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Coming off longest layoff of career, Eddie Alvarez targets title fight after ONE’s U.S. TV debut

It’s been over four years since Eddie Alvarez has been able to officially call himself a champion. If things go as planned in his next fight, he expects to earn that title again soon.

Alvarez competes for the first time in 20 months when he takes on Iuri Lapicus at ONE Championship’s first-ever U.S. television broadcast, which takes place April 7 on TNT. It is the longest layoff of his 17-year career, a break that has given him time to recharge the batteries as he prepares to make another run to a belt. The 37-year-old previously has held championships in the UFC and Bellator.

In an interview on What the Heck, Alvarez explained how the longest layoff of his career has given him a fresh perspective ahead of his next big matchup.

“I’m on edge a little bit because I’m not used to having this much time off,” he said. “There’s pros and cons. I’ve been fighting 20 years, I’ve had promoters breathing down my neck for a fight for 20 years, so it’s not bad to have a year where someone isn’t, ‘Hey, you’re gonna fight this guy, you’re gonna fight that guy.’ The relief of pressure is good, kind of helps you miss it. Just gives you a chance to have gratitude toward it, that you’re lucky to get the fight. Sometimes you can grow bitter in this dangerous sport and start to look at a lot of bad things, because there’s a lot of bad things involved. It makes you miss it. It makes you understand you’re lucky to compete at a high level. The time off is always a blessing.

“This is the third time in my career where I had a stint over a year where I had to sit and sit at ease and be patient. I always come back rejuvenated, stronger, with a stronger mind and a better outlook on fighting.”

2020 was actually the first calendar year in Alvarez’s career in which he did not compete, in no small part due to ONE’s schedule being thrown into disarray by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he has had year-plus layoffs in his career, including the gap from Oct. 12, 2012 to Nov. 2, 2013, that reinforces his point about benefiting from breaks.

Alvarez knocked out Patricky Freire at Bellator 76, then returned to action 13 months later to win a split decision against Michael Chandler that made him Bellator lightweight champ, avenged a loss, and also served as his last Bellator appearance before he jumped over to the UFC.

Those kinds of ups-and-downs are nothing new for Alvarez, who has accepted that he’s on a lifelong roller-coaster when it comes to fighting.

“The last 20 years have been a culmination of that,” he said when asked about rediscovering his love for the game. “I remember being undefeated, 10-0, thinking that I don’t want to fight anymore. The pressures of the sport can get to someone, it can get to anyone. It can get to the guy who’s undefeated, smashing everyone. It can get to the guy who’s on a two-, three-fight skid streak. So understanding that it’s kind of all mind-made and sometimes you need to step outside of yourself or just not compete for a little bit and rejuvenate, that’s sort of the thing. Just being aware of why you’re feeling what you’re feeling.

“I used to think I’m feeling this way, it’s not normal, I should want to fight. But it’s completely normal. This sport’s f*cking dangerous. It’s nothing to mess with. Three years ago I realized I was at peace for a little bit and then I realized I was scared for the past 13 years. I didn’t realize until I felt peace that I was actually scared for about 13 years. It’s super highly emotional and it’s normal to want to quit. It’s normal, completely normal. I’ve wanted to step outside and I’m like, ‘What are you doing, man? This is part of who you are.’ It’s a normal feeling. It doesn’t mean you have to follow through with it.”

For all of Alvarez’s renewed enthusiasm, it won’t mean much if he doesn’t win on April 7. He has fought twice for ONE since joining the promotion in 2019, first losing by first-round TKO to Timofey Nastyukhin and then bouncing back with a first-round submission of Eduard Folayang. Now, he takes on one of ONE’s top lightweights in Lapicus, who brings a 14-1 record to their matchup.

Lapicus’s most recent fight was for the lightweight belt, and though he fell short, Alvarez still sees the talented Moldovan as the challenge that will make him the No. 1 contender to face the winner of an upcoming title fight between champion Christian Lee and Nastyukhin.

“[Lapicus] was undefeated,” Alvarez said. “He’s a hell of a fighter. Judo background, he trains with one of the best strikers in the world, Giorgio Petrosyan, who I’ve looked up to my whole career. He’s in a great camp and he has all the chops to become a champion eventually. Right now, I have blinders on and I have history to make and he’s in my way. He’s on my way to my title shot, which I feel with a big win over him, a big, impressive win over him I should be able to get a title shot and then move on to make history.”

Alvarez isn’t overlooking Lapicus, but added that it’s rare these days that a particular opponent gives him extra motivation; rather, it’s the potential for another championship opportunity and the importance of ONE debuting on TNT that has him excited.

“When I signed with ONE, this is what we discussed,” Alvarez said. “It’s everything I envisioned. I wanted to go to Asia and compete for my fans there, they’re kind of who got me started and got me well known back in the DREAM tournament. So I wanted to compete for them, but the endgame was always to come to the United States.

“This is the beginning step. Primetime television on TNT. To kind of give the fans a taste of what ONE Championship is about, what the production’s like, and the fighters, and I think once they kind of dip their toes in and understand the promotion and the level of athletes that are going to fight, I think everyone will be all in here in the United States.”

To prepare for Lapicus, Alvarez has been training with a wide range of talents, from UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman – the two have often worked together since meeting in Florida in 2014 – and up-and-comers like fellow Philadelphia native Sean Brady. He believes it’s just as important to train with fellow vets as it is to draw energy from the next generation or stars.

It’s been 20 months since Alvarez was last seen in the ring, but he wants fans to know that they can expect his familiar fighting style when he makes that walk again.

“It’s always high pace,” he said. “We keep it as violent as possible. Nobody on an Eddie Alvarez fight is gonna go grab popcorn. From minute one to the end of the bell, I’m out there to execute, to eliminate my opponent and to move on to the next one. It’s no different.

“I’m not the most violent man in this sport for no reason. There’s a reason for it. So tune in, it’s TNT and it’s April 7, and we’re gonna make a splash here in America.”

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