Violent Muay Thai bruiser, Thiago Alves, is set to scrap with "Natural Born Killer," Carlos Condit, this Saturday (May 30, 2015) at UFC Fight Night 67 inside Goiania Arena in Goiania, Brazil.
Despite being just 31 years old, Alves has been a mixed martial arts (MMA) professional for 14 years. The former Welterweight title challenger has struggled for consistency lately, as injuries have piled up and kept him from fighting very often.
Alves hopes to turn that around this weekend, looking to win his second fight of 2015.
More than that, Alves is looking to re-establish himself as a contender. His current win streak includes a knockout of one of the best strikers in the division, and if he can continue to build momentum at the expense of the former interim champ, it will likely get Alves back into the Top 10.
Let's take a closer look at the Brazilian's dynamic skill set:
Once described as a "Muay Thai Wrecking Ball," Alves is actually a much more patient striker in this stage of his career. Still, his trademark aggression still exists, it just appears in small bursts.
Such as when Alves charged a wounded Jordan Mein and nearly took his head off with a knee.
Despite his change in demeanor, Alves' style still has many of the same signatures as the 2010 version of "Pitbull." Hopefully, it will help him avoid some of the poor decisions that have plagued him in the past, such as diving neck first into Martin Kampmann's guillotine despite being well ahead on the scorecards.
The nastiest part of Alves' game is undoubtedly his vicious kicks. The Brazilian may not have the longest reach, but he makes the most of it by being truly devastating with each kick he lands. For a recent example, Mein was largely having his way with Alves, but a single body kick sent him crumbling to the mat.
Of course, the most infamous weapon in Alves' arsenal is the low kick. Alves is capable of chopping his opponent down easily, as just a few clean low kicks can severely limit his opponent's movement. Since they're so devastating, Alves is often able to build off leg kick early on, as his opponent is forced to react to both the strike and the feint.
It's important to mention that Alves sets the kick up in a number of ways. The most common way Alves lands the strike is by getting his foe's attention up high with his left hand. Usually, Alves will slap his opponent with a left hook before driving his shin through the thigh, but he'll occasionally blind him with a jab as well.
That's pretty classic Muay Thai.
In addition, Alves will allow his opponent to push forward in order to land low kicks. As his foe tries to move forward with punches, Alves will move out of boxing range and slam home an inside or outside low kick. Thanks to Alves' stopping power, few fighters will be able to simply walk through the strike.
Finally, Alves likes to counter his opponent's kicks with his low kick. He often does this by parrying his opponent's kick and then landing a counter when the leg returns to its original position. Alternatively, if his opponent goes to the body or head, Alves can kick at the base leg while he blocks.
Alves is an effective boxer with nice head movement. He largely relies on his left hook and cross, as his hands largely just threaten and leave his opponent vulnerable to low kicks. Since Alves packs some heat in both punches, they're a credible threat and definitely open up his foe's lower body.
It's worth mentioning that Alves really likes to counter with his left hook. That's been a part of his arsenal for some time, but he's begun to rely on it just a bit more often recently.
Alves utilizes off-beat punches very well, which are strikes that immediately follow a kick. Since most fighters end their combinations with kicks -- which is not a bad technique in any way -- few fighters expect a follow up. After landing his low kick, Alves will continue coming forward with his punches. Not only can the kick take his opponent out of position to defend, but the punches can easily catch his opponent off-guard.
"Pitbull" is also incredibly dangerous with his knee attacks. While he's always capable of suddenly exploding into a flying or step knee, Alves usually looks to end his combinations with knee attacks. If his opponent looks to snuff out Alves' punches with a clinch or takedown attempt, he'll commonly reach out, secure the double-collar tie, and shoot up a knee. Plus, Alves will take the initiative by clinching off one of his own punches and then attacking with the knee.
For a few years, Alves was known as the best defensive wrestler in welterweight division. While George St. Pierre, Jon Fitch, and Rick Story dispelled that notion quite a bit, Alves is still a remarkably talented wrestler.
