LAS VEGAS -- Eddie Alvarez can't quite say when, but at some point between the two years of lawsuits, courtrooms, bitter public disputes and, worst of all, professional limbo, there arrived a moment where he questioned whether it would all be worth it. Stories teach us that the good guy always wins out in the end, but how long could he be expected to fight the good fight while precious years of his athletic prime melted away, collecting in deep, corrosive pools around his seat on the sidelines.
"I did lose sight, but patience is the key word," says Alvarez, whose two-year struggle culminated in a dream match-up against Donald Cerrone at UFC 178. "I think that's what it taught me in general, is that although things are going your way at the time you want them too, eventually, if you just stay the course and fight, eventually they'll turn around. Eventually you'll get your opportunity.
"I'm completely at ease. Completely just in the moment right now, man. I've felt like, for years, I've wanted to be here. This is what I wanted and now it's all here. This wasn't an overnight thing. It was a gradual thing, so it's easy for me to take it all in and enjoy the moment."
If Octagon jitters are real, and at this point they seem to be, they're rarely associated with fighters like Alvarez, a two-time Bellator champion who's conquered nearly every promotion he's laid eyes on. Alvarez is an action fighter through and through, a non-stop force of violence and aggression who's long been thought of as the most talented lightweight outside of the UFC banner.
In Cerrone, Alvarez meets a kindred spirit of sorts. A top-tier lightweight in his own right, "Cowboy" subscribes to Alvarez's notions of all offense, all the time. His fights are regularly short and brutal, with Cerrone getting nearly as good as he's giving. More often than not they end with destructive flourish, a cocksure grin, a tip of the hat, then promises to guzzle down a few Budweisers and party long into the night.
Cerrone personifies the devil-may-care lifestyle in a way that few do, but his motives are always upfront: he here's to make money, any titles are just ancillary results of the chase. By contrast, Alvarez is driven by the need to vindicate the one statement he's always told himself but never had the opportunity to prove, and he sees through the veneer of the man who stands in his way.
"I think [Cerrone] is a little past a mediocre Muay Thai fighter, with a good mind of MMA," says Alvarez. "Stripping everything else away, the cowboy hat and everything else, the fans thinking that he's God -- it's unbelievable what they think of this guy -- my own assessment of him, my real assessment as a fighter, I understand what he's good at, I understand what he's weak at, and I'm going to go in the cage, I'm going to move, I'm going to find my openings, and I'm going to do something special."
Oh yes, those fans. As a pugilist lesser known to the UFC faithful, Alvarez has felt the wrath of Cerrone's beer-guzzling, fight-five-times-a-year cult of personality more than he expected in the lead-up to this fight.
"They only go for what they're comfortable with, they never look outside the box," Alvarez laughs. "They don't look at a guy like me and then go look at my fights and go, ‘oh, this is a good style match-up, actually.' They go, ‘Donald Cerrone is very popular! Donald Cerrone is the guy with the cowboy music and s--t!' They just love him, and they assume I ain't got a shot in the world.
"It makes me laugh, it makes me smile. It's actually good for me because the odds are playing in my favor. I've never had this good of odds going into a fight. Ever. I've never had this good of odds, and it probably will happen again. So if you like money, you like to make money, you should probably do it now."
At the time of this writing, the betting odds for Alvarez and Cerrone were both locked in at -115. A true pick-em in any sense of the phrase, those numbers represent Vegas-speak for, ‘we have no friggin' clue who's going to win, but damn if it ain't going to be fun.' And on a card stacked top-to-bottom with compelling storylines, but lacking one true showpiece attraction, Alvarez has no doubts which fight fans will be raving about walking away from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in the bleary hours Saturday night.
"When I fight guys who are really dangerous, when I fight on a big stage and there's a lot of eyes on me, I step up," Alvarez says. "I always have in the past. I always step up. I don't know if it's my inner show-off, or what it is, but I step up and I step up in a big way. I move in ways that I don't even know I'm capable of, and that never goes good for my opponents. Man, I'm looking forward to feeling that."