Photo via UFC.com
If scientists were somehow able to mate a Brazilian Muay Thai expert with an M60 battle tank, the Frankenstein-like creation would surely resemble Thiago Alves.
He made his UFC debut in late 2005 but it wasn't until a year later that he really began to gain steam in the welterweight division. En route to a title shot against Georges St. Pierre at UFC 100, the Braziian rattled off seven straight wins, five of them coming within the distance and in quick, brutal fashion.
One such win was against Hall of Famer and former long-time 170-pound kingpin Matt Hughes. It was a fight that signified a changing of guards from the early modern era of mixed martial arts (MMA) that Hughes represented to today's fighters who train full-time with excellent partners at world class facilities.
Once seen as the future of the welterweight division, "The Pitbull" has fallen on hard times as of late, losing three of his last four. At UFC 138, he aims to get back on track towards a second title shot when he takes on Octagon debutee Papy Abedi.
Before he does, we'll take a look at one of the biggest wins of his career, the UFC 85 headliner against Hughes. Alves rocketed himself to the upper echelon on the 170-pound division with that knockout, a position he eagerly hopes to return to.
Without further adieu...
After losing his first two professional fights in his native Brazil, Alves went on a tear, losing only once in his next nine bouts. It was enough to catch the UFC's eye and at Ultimate Fight Night 2, he -- along with opponent Spencer Fisher -- made his debut inside the Octagon.
Fisher would emerge victorious that night but it wasn't long before "The Pitbull" found himself back in the win column. Two quick stoppages at UFC 56 and 59 thrilled fans and added an element of stand-up intrigue in a division that had long been dominated by wrestlers.
The Brazilian then ran into a brick wall in the shape of Jon Fitch, earning himself the distinction of being the only fighter the American Kickboxing Academy product has finished inside the Octagon by strikes. Having split his first four UFC bouts, "The Pitbull" knew these kind of performances wouldn't get him any closer to the top of the mountain.
Beginning at the impromptu Ortiz vs. Shamrock 3 event, the Brazilian made it clear that no fighter would stand in his way. In the next 18 months, five fighters -- including Chris Lytle and Karo Parisyan -- would fall victim to Alves' newfound focus.
The streak put him on the right track towards a title shot. Unexpectedly, a litany of injuries and fight cancellations for UFC 85 led the Dana White and company to ask Matt Hughes and Alves to step in one short notice to headline the overseas card. Both agreed knowing that a win could propel either one of them into contention.
Full speed ahead.
Alves takes the center of the Octagon with Hughes circling the perimeter. The former champion shoots in half a minute in but is stuffed by the Brazilian. A second takedown is also stuffed and Alves is able to throw a knee to the chest as they clinch.
Hughes keeps his opponent close and muscles him to the cage but "The Pitbull" is able to drop the American onto his back, landing some nice ground and pound before getting back to his feet. The strikes have already opened Hughes up.
The Brazilian slips a hook and nearly cracks his opponent across the jaw with a counter. He does, however, connect with a another devastating knee to the body before Hughes wraps up the leg and drops Alves to the mat. Stuck in his opponent's half-guard, Hughes elbows the ribs and thighs in an effort to pass to side mount.
Alves struggles to get his velcro-like opponent off of him but this isn't the former champ's first rodeo. On top of his opponent, landing elbows and punches has long been the country boy's bread and butter. But with half a minute remaining, the Brazilian is able to get back to his feet albeit being pressed up against the cage.
Attached to his opponent's right leg, Hughes swings Alves around for a takedown but the young welterweight is able to keep his balance and use the momentum to escape the attempt. Hughes dives back in for a double but in an impressive showing of strength, Alves whips his opponent over and onto his back. In the closing seconds of the opening round, "The Pitbull" is able to land a handful of good punches while in his opponent's guard.
The second round starts and almost immediately Hughes throws the same looping hook that Alves was able to slip in the first. And once again, the Brazilian counters forcing the former champion to shoot in. In the blink of an eye, "The Pitbull" rockets a knee towards his opponent's skull that not only rocks him but busts him open as well.
The American abandons the takedown attempt and falls onto his back and it seems like Alves can sense the end is nigh. He dives in, throwing punch after punch, bloodying up his opponent even more. Hughes is able to scramble and gets back to his knees, trying to reverse position on "The Pitbull."
Alves is having none of that and squirms his legs out of the attempt and then sidesteps a second, more desperate, attempt. The Brazilian backs up, allowing Hughes to get back to his feet. Once he does, the Muay Thai tank soars through the air and connects with flying knee flush on the Hall of Famer's chin.
The blow forces the American to the mat and the weight of Alves dropping down on him torques his knee in a completely unnatural fashion. A follow-up punch forces the referee to stop the bout.
Alves all but got on his knees for a title shot -- although he probably should have since it had worked in the past for "GSP" -- following the win and asked UFC head honcho Dana White for a bout against "Rush."
A combination of Alves' failure to make weight and the eagerness to pull the trigger on a St. Pierre/B.J. Penn superfight led to "The Pitbull" being booked opposite Diego Sanchez at UFC 90. "The Nightmare" dropped out due to injury and fellow The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) alum Josh Koscheck took his place.
Alves made weight and beat "Kos," all but securing an opportunity to vie for the title. He came up short against the French-Canadian at UFC's centennial event and hasn't been able to find his rhythm since.
Does "The Pitbull" have it in him to claw back towards the top of the welterweight ladder? Or has his time in sun passed?
What do you think, Maniacs?