos on Thursday, it seems that after more than a decade bouncing around the sport he loves, the good times are ready to roll for Alvarez.

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