DETROIT, Mich. — Eddie Alvarez is lucky to have people around him who care about his health and safety.
But that doesn’t mean he has to listen to any of them.
The former UFC lightweight champion has vowed to throw caution to the wind when he battles knockout artist Justin Gaethje at UFC 218 on Saturday at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Mich. Though that decision may seem unwise to anyone familiar with Gaethje’s history of violence, Alvarez is determined to just let loose this time around.
“I’m advised on every angle from every friend I’ve ever had to not do what I’m about to do. But I asked them all if I could take creative control of this camp and just allow me to be myself and fight instinctually,” Alvarez told MMA Fighting at a media gathering on Wednesday. “I think we try to complicate fighting and make it something analytical, put a science behind it. This is fist fighting, man. At some point I did lose my way, I became analytical, I tried to think my way through a fight rather than feel my way through it and just have a good time inside the cage. So I’m trying to forget everything I know and go in there and just trust my instincts.”
Alvarez’s last two fights have been unsatisfying for him. In May, a promising duel between himself and Dustin Poirier ended in a no contest when Poirier was felled by what was ruled to be an accidental illegal knee on the part of Alvarez. Prior to that, Alvarez was knocked out by Conor McGregor last November, a loss that cost him the UFC lightweight belt.
Since making his UFC debut in September 2014, Alvarez’s tenure with the promotion has largely been viewed as uneven outside of the stunning first-round finish of Rafael dos Anjos that put gold around his waist. Sandwiched around that career highlight were the Poirier and McGregor fights, and three consecutive decisions — two of which Alvarez won, both by split call — that left fans wondering where the freewheeling Alvarez of yore had gone. Twenty-one of Alvarez’s first 24 wins came by way of knockout or submission.
During a recent appearance on The MMA Hour, Alvarez made the bold declaration that Saturday’s fight with Gaethje will determine who is the most violent man in the UFC, and he doubled down on that talk Wednesday, even when asked if regaining a divisional championship was still a priority for him.
“I created my own title,” said Alvarez. “This Saturday, the title of the most violent man in the UFC. The only title that matters. The only singular title that matters right now in the UFC. Who’s the most violent? We’re going to find it out on Saturday.”
It’s clear that public perception beyond how he performs in the cage are not a factor for Alvarez, and that mindset carried over into his approach to coaching on the most recent season of The Ultimate Fighter. Opposite Gaethje, Alvarez mentored a team of women’s flyweights on TUF 26 including eventual finalist Sijara Eubanks — who has since been removed from the finale after suffering complications during her weight cut.
Alvarez wasn’t going to put on a persona just because he was on a reality TV show.
“For me, I didn’t want to be disingenuous,” said Alvarez. “I just wanted to be my honest self, so however I came across, that was me. So take it or leave it. I think they did a good job just showing the fans who I am.
“I wasn’t nervous about whatever, more than anything what I wanted to come through the camera was how passionate I am about this sport and how much I love it, and I think that came across and I was completely invested. That wasn’t bullsh*t or something I didn’t care about, I sincerely cared about doing a good job as a coach.”