' plane touched down in Oakland, Calif., and he exhaled. After a championship match loss, after two fight postponements, after brain surgery and 13 months of inactivity, the worst stretch of his young career was supposed to have been over. Yet Alves was unknowingly walking into another trying period, this one partly of his own doing.
In the next few days, the 26-year-old would fail to make weight for his No. 1 contenders match with Jon Fitch
, lose a decision in the UFC 117
bout, and then hear the disappointment of his boss, UFC president Dana White
And now, after it all, he's tasked with the uphill climb of starting over.
"After all the bull--- I've been through, I've finally had some time to breathe," he told MMA Fighting after a recent workout. "I had a chance to look back at the situation. I know I have things to correct. I'm not done yet. I needed to go through those things to reveal myself as a stronger person. I won't let them bring me down."
A half-pound mistake was the source of many of his problems. For non-title fights in the welterweight division, fighters get a one-pound allowance, making 171 pounds the limit. He says that just prior to weighing in, he checked his weight on a scale and was at 171, but when he got to the official California state athletic commission scale, it registered him at 171.5 pounds.
At that point, according to Alves, he was prepared to cut the remaining weight. He says a sauna suit was on the way to him until he was told he had another option. A commission official informed him that he could either lose the remaining half-pound or accept a fine that would penalize him 20 percent of his purse.
His contracted salary was $60,000, meaning he'd forfeit $12,000 for the half-pound, but at the time, he saw it as a fair tradeoff.
"It was just a half-pound, so I'm sure my body could have flushed it out," he said. "But I didn't want to. I just wanted to concentrate on the fight. It was just easier for me to give up the money. Yes, we fight for money, but you also fight to win, and at the time, I was thinking I didn't want to cut the weight. I was just focused on getting ready to fight. When you're cutting weight and dehydrated, you don't always think right. In the future, that won't happen again. It can't happen again."
Alves says now that the weight cut did not affect him in the loss to Fitch; instead it was cage rust. Since losing to Georges St. Pierre it had been 13 months. His timing had to suffer. In addition, he found his mind racing as the opening bell sounded.
"I've been in that situation before, but I was just off being in the octagon again," he said. "I was wondering a lot, thinking a lot. Usually I don't think when I'm in there, I just let it go on auto-pilot and do what I'm supposed to do. In that fight, I was guessing a lot, I was thinking a lot and I didn't perform the way I should.
"In two years, I fought Georges St. Pierre and Jon Fitch," he continued. "I had an eight-month break before fighting St. Pierre, then I had a 13-month break and fought Fitch. They controlled the fights, they won. It kills me because I know I can do better than that. I have all the potential to win those fights. But it wasn't my time, and I wasn't ready."
Losing wasn't Alves' only headache though. Afterward, White practically issued a decree that Alves move up a weight class.
"He looked lethargic tonight, he looked slow," White said afterward. "He doesn't belong at 170. He belongs at 185 pounds. I feel that way. I know [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva feels that way. That's where I'd like to see him, at 185."
It was a request Alves barely considered.
While Alves told MMA Fighting that he feels he does have the power to compete at middleweight, he believes that at 5-foot-9, he would be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to size and reach. Most of the UFC's top middleweights, including champ Anderson Silva (6-foot-2), Chael Sonnen (6-foot-1), and Nate Marquardt (6-foot-1), are over six feet tall.
All Alves had to do was convince White it was the right move. Given his past, that was no guarantee. In 2006, he'd tested positive for a weight-cutting diuretic. In 2008, hampered by a bad ankle, he'd missed weight badly, checking in at 174 for a bout with Matt Hughes. Realizing he needed to take a drastic step, he and manager Malki Kawa hired Mike Dolce
, a fighter and nutrionist who famously took Quinton "Rampage" Jackson from 251 to 205
in eight weeks prior to his UFC 114 fight.
Dana said, 'You've got to make weight, otherwise we've got to move you to 185,'" Alves said. "I told him, 'Just please give me another chance. I won't mess up again.' I didn't make excuses. I told him I thought I was there but I wasn't. I took full responsibility. It's not my coach or my camp, it's me. I just asked for another chance, and he said OK. But I know this is my last chance."
Still considered by most to be one of the world's elite welterweights despite the back-to-back losses, Alves now hopes for a November return. But he's not dwelling on the past mistakes; he's turning the page.
"I'm just glad this nightmare is over and I just want to fight again," he said. "Whoever they put in front of me, I'm happy to fight. I appreciate the support I've gotten. When things like this happen, you see people's true colors. I don't care about the people who've turned their backs on me. I just focus on the ones who appreciate me. That's what's important to me and I won't let them down. I'm going to take this thing to the next level. I'm going to make it happen. I know what I've been through and I see things clearly now. Nothing's holding me back."