Winning your first fight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) can be a daunting task to contemplate.
Former Bellator Lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez accepted that task in September at UFC 178, and although he fell to Donald Cerrone and his destructive leg kicks, it didn't derail his hopes of one day fighting for the UFC belt.
The 31-year-old rode into the organization a champion, with a boatload of hype. With 21 career finishes to his credit -- and wins over Pat Curran, Shinya Aoki and Michael Chandler -- Alvarez was on the brink of attaining new hardware.
"I've had titles and I'll have the UFC belt. It'll eventually come. For Gilbert, this is my most important fight. This is why I joined the UFC, to get my hands on this guy," says Alvarez.
The pair have a storied rivalry dating back to when the two were champions in Strikeforce and Bellator. Melendez, according to Alvarez, had called him out on multiple occasions. Alvarez, at one point, even campaigned -- along with then Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney -- to do a cross-promotion bout just so that he could put an end to the banter from the fiery Skrap Pack leader.
Now, fast forward five years, Melendez and Alvarez are finally ready to tangle; however, they are not champions anymore and the latter is coming off of an eight-month layoff in which he tended to issues stemming from complications during his daughter's birth.
"The layoff was something important for me to do. I'm not just a fighter, I'm a father. I'm a ton of other things," Alvarez says. "I left my wife, home and kids to come out here and be just clearly focused on Gilbert Melendez and doing whatever it takes to put him away."
MMAmania caught up with Alvarez during the final leg of his training camp for Melendez to discuss his expectations for the fight, what Gilbert brings to the table and the mood around the Blackzilians facility following two title losses at UFC 188!
Gilbert said in a recent interview that he wanted to 'bust you up.' Do you have a rebuttal for him?
EA: That's just a bunch of talk. He knows very well what he's getting himself into. I think everybody knows. He's got to say that stuff and I understand. He doesn't believe it. I don't think he believes it. I think he's a little bit nervous about it.
What does Gilbert bring to the table right now?
EA: He's a spirited fighter. He's durable. He always trains his butt off and goes in there and is able to fight hard for 15 minutes or 25 minutes. I'm expecting that guy to come in and fight the best that he can give. His best will not be good enough. Not on June 13th. He's going to have to do something different or sacrifice a little more. I'm ready, I'm more ready than I've ever been. He's in for a rude awakening if he thinks he's going to beat my ass.
Do you anticipate a stand-up war in this fight?
EA: No, he's going to shoot first. He's absolutely going to shoot first. I hit a lot harder than this guy. There's not a doubt in my mind that he'd be willing to exchange. Do I think that's an intelligent thing for him to do? No. I think he'll be willing to exchange, but he'll shoot. Once he feels my power and once I hit him and catch him, he'll shoot. I'm going to get him out of there. He's been talking enough. He's been saying enough things. I can't leave it to the judges. I'm in Mexico, fighting a Mexican. It's not really an option for me to let this fight go 15 minutes.
What does beating Gilbert mean to you and is this fight more important than when you avenged your loss to Michael Chandler?
EA: I think avenging losses is always to important to a fighter. It shoes you how much you've grown. It shows you that you're willing to overcome that mental block. You know, you lost but you didn't lose your spirit. You're willing to fight back. Besides Cowboy [Donald Cerrone], I've avenged every loss I've had at lightweight. Until I get back at Cowboy, I'm virtually unbeaten at lightweight. For Gilbert, this is my most important fight. This is why I joined the UFC, to get my hands on this guy. I have no aspirations. The title is great, but big superfights are more important to me at this point in my career. I've had titles and I'll have the UFC belt. It'll eventually come, but I aspire more to fight in big fights that people want to see than I aspire to have a belt or be a champion.
How many more times do you expect to fight this year?
EA: Two, maybe. I'd like to fight two more times if they company would have it.
Does a win over Gilbert get you closer towards the Top 5? How many fights will it take for you to get to a title shot?
EA: That's obviously always up to Dana White. This division changes so quickly. That title gets tossed around pretty fast because of how talented the guys are in the division. I would like to say I'm two or three impressive wins away from fighting for a title, maybe two. Unlike some of the other guys in the division, I'm not going to fight anybody outside of the Top 5. Most of the guys that I'm going to fight are going to be the best guys in the division. I really wouldn't have it any other way. I have no aspirations to build my record or pretend to be something I'm not. I want to fight the best guys here. I don't want to waste my time. I'm 31 years old and I want to show people what I'm capable of against the top-5 guys in the world and then fight for the title and gain it. That's what I'm eventually going to achieve. I'm willing to be patient and fight the guys they put in front of me.