Alves rarely shoots for takedowns. When he does, it's usually in retaliation for his opponent's attempts to force a grappling exchange. That's not a bad tactic, as it keeps his opponent honest and is another reason for him to avoid reckless shots and continuous chain wrestling.
Since Alves does not look to initiate takedowns, most of his takedowns come from the clinch his opponent forced. From this position, Alves is powerful with body lock takedowns. On occasion, he'll change levels and look to drive through his foe with a double leg.
A large part of Alves' takedown defense is pure athleticism. The Brazilian welterweight may be a bit short for the division, but he's also extremely powerful. If his hips don't simply repel the takedown, he's usually able to bounce back to the fence and defend from there.
In addition, Alves' ability to maintain distance in the striking is very helpful. He may step to his opponent with punches, but those are dangerous shots, meaning the most common reaction is for his opponent to back away. That leaves his foe vulnerable to kicks and keeps Alves safe from takedowns.
Finally, Alves is very quick to scramble back to his feet. He wall-walks masterfully and is rarely taken down in the center of the Octagon, meaning he's always in good position to work back up.
Thus far, the three men who really utilized their wrestling to defeat Alves did it in rather different ways. "GSP" simply did his usual; keep his opponent so off-balance that they couldn't possible defend his masterfully timed and executed shots. Similarly, Fitch kept to his M.O. as well, as the grinder stuck tight to Alves and chained his takedowns together until Alves stopped really trying.
The most interesting -- and painful -- approach belongs to "The Horror" Story. Story didn't actually have a ton of success taking and keeping Alves down, but he also didn't care. Despite his unsuccessful efforts to wrestle Alves and the brutal counter strikes he absorbed, Story was completely undeterred and kept pushing forward.
Though Alves owns a brown belt in jiu-jitsu, he rarely relies on that part of his skill set. He's not inept -- Alves has finished a grappling specialist with the rear naked and does not generally appear vulnerable on the mat -- but the majority of Alves' fights take place on the feet.
That's also not likely to change. No part of Alves' bottom game includes submissions or sweeps, as he's always working to get his back to the fence and stand up. When he is taken down in the center of the Octagon, a rare event, Alves mostly just holds on and waits for an opportunity to explode.
Despite his lack of submission attempts, Alves has proven to have a solid takedown. Against Martin Kampmann, who proved to be quite the dangerous grappler later in their fight, Alves was able to pass guard into mount a couple times in the first round. That's not an easy task, and it proves Alves hasn't been completely ignoring his grappling training.
Speaking on that fight, it's Alves' only submission loss in the last eight years. While it wasn't exactly an example of bad submission defense -- the hold was pretty locked in from the second the fight hit the mat -- it was a pretty terrible choice by Alves to even shoot for that risky takedown with just about a minute left after stunning his opponent.
Best Chance For Success
Condit is an interesting challenge for Alves. Fighters rarely want to stand with him, whereas in this fight, Condit won't even try to drag Alves to the mat. If the Brazilian has any techniques he's been holding back because of grappling, this is the fight to use them.
Alves should look to play the patient counter striker in this match up. He cannot match Condit's volume or conditioning, but he's the sharper and more devastating striker. If he fights intelligently, he can certainly make his strikes count for more.
To do so, Alves should capitalize on Condit's known flaws. The New Mexico-native is an effective boxer, but he's not the tightest puncher and there are definitely holes for Alves to counter. The more Alves counters his opponent's punches, the more Condit will look to kick.
This is another area where Alves can counter. Condit kicks hard, but Alves is the quicker man. If he can block a high kick and slam his shin into Condit's thigh in return, it will help stymie the "Natural Born Killer's" aggression. It will also slow him down, as well as test Condit's surgically repaired joint.
Will Thiago Alves once again make it into the Top 10 or can Carlos Condit successfully return to the Octagon?