Mixed martial arts (MMA) is changing as we know it. Fighters are not are using the cage as a way to showcase their many talents, but to also voice their hopes, dreams and frustrations.
Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) title contender, Chael Sonnen, unabashedly borrowed some of professional wrestling's most iconic promos, while interim Featherweight champion, Conor McGregor, continues to bridge the gap between combat sports and sports entertainment.
You can now add burgeoning Middleweight contender Sam Alvey on that list.
Alvey faces former Strikeforce 185-pound standout Derek Brunson on the main card of UFC Fight Night 73 (full card here) this Saturday night (Aug. 8, 2015) inside Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. "Smile'n" Sam, as they call him, is very good at using his hands to hurt the faces of men.
And unlike the previously mentioned names, he uses his voice to gain fans, not create conflict.
"I wanted to be a professional wrestler before I knew what MMA was. I’m not sure all kids are like that, but well into high school I was a huge fan of the WWE," Alvey told MMAmania. "'The Rock' is the man. I want to be able to speak like him and make the millions and millions of Smile’n Sam fans rise to their feet every time I enter the Octagon."
From donning a Perfect Tan logo on his chest, to his hilarious call-out of fellow The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) alum Elias Theodorou, Alvey can work any crowd.
His gift of gab became apparent as a child growing up in Wisconsin near Lake Tichigan, where he grew up a fan of comedian's Mitch Hedberg and Bill Cosby. Alvey's childhood also coincided with the rise of a period in professional wrestling known as the "Attitude Era," which saw names like "The Rock," "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels captivate audiences.
It was the perfect time to learn how to speak before a large audience.
Alvey's mom worked in real estate, while his father maintained a job in construction. He went on fishing and hunting trips and was a fan of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," as well as "Dragon Ball Z."
Alvey's family was a fairly athletic bunch, which was a factor in him playing multiple sports in high school.
"My dad, as a kid in America, he played everything. Football was his forte, but he was a good catcher, too. My brother played football in high school and college," says Alvey. "I grew up playing baseball, but was never really good. I was a big band nerd. I played whatever sport I could. Eventually, I found wrestling. I started wrestling in high school and college as well."
Right after graduating Lakeland College with a degree in Business Management, a 22-year-old Alvey started his professional MMA career. He fought for several local promotions in the Wisconsin area, one of them being the notable King of the Cage show, which produced UFC fighters like Joe Stevenson and Daniel Cormier.
Alvey burst out of the gate finishing four-straight opponents -- two of them in the first round -- before dropping his first career loss to Caleb Nelson via unanimous decision in May 2009. Despite the setback, it was pretty apparent that he possessed the talent to make a name for himself in this sport.
Traveling around Wisconsin he went, tallying seven-straight victories between June 2009 to Feb. 2010, which in-turn caused certain family members of Alvey's to breath a bit easier.
"My mom and I kind of have a joke. She never used to watch my fights live until she knew I was okay and then I started being okay a lot. Now she’s front row and center for every fight she can get to," says Alvey.
Several months later, in Sept. 2010, Alvey proposed to his then girlfriend, "America's Next Top Model" winner McKey Sullivan, following his first career loss by finish to Gerald Meerschaert.
His life was rounding out just as his MMA career was beginning to take off.
This was close to the time when Alvey made the transition from Wisconsin to California to train with Pride FC legend and current UFC fighter Dan Henderson at Team Quest. As is the case with the careers of most young fighters, it was a turning point and one that would propel him onward and upward.
"He beats us all up in the gym and helps us whenever we need it. He makes the effort to be the best coach in MMA and I really think he is," Alvey says.
Fourteen fights into his career and counting, Alvey rattled off three more victories in a six-week span after the Meerschaert loss, including a unanimous decision victory over Luke Taylor in Port of Spain, Trinidad. When he recollects portions of his MMA career, the moments that stick out are the ones in which he fought abroad.
"The highlight of my career was getting to see all of these countries, so I get to get to go to Mexico, Russia, Trinidad, Canada, Albania or New Zealand and Australia; wherever it is, I love going there and seeing the culture, talking to the people and seeing how they feel," remembers Alvey. "That was always the highlight of my career even 'till this day. It’s not that I’m in the UFC and that I’m actually making money."
On one occasion, however, Alvey regrets traveling overseas for a fight, not because of the competition, but because of the promotion. In March 2012, he fought Brandon Ropati in Auckland, New Zealand. The result was a majority loss for Alvey.
"It was a set up fight. I won the fight and … it was a terrible fight," Alvey remarks. "I got to experience New Zealand, which was what made it awesome, but the organization was garbage. The opponent was fantastic -- he was a great opponent, nothing against him. It’s a little blemish on my record."
Forget incompetent promoters, steroids, which are a hot-button topic in UFC now-a-days, are an issue that Alvey is passionate about and one he believes he encountered often on his way to the top.
"I find it hard to believe that I wasn’t [surrounded by steroids]. Especially on the lower levels of MMA ... it’s rampant," claims Alvey. "I’m sure I’ve fought people who have been roided out and I’m sure I’ve fought people only on a little. It doesn’t bother me; steroids or HGH doesn’t help your jaw and that’s what I’m coming for."
Regardless of whether they were on steroids or not, Alvey was still kicking opponents' asses and taking names in small-time promotions. He also landed a brief stint in Bellator before earning a spot on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 16 reality show in the Summer 2012, featuring Heavyweight coaches Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson.
Like his Bellator tenure, his time on TUF was short lived, as he was sent packing after a hard-fought tilt with Joey Rivera. Still, it was a good enough experience to have left a lasting impact on Alvey, though the process was not all it is made out to be.
"TUF was the most boring thing I’ve ever done. It is way easier than training ... it was just really boring," Alvey emphasizes. "I flopped out of it miserably, but I took a lot from the experience. I met some great people and made some great friends. I’m glad I did it. It’s memories I’ll have for the rest of my life."
Alvey was not deterred by his early exit from TUF tournament and continued to move forward with his MMA career successfