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Thiago Alves done with MMA, now chasing BKFC belt

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UFC 210 Media Day
Brazilian welterweight Thiago Alves racked up a 15-12 as a UFC fighter between 2005 and 2019.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Thiago Alves landed a deal with Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship after completing his UFC deal in Dec. 2019, and he likely won’t enter a cage ever again.

The one-time UFC welterweight title contender competed inside the octagon for almost 15 years, scoring big wins over the likes of Matt Hughes, Josh Koscheck, Karo Parisyan and Chris Lytle during his run toward then-champion Georges St-Pierre.

At age 36, “Pitbull” only sees MMA as a path to follow as a coach.

“I’m done with MMA,” Alves said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I’ll focus on bare-knuckle boxing for now, a promotion I think has grown a lot in the United States, so I can do the same thing I’ve done with MMA a while back, in the golden era. It’s time to join a promotion that just doesn’t stop growing.”

Alves makes his BKFC debut Friday night in Daytona Beach, Fla., headlining the card against short-notice replacement Julian Lane in an 180-pound catchweight bout.

Retirements often are only temporary in MMA, and “Pitbull” did say he will focus on bare-knuckle boxing “for now.” As to whether that leaves the door open for a possible MMA return in the future, Alves clarifies he’s “pretty much done for good.”

“I’ll only be in MMA as a coach now, helping other fighters at American Top Team,” Alves said. “I think bare-knuckle boxing is perfect for me now. I don’t have to worry about grappling, about kicks, about knees and elbows, so it’s a lot easier to train and easier for my body, too, especially since I’m a coach at ATT, so I have to be always ready and with the body fresh to do a good work. And also be a father, a husband, everything.

“I think I did what I had to do in MMA. The only think I couldn’t do was become champion, but I wasn’t the champion against the greatest fighter the UFC’s ever had in the division, so I’m thrilled with the career I had in MMA. Bare-knuckle boxing is my focus now, 100 percent. I want to be champion, and that’s a belt we don’t have yet (at ATT).”

Alves started his MMA career on the regional circuit in Brazil in the early 2000’s, back when fighters competed with bare hands, so it all feels “natural” for the veteran striker. And even though “Pitbull” had to wear gloves for most of his MMA career, he guarantees he had no trouble switching back.

“It’s different,” Alves said. “I’m working on making my fists and hands stronger, hitting the pad with no gloves on, and working with tiny gloves, because we have to adjust to the scenario we’ll experience in the fight. The distance is a bit different, for sure, but MMA gloves or no gloves, that doesn’t really make a difference. MMA gloves gives you more protection so you can punch a bit harder, but it’s going to be interesting.”

Alves was originally scheduled to face Phil Baroni at BKFC 12, but Julian Lane stepped in as a replacement. The Brazilian thinks “Nitrane” Lane is a tougher match-up since he has more experience in the BKFC ring with a 2-2 record in the company, compared to a 44-year-old “The New York Badass,” who lost by 79-second knockout to Chris Leben in his sole BKFC appearance.

“He has more experience, but he doesn’t have much experience in MMA,” Alves said of Lane. “A fight is a fight. I know this kid is going there to fight and I’m pretty much I’m the biggest name he’s ever fought in his life, so it’s going go be cool, it’s going to be interesting.”

Alves vs. Lane will be contested in five rounds of two minutes, which are “like a sprint” for someone that’s used to MMA’s five-minute rounds.

“As soon as (the referee) says go, let’s do it,” said Alves, who predicts Lane “will give up” by the third or fourth round. “He’s young, experienced, and loves to fight. Let’s see how much he loves to fight me.”