Born and raised in a poor community in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Flavio Alvaro was involved with drug dealers and became a criminal when he was a young kid.
He ended up in jail years later, forcing his mother to intervene. Geni Alvaro, Flavio’s mother, made him go to a martial arts gym and train. He needed to focus on something else and get away from the criminal life. It worked, and her son later became a vale-tudo fighter.
Alvaro fought in five different weight classes over his MMA career, from featherweight to light heavyweight. He even competed in a controversial underground vale-tudo tournament in Brazil called Rio Heroes. Six years after the death of the promotion, Alvaro still fights at the highest level in the Brazilian circuit.
"I won Rio Heroes title with a win over Udi Lima six years ago, and I left some of his blood on the belt to remember the beating I put on him," Alvaro told MMAFighting.com. "It was an easy win. Took him down and submitted in two minutes. I fought two other guys at that night, including a 30-minute war, but the tournament final was pretty easy."
Rio Heroes was an underground vale-tudo tournament, with no gloves and only a few rules, streamed live on the internet. Despite the criticism from the MMA community, Alvaro misses those days.
"I was a happy man at Rio Heroes despite the critics," he said. "Most of the fans know me because of those fights, and it didn’t bother me that people believe it was too violent because I know the reason why I was there.
"My mother and wife were happy, so I was happy. That’s the only thing that matters to me. I wasn’t there because I like to brawl or because I like blood. I needed the money to pay my bills, buy my mother’s medicine and give my family a house. The ones who criticize me never had to go through what I had to overcome.
"I’m very proud of what I am and what I have faced in my life. I was at the bottom, people used to look at me and say I’d never be more than a criminal, a thief, and now I live from my work and people look up at me. I’m not embarrassed of anything. I’d do everything again if I had to because that made me who I am."
At his 55th professional fight last September, Alvaro could barely focus on his bout with Sergio Soares. One week before the fight, his mother passed away in Sao Paulo and he almost quit fighting.
"I always fought to make her happy and proud," he said. "I first started to train because of her. She signed me up in a gym because she was trying to get me out of the crime. That fight was my way to say thank you and show how grateful I am for everything she has done for me. She saved my life."
With 45 professional victories, the 36-year-old veteran is not worried about signing with the UFC anymore.
"I have so much fun fighting in Brazil," Alvaro said. "It will be my sixth fight this year, and if I were in the UFC I would probably have fought only two or three times a year, and that would make me sad. I would probably make more money in the UFC, but my life isn’t about money. I work with MMA, and MMA is bigger than the UFC."
Eight years after his professional debut, Alvaro doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. In fact, he's scheduled to fight on March 15 at Xtreme Fighting Championship International 2 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Alvaro will headline the card in a lightweight bout with Adson Lira (37-10-2).
"If I feel motivated and happy, competing in the highest level and not being a punching bag for the new guys, I will keep fighting," he said. "I never get hurt, so I believe I can get to 100 professional fights under my belt. I want to be the best. When I don’t feel that anymore, I’ll be a sad man."