A series of injuries opened spots for Eddie Alvarez and Eduard Folayang back in the ONE Championship lightweight grand prix, and coach Ricardo Almeida promises a different “Underground King” in Manila.
The former UFC and Bellator lightweight champion made his ONE debut in March, losing a tournament quarterfinal bout to Timofey Nastyukhin via first-round knockout. Alvarez, who suffered a horrific injury during the contest, now faces Folayang on Friday morning for a spot in the lightweight final after Nastyukhin’s withdrawal.
“Being back in the grand prix motivated [Eddie] a lot,” Almeida told MMA Fighting. “Eddie doesn’t like to lose, but having the opportunity to get back in there and winning one more title, adding another belt to his collection is really motivating him. It’s going to be really cool.”
Alvarez signed with Bellator coming off a loss and went on to win the promotion’s 155-pound championship. Alvarez lost to Donald Cerrone when he joined the UFC in 2014, but bounced back to win the promotion’s gold less than two years later.
“Everyone who follows the sports for a long time remembers when all those PRIDE fighters went to the UFC and lost their first fights,” Almeida said. “The same thing happened with Marlon (Moraes) when he went from WSOF to the UFC and felt a difference in his first fight, when he fought Raphael (Assuncao) but didn’t perform that well and lost that decision in Rio.
“I think Eddie felt that a little bit, being in a different environment and fighting in Japan again, something he wasn’t used for the last few years. I see him better prepared this time.”
On the first losing skid of his professional career, “The Underground King” admits he feels different going into enemy territory for his second appearance under the ONE banner.
“I rarely come as a nemesis to a country. Usually, I’m the guy holding the belt,” Alvarez said at a recent press conference in Manila. “It’s unusual for me to be the bad guy, but I promise you if I’m the bad guy, I will not disappoint. I respect Eduard. I respect everything he’s done not just as a fighter, but also as a human being for his community. This is what this sport is all about. It’s beyond what goes on in the circle.
“In the movies, heroes always prevail. The nemesis loses, he goes home and everybody’s happy. Unfortunately, that’s not the story here. You picked the wrong guy at the wrong time. I love you Manila. I respect you Eduard. Let’s have some fun.”
“He’s fighting a Filipino in the Philippines, and this type of environment motivates Eddie,” Almeida said. “His last fight in Japan, it wasn’t so exciting. He was the favorite, but, you know, it was a bit too comfortable. Going there now to fight a super explosive fighter, a former two-time champion in ONE, and being back in the tournament, I think that motivates him. He’s in great shape for this fight.”
If victorious at ONE: Dawn of Heroes, Alvarez will advance to face Saygid Guseyn Arslanaliev (8-1) in the grand prix final. For “Cachorrao” Almeida, adding another MMA title to his resume would only solidify him as one of the all-time greats.
“His whole story is yet to be fully written. There are many more chapters to add,” Almeida said. “Winning this fight and then winning the title will be incredible. We focus too much in the UFC and forget that the sport is growing worldwide, that ONE is doing an excellent job growing the sport on the other side of the world. Eddie becoming the UFC champion and leaving to fight a Filipino in the Philippines at this stage of his career, with nothing left to prove, will be amazing. It only adds to his legacy, a remarkable career. No one ever did what he’s done.”