Third time’s the charm for Thiago Alves.
The veteran fighter, who’s had two fights cancelled on short notice over the past five months, will finally return to the Octagon at Sunday night’s UFC Austin, taking on Octagon newcomer Curtis Millender, and Alves hopes to leave his troubled times behind him.
First, “Pitbull” pulled out of a UFC Pittsburgh fight with Mike Perry due to travel complications. Four months later, he was scheduled to meet Zak Cummings at UFC St. Louis, but his opponent suffered an injury at the eleventh hour.
“It wasn’t expected, but that’s life,” Alves told MMA Fighting. “Sometimes things happen the way you don’t expect and you have to adapt and make the best of it.”
Alves was paid a portion of his UFC St. Louis purse, “pretty much half of it,” which covered his training camp costs. The UFC offered then him a quick turnaround at UFC Austin against a promotional newcomer, and “Pitbull” didn’t think twice.
”He’s tough, a tall guy, and a champion in two organizations outside of the UFC,” Alves said. “He’s coming off five straight wins, with two good head kick knockouts in his last fights. There are a lot of talents outside the UFC and everybody wants to enter the UFC, and this kid is one of them. I’m ready to welcome him.”
After switching from Perry to Cummings and now to a former regional welterweight champion in Millender, the Brazilian expects a a stand-up battle at UFC Austin.
”I think he will try to trade with me because he’s a kickboxer and has a lot of knockouts, and you always try what you’re good at,” Alves said. “I think he will try to stand with me, but I’m ready for anything. I train with the best in the world and I’m ready to go to war. I’m ready to execute my plan and win.
”I think I’m better than him standing and on the ground,” he added. “He has a good reach, but he doesn’t know how to use that reach very well. I will take advantage of that and take the fight wherever I want. I’m sure I’ll finish him.”
Millender might be a good challenge, but his name value can’t be compared to Perry and Cummings.
”The thing about fame, being a popular fighter, I don’t control that,” Alves responded. “I can control how I’ll prepare for the challenge that is ahead of me. This kid knows me. It’s his debut, he’s coming off good wins, and I know I’ll face the best version of him. I’m ready to end his winning streak and show him that things are different in the UFC.”
Prior to his planned UFC St. Louis bout in January, “Pitbull” told MMA Fighting that his original plan was to win and call out the winner of Donald Cerrone vs. Yancy Medeiros, a welterweight bout that headlines UFC Austin.
”That’s the plan,” said Alves, who defeated Patrick Cote in his last UFC fight. “My focus is on defeating Curtis, beat him up, and fight the winner of the main event.
”Medeiros is on a roll, ‘Cowboy’ lost three in a row, so I think [Cerrone] wants to win this one badly,” he continued. “When you see a high-level fighter losing and losing, they will eventually bounce back and win. It’s a good chance for him now, but Medeiros is really tough. May the best man win, so I can fight the best and move one step closer to the belt.”
Alves plans on fighting four times in 2018, so he’s targeting a late May or early June window for his next bout after Sunday’s event.
The UFC’s return to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is scheduled for May 12, and that would be too soon for “Pitbull” — unless the promotion can make an offer Alves can’t refuse.
”If the offer is good and the opponent is good, maybe the winner of the main event, I’d definitely do it,” Alves said.