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Thiago Alves expects ‘some difference’ in UFC Moscow opponent Alexey Kunchenko’s performance under USADA

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UFC 210 Media Day
Thiago Alves welcomes Russian Alexey Kunchenko to the UFC in Moscow.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The Octagon will arrive in Russia for the first time Saturday night UFC Moscow, and longtime veteran Thiago Alves expects local fighters to experience some differences in the cage.

Alexey Kunchenko has beaten some tough competition throughout his career in Russia, racking up an 18-0 record and becoming the M-1 Global welterweight champion, and “Pitbull” recognizes his talent. However, the Brazilian doesn’t think he has faced anyone at his level just yet.

The fact that the Russian talent built his perfect record outside the USADA anti-doping control also makes Alves wonder if his performances will be the same under the UFC banner.

“Honestly, the level of fighters he’s used to fighting is different than the level of fighters I’m used to fighting in the UFC,” Alves told MMA Fighting. “That doesn’t mean he’s good or bad. I’m sure he will be well prepared and everyone is putting a lot of pressure over him in Russia.

“He’s a knockout artist, so am I, but he was a knockout artist in a completely different promotion. He’s part of USADA now, right? When you’re outside of USADA and come to USADA, it’s a bit different, won’t have those vitamins you’re used to taking, right? Let’s see how he reacts.”

Asked if he thought Kunchenko was on “vitamins” before joining the UFC in 2018, Alves says he expects “some difference” in his performance.

“Man, if you’re not part of USADA you will take advantage of the MMA world,” Alves said. “That’s the reality. USADA has cleaned the UFC, but I still think some people can still slip through the holes, but outside the UFC I have no doubt it’s a completely different world. It’s a war. It is what it is. Let’s see how he… I’m not counting on him being completely different, I’m expecting him to be a monster. I don’t think it will make much difference, but I think it will make some difference.”

Entering his 24th fight since joining the UFC in 2005 and visiting Russia for the first time in his life, “Pitbull” had a different mindset compared to his previous bouts in the United States as he faces a Russian in Russia.

“Everybody knows that in Russia you’re not only fighting your opponent, but the judges, the promotion, the entire country,” Alves said. “That’s the mindset we had throughout the whole camp. I’m ready for a war. I didn’t prepare to go the distance because anything can happen in MMA, especially in Russia. But Russia is trying to change their image, so I hope everything is okay, but I’m prepared to knock him out or submit him, I don’t leave it in the judges’ hands.”

Alves admits he had no idea who Kunchenko was when the bout was offered to him by the UFC. “Wolverine”, 18-0 with 13 knockout wins, has successfully defended the M-1 belt four times before signing with the UFC this year.

“He’s the M-1 champion, and if you’re 18-0, you’re good,” Alves said. “I’m sure he’s freaking good, I watched his fights and he’s tough, but I’m excited to fight someone with the same age and height. It’s been a while since that happened. I’ll go straight forward and let my game flow. I can unleash all my weapons against someone with my height.”

The experienced Brazilian, who has also worked as a head coach for other fighters at American Top Team, enters this fight coming off a brutal knockout defeat to Curtis Millender in February. Dealing with his dog’s death and two fight cancellations, which led to him facing Millender on short notice, affected his preparation for his previous fight, he says.

Leaving this camp to Conan Silveira and Katel Kubis after “trying to make the best out of a f**ked up situation,” Alves promises to “take everything” Kunchenko has at UFC Moscow.

“I’m in the UFC for 13 years and I’m happy with my career,” Alves said. “I have nothing to prove, but I’m excited. I love fighting, I love a fist fight. I’ve been doing this since I was 14 years old. It’s just another day for me. I’m sure I still have a lot left in me, and I will show that. On September 15, I will move forward and there will be blood. There will be blood all over the place, and it won’t be my blood.”

With 23 UFC fights under his belt, having fought some of the best welterweights of all times in Georges St-Pierre, Matt Hughes, Carlos Condit, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch and Karo Parisyan, “Pitbull” won’t slow down.

”It’s a combination of me trying to be my best,” Alves said when asked what motivates him to fight after two decades in martial arts. “I’m an animal, a savage. It’s the desire of feeling free. Inside the Octagon is the only place I feel like a free animal, where I can express all my violence and unleash my game and do what I know, do what a free animal has to do.

“This is my motivation. My motivation is to be the best I can be. My son still is too young, but he will know my history of determination. As long as I’m still breathing in there, it’s all about biting the mouthpiece and fighting hard. There’s no other way to live this life.”