It's going to take quite a bit of punishment to wipe the smile off Sam Alvey's face.
"Smile 'N' Sam," as he's known back home in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, worked the local scene back home before deciding to expand his horizons and head out west to train at Dan Henderson's Team Quest in Temecula, California.
He may not be the most powerful striker or the best submission specialist, but his heart and determination cannot be questioned. Alvey holds a 15-2 record in MMA and his last victory, a split decision over veteran French judo fighter Karl Amoussou, proved everything one needs to know about him.
Despite breaking a rib early in the first round and suffering a horrible cut that caused him to lose a lot of blood, he dug deep and found a way to win the final two rounds and earn an invitation to the Bellator season five middleweight tournament.
The rising promotion isn't doing Alvey any favors, pitting him against Vitor Vianna, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu coach at Wanderlei Silva's gym and one of the tournament favorites, in the first round at Bellator 50. But the Wisconsin native wouldn't have it any other way.
Alvey spoke with MMAmania.com about his humorous origins in the sport, his decision to head out west and how he plans to pull off the upset tonight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about how you got into this tournament. There was some hype behind Karl Amoussou and you just gutted through one of the nastiest cuts, some injuries and you came out on top. Can you talk about that desire, the determination you had to come back and win that fight?
Sam Alvey: Sure. Like you said, I was busted up. In the first two minutes of that fight I broke a rib and shortly after that he got on top of me and I couldn't move like I wanted to and he opened up some cuts on me. Honestly, I didn't realize I was bleeding until there was only about 10 seconds left in the round. When I got back on top I saw there was blood everywhere. In my head I was thinking, "I don't remember hitting him, where's he bleeding from?" (laughs) It wasn't until I saw a lot more blood until I was like, "Oh, it must be me."
From there, I just got back to my corner and I didn't tell anyone that my rib was hurting because I didn't want anyone to know. The blood thing, the cutman patched me up like it's his job and I couldn't have done it without him making the bleeding stop.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That was such a gritty performance and I think you gained a lot of fans who were tuning into Bellator that didn't know you very well coming into that fight like myself. I just love the fact that you've got that smile on your face non-stop. That's gotta be where that nickname came from right?
Sam Alvey: Yeah, that's where the nickname came from. I just love doing this. It's an honor and pleasure to wake up every morning and get hit in the face. (laughs) It's a dream come true.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I noticed you started out in the Wisconsin area and then you branched out and went to Team Quest. Can you talk about making that transition from the local area and making the move out to the West Coast?
Sam Alvey: Absolutely. I started in Manitowoc, Wisconsin and my instructor was Paul Metz out of Metz Combat Club and I had a really good career there. I fought in two different weight classes and I took Wisconsin as far as I could. My partner decided that I needed to go somewhere that had more people my size and more people like Dan Henderson, someone that will always be that goal to strive to be. We looked at our options and Team Quest just seemed to match perfectly. They have a really big middleweight division at their gym and just a ton of talent. We looked and we talked to Heath Sims and the next day I packed up my bags and headed west.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Who's been really pushing you the most since you've been down there? Who's been your primary sparring partners?
Sam Alvey: One of my primary sparring partners, there's two of them, especially for this fight. There's J.T. Money, Jesse Taylor and there's Virgil Zwicker. Jesse's fought in every organization out there and Virgil's a rising star in Strikeforce.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're fighting Vitor Vianna, a guy with ton of hype behind him. He's on a lot of "must watch" prospect lists. He's the Brazilian jiu-jitsu coach at Wanderlei Silva's gym. Does it excite you to be going in there against what many consider the tournament favorite in the first round?
Sam Alvey: I'm thrilled with it. I love the match-up. As good as his jiu-jitsu is, I know his striking is there also and I've got that wrestling behind me. I'm very good on the ground. I may not be as skilled in the submission arts as him but I love getting on top of people and and getting punched and throwing punches. I think between his jiu-jitsu and my wrestling, this could very easily turn into a striking battle. I think this could be a fight of the year and at least fight of the night for sure.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've talked about the pace of the fight and how pushing the pace is something you really need to do to win. Can you talk about your conditioning and what you really need to do to be able to beat him?
Sam Alvey: I work with probably the greatest conditioning coaches in the country at Dynamic Fitness. They push me constantly and both of them have degrees in kinesiology and they've got a lot of extra letters behind their names. (laughs) They tell me what to do, when to do it and how to do it. I have complete confidence that no matter how fast or how hard the fight is, I will be the better conditioned fighter.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've read that you actually got started in MMA because of a mutual love for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back in the day.
Sam Alvey: Me and a friend of mine, we're still buddies. We started off with ninja turtles. We'd go out and have fake fights with broom sticks and those broom sticks eventually broke so we went to a karate place to get the real sticks. From there, I started taking the actual weaponry. Shortly after the actual weaponry, I started doing Pankration because tournaments were being held at my weaponry tournaments and after I did really well in Pankration, I jumped into the cage for some real MMA. It all started with Donatello and his bow staff.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This tournament field, it's loaded with some very tough middleweights. It seems like every guy in this field is either a submission master or a knockout artist and it all builds up to Hector Lombard at the end. Is it intimidating knowing that you've got this guy that's just a dominating force at the end of the tunnel, like that's your reward?
Sam Alvey: Yeah, I was thinking into talking to some of these middleweights and teaming up against Hector. (laughs) You know what's scary about him? His record is 30-2 and you could probably watch all 32 of his fights and it would take about seven minutes. He's just got incredibly fast hands, he knows what he's doing on the ground and he's just about as strong of a middleweight as you can find and he's got that personality that makes you not want to fight him. He scares everybody before they ever get into the cage with him. I think that's one of his best attributes is that people beat themselves before they ever step in the cage.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This Bellator tournament format expects you to be able to fight three times in three months. Can you talk about how your fight history has helped you prepare for something like that?
Sam Alvey: Well my record is 15-2 and in the last year, 2010, I fought 11 times so that should be a big help. Eight of them were MMA and three of them were kickboxing but it was still every month I was ready to go. The tournament format really plays to my favor because I'm used to fighting a lot. I'm bored when I'm not fighting every month.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How do you visualizing your hand getting raised against Vitor Vianna?
Sam Alvey: I would love to get in there, take him down, get on top of him real early and really push the pace with me on top and get that TKO in the first round. I think it would be a huge achievement to beat someone of his caliber on the ground.
Sam would like to thank Dynamic Fitness, Lakewood Torches Casino and It's All Good Bar & Grill.
So what do you think Maniacs? Alvey signifies that typical hard-working American trying to overcome great obstacles. Will he still be smiling after his fight with Vitor Vianna tonight?
Be sure to check out these other interviews from our Bellator middleweight introductory series:
More information on Alvey: