As one of the top-ranked fighters on the planet not employed by Zuffa, Eddie Alvarez keeps himself grounded by surrounding himself with champions.
The Bellator lightweight star trains regularly alongside Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 155-pound titleholder Frankie Edgar, as well as Bellator bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky at his hometown gym, The Philadelphia Fight Factory.
Alvarez currently sits atop the lightweight division in Bellator, having won the promotion's inaugural title with three consecutive submission stoppages in 2009. Currently ranked the number four 155-pound fighter in the world, he defended his title for the first time with a dominant five round decision against Pat Curran this past April.
And he's ready for the next challenger in Xtreme Couture fighter and former Division I All-American Wrestler Michael Chandler.
Alvarez will fight to retain his belt this Saturday night (Nov. 19, 2011) at Bellator 58 in Hollywood, Florida. The Philadelphia, Pa., native was recently a guest on Bloody Elbow Radio where he spoke with myself and Matt Bishop about recovering from injury, what he expects from the Chandler challenge and reaching his potential as a fighter.
And more. Check out our interview with Alvarez after the jump:
Matt Bishop: I know you're coming off an injury so how has training been into this fight?
Eddie Alvarez: Training's excellent, man. Unfortunately, I had to postpone. I lost myself a lot of money in the postponement because the original time and place was at Atlantic City a month earlier and it would have meant a lot more money and revenue for myself but I had to do the smart thing and the better long term thing for my career and we're here now and looking back in retrospect, it was something that needed to be done. I'm happy I'm here. I'm injury free and I'm ready to fight.
Matt Bishop: How did that decision process go for you? Did you have people around you advising you either way or did it just come down to what you felt was the right decision for you?
Eddie Alvarez: It definitely wasn't my decision. I'm a fighter first and I do everything I can to fight and I've been in situations in my career where, especially during the Dream tournament where I was very badly injured and if you would have gave the decision to me, I would have fought. I would have dealt with anything after the Kawajiri fight and begged them to let me go fight and the doctors told me, "No," and everyone who knew about the injury advised against me fighting and when I look back, it was the better decision.
I could have went blind then and in this case, I could have set myself back a ton not only if I took a loss due to the injury but just the injury itself could have got worse. It wasn't a good thing and I talked to the people around me. Ricardo Almeida really helped me through it, speaking with him and his experiences. My wife helped me through it, just the people that sincerely care about me and what I do, I listened to their opinion and what they thought and they definitely helped me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You didn't reveal the nature of your injury which is completely understandable but you have mentioned that it was caused by going a little too hard, too soon in your training. Did you have to take a step back, slow down a little bit? What precautions did you take in this last six weeks or so to make sure that you came in fully healthy?
Eddie Alvarez: Sometimes, you overdo it. I spent the last three and a half months convincing myself that Mike Chandler actually has a shot at beating me and I sincerely convince myself every training camp that whoever fights me, they have a shot, they have a sincere shot of beating me and dominating me and that sort of is what drives me every training camp to push as hard as I do. It was a lot of that, pushing myself, waking up early, going to bed late and just pushing a little too hard and I ended up injuring myself. It happens but I learned from it and I learned how to pull through it and hopefully it don't happen again.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): We had Michael Chandler on the show last Thursday and he said that he doesn't think you'll be able to stop his takedowns. How big of a concern is his wrestling coming into this fight?
Eddie Alvarez: It's a concern and it's something we addressed coming into my camp. It's great that he's coming into the fight with that sort of confidence. I don't want to defend my belt against a guy who's not so sure of his ability. Everybody sees themselves fit to be unstoppable and you don't know until you get in there. Usually when you're that confident and you get in there and you realize, "Damn, these things that I thought were gonna work aren't really working," that's when they usually change their tune, change their attitude and everything goes south from there. That's what we're planning on doing to him at a very early stage in the fight. Everything going south for him and him realizing that he's a lot less dominant than he thinks he is.
Matt Bishop: Eddie, did you have a chance to really watch him? How much of the lightweight tournament did you have a chance to watch in terms of scouting your other opponents and what did you think of Chandler's performance in those three fights?
Eddie Alvarez: Mike, he reminded me of myself early in my career. He seemed like the better athlete, the better conditioned, the more responsible, more accountable fighter in that he's been training serious and everything like that. He reminded me a lot of myself. He's very used to dominating and very used to being in dominant position but he's yet to be in a fight. He hasn't been in a real fight. He doesn't know what MMA is. He don't know what a fight is. To deal with some serious adversity and have to bounce back.
I was young and I thought I knew what fighting was about when I was beating guys up and knocking guys out left and right but it wasn't until someone put me in a fight and put me in positions that were very unfamiliar to me that I learned how to fight. That's sort of my goal on Saturday, to make this a true fight and the people tuning in will see that. We'll see how it goes with that.
Matt Bishop: Can you talk about Philadelphia Fight Factory, which is really becoming one of the best unheralded gyms out there right now. Also. what fighters do you pattern yourself after, do you take anything out of a certain fighter's styles?
Eddie Alvarez: Yeah, I just watch fights in general. I'm a big fight fan and I try to pick stuff up from each person. I kinda am developing. I feel like every day I'm developing my own style. I don't try to emulate anyone but Fight Factory as far as up and coming gyms, we can make a case, I'm a world champion, we've got Zach Makovsky, he's a world champion. Sam Orepeza, he's inactive now but he's doing really well and we've got a lot of up and coming guys who are unknown but anybody who comes into Fight Factory on any given Saturday knows real fast that there's some high level guys.
They're unknown but they're very high level guys whether it's boxing, wrestling or jiu-jitsu. It's always a really highly competitive atmosphere at the Fight Factory and we have people that come in just to get ready for their training and with me and Frankie Edgar sort of forming an alliance, that's helped us grow stronger because Frankie's coming in. We have guys, Lyman Good came in a couple times. More and more people are starting to come in and recognize the name and when we have outside guys come in, we end up getting different looks and we start improving as a team.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): There's already rumors before this fight with Michael Chandler about you taking on Shinya Aoki in February. Is that a bit of a distraction at all?
Eddie Alvarez: Nah. I haven't even thought about it. I don't even know. As far as I'm concerned, it's not even, I hear that he's signed and it's whatever but as far as I'm concerned, it's not even real. I have one goal in mind and I've only had one goal in mind for the past four months and that's Mike Chandler and I feel, I really feel like in these last four months, I've grown leaps and bounds from what I was as a fighter in every aspect of the game and to me, the outcome of this fight means shit. I've gotten so, so much better as a fighter in general. Nobody can take that away from me and I feel like that's really, really gonna show come Saturday and I'm just psyched to get out there and let it out.
Matt Bishop: You mentioned this improvement your making and you just turned 27 years old. Do you feel like you haven't even come close to hitting your peak as a fighter yet?
Eddie Alvarez: I haven't. I haven't because I haven't, how can I say this, I haven't dove into the single aspects of the sport as I wanted to and I did that this camp. I haven't dove into the single aspects of wrestling. I haven't dove into the single aspects of jiu-jitsu and when you start doing that and training them literally and then taking them and knowing that, "Man, I can use this sort of wrestling to set up these punches," or, "I can use these punches to set up this sort of wrestling," or, "I can use this jiu-jitsu move to create a scramble," that's when you start really opening your eyes up. For this fight, of course I'm fighting a wrestler and I got to really dive in and understand the mentality of a wrestler and how they fight and what they want to do and what they're gameplans are and it just opened up my eyes big time. Me, myself, have become better at each aspect and I'm just really happy with the gains that I've made.
Matt Bishop: This is a question submitted from our listeners. One person wants to know, as a great fighter, is it difficult for you to know when not to fight in other situations in life?
Eddie Alvarez: Well I'm married and I have three kids so I'm a big believer in picking and choosing your battles. For the most part, I'm pretty passive aggressive. When I was younger, I thought I had to prove a lot to everyone around me, even to random people who didn't matter and these days, I feel like there isn't a situation that comes up that can't be resolved not through anger or fighting but just by simply figuring it out and taking your time and looking at yourself and saying, "What can I do to make this situation better?" rather than pointing fingers all around and telling everyone they're doing things wrong. I don't feel like, as a person in every day life, jeeze, I'm not a fighter at all. I'm always trying to put out fires and resolve situations. It's only a couple times, maybe three-four times a year that I have to actually get in there and let my aggression out.
Matt Bishop: Another listener question. When is your brother Albert going to make his pro debut and what does he look like as a fighter?
Eddie Alvarez: Albert has another amateur match coming up on December 3rd. The name of the promotion doesn't come to my head but I spoke with Albert a while back and he didn't want to necessarily fight MMA because he thought, "Well everyone's gonna judge me, say I'm doing it because you're my older brother," and I kinda told him, "Even if you do MMA and you become world champion, people are still gonna talk shit. They're still gonna say things so you might as well do what's in your heart and do what you want to do regardless of what anybody thinks," so he's doing it. He's 3-0 as an amateur. He scored an eight second knockout in his second fight. He has all the tools. He has the genetics. He has everything it takes to be a fighter. He's a good listener and he's gonna do well. He's on the right path.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This question is from Ben Thapa and it's something he's always wanted to ask you. Going back to your Japan days, what was going through your mind during the Kikuno crucifix and after you got out? That was one of his favorite Japanese MMA moments of all time.
Eddie Alvarez: The crucifix, sincerely, I didn't feel when I was in it that I was in danger. I put my thumbs up to the ref, I told him I was fine. I just didn't really feel like I'm in a wrestling move here. I'm not gonna tap to this and so it wasn't until after he let me go when I went to take a step that I realized my legs weren't under me and that's when I got a little bit panicked and I actually turned around and I ran (laughs) because I didn't want him to catch up with me so soon when I was not ready for him but to be honest with you, when I was in it, I was thinking, "Ok, this'll pass," sort of like if someone has you in a head lock. You know you're not in a submission but you just kinda stay still and wait for them to waste their energy.
That's sort of the mentality I was thinking. When I stepped out of it, i realized my legs were a little wobbly and I knew there was a fight ahead of me. I ran, he caught up with and thank God when he caught up with me I caught him with a good shot. That kinda backed him off a little bit and gave me enough time to recover but yeah, that was a stick situation. I've never been in that before so I've got to add that one to the adversity bank and move on.
Matt Bishop: You mentioned you've been looking only at Michael Chandler for four months now. The fight is finally gonna be here on Saturday. What do you see happening when you and Michael Chandler step into the cage on Saturday on MTV2?
Eddie Alvarez: As much as Mike trained and I know he trained with the guys at Xtreme Couture, I have a ton of respect for them guys and they're a great camp and everything but they haven't been crazy successful lately. If you guy's have seen, Gray didn't beat Frankie, my teammate and Jay Hieron took an "L" and they just seem to be losing left and right so we want to keep that streak going. I don't feel like they have a guy in their camp that is gonna be able to mimic my speed, mimic my footwork and the things I'm able to do in there so I don't see anything other than being completely dominant. I don't know if Mike will be able to keep up with the way I move and how fast I move. Look for some lightning quick movement and in all honesty, this should not go the distance. It should end early and it should end fast.
You can follow Alvarez on twitter @EdAlvarezFight and you can check out his website AlvarezMMA.com.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
How big of a threat is Michael Chandler to "The Silent Assassin's" Bellator lightweight title? Do you agree with Alvarez that he's too quick and too skilled for his opponent?