With the UFC and Reebok deal based upon tenure, how does it affect you being that you've only had one fight under the banner?
EA: I've never depended upon sponsor money. Sponsor money for me has always been an extra thing. It's never been something that I've depending on ever in my career. If I got sponsor money then great. If I didn't, then it was really no sweat off my back. I'm mainly concerned with the deal that I have with the company and making sure that that's fair. Anything else is extra for me. I definitely think that the payscale -- I don't agree with it. I think that a company like Reebok -- to be as big of an entity as them and to pay an athlete based up on the numbers that I've seen, seems sort of embarrasing. Me in particular, in my situation, I've never depended upon sponsorship money. It's not guaranteed money. I'm just worried about my deal being fair and I'm very happy with it [laughs].
Have you been contacted at all by Reebok in regards to the apparel deal and what your gear will look like?
EA: No, I've not been contacted by anyone.
Does this deal effect your alliance with JACO?
EA: No, not at all. Me and Glenn Robinson, we're friends. He's my friend before he's my manager. Glenn only cares that I make the most money possible in the amount of time that I'm fighting. Whatever that means, that's what he's for. Reebok or JACO, he's for team Alvarez and clear about that.
What's the mood like now around the Blackzilians camp?
EA: I think what happens is, people lose and everybody gets up and is like 'Oh, we've got to change this and oh we've got to change that.' But, it's foolish. It's one performance, it's one night. Sometimes things don't work out the way it is. If you've been in fights and you've fought a ton of times, you know that some nights you have a good night and some nights you have a bad night. I don't think fans, reporters and media can wrap their head around that. They just think that you can just go out there, every single time and always win and be spectacular. It's tough to do. For me, it's pretty simple to say the guys lost. It wasn't their night, but that doesn't change a single thing here. If we can learn from their losses and get better because of it, then great. That's the only thing we can be concerned about; moving forward and making the adjustments that we have to make that way we don't make losing a habit. When you look at it overall, we had two guys fighting for world titles. That's not a bad night [laughs].
How's Michael Johnson handling his situation and have you been rolling with him at all in practice?
EA: Me and Mike we're pretty close and he wanted to get his hands on Benson [Henderson]. Mike is chomping at the bit right now. He's had some great performances. He's put together string of wins and he wants to as close to that title as possible and get the guys in front of him that will allow him to do that. Without the right opponents, it's hard to argue a title shot. He's just trying to do what everybody wants to do and that's get the right guys in front of him. He wants to put them away to show the fans and the promotion that he deserves that shot. It's frustrating. I bet it is. I feel for him.
Can you talk about what has been the basis for this fight camp and how it has gone so far?
EA: I'm prime. I'm at the point where I'm -- it's three weeks out, but I've been getting ready. I left my family in Philadelphia and I'm out here on my own. I'm training every day to the point where I'm sick of this. I'm ready to fight. My test runs and sparring sessions have been spectacular. If the fight had to happen tomorrow, I'm ready to go. It's just about keeping the same momentum, energy and attitude I have right now and taking into the fight. My body and mind; everything is set. I'm ready to put my opponent away, to go in there and be violent and do something spectacular. I never know what to expect of myself when I go out there. I know what I do in my training and I get excited because of the unknown -- that uncertainty of what I'm going to do today -- because at my best I can do spectacular things.
In what ways has this layoff been different than your previous one? What did you think about and how hard was it for you?
EA: I'm not sure if people have written me off. I'm not really concerned with that. I'm just fighting and doing something that I like to do. People can judge, or have an opinion and say what they want. The layoff was something important for me to do. I'm not just a fighter, I'm a father. I'm a ton of other things. It's important to prioritize and make sure that everyone in my family is straight and happy. Then, I can go on and make sure that fighting is in check. I left my wife, home and kids to come out here and be just clearly focused on Gilbert Melendez and I'm doing whatever it takes to put him away.
Did you use this time to sharpen up any tools or add to your arsenal?
EA: I'm always working on new tools. More than anything, I'm always trying to get with better training partners. Rather than working on new specific tools, I'm always trying to increase training and get my training partners better. In return, I get the same. I'm always trying to go with high level guys to get a feel for positioning and always being in a good position, ready to strike and ready to get out of the way. I'm always growing and always getting better. You guys will see that come June. I'm ready, man. When I go out there, all you guys will see.
Do you have any superstitions and does your fight week routine ever change?
EA: I don't stick to any superstitions. If you've got superstitions, I think that's for weak people; people with weak minds. That's not me. I understand how these things go. We're not promised tomorrow. I'm just going with the flow. When I fight, I fight and when I do, it'll be great [laughs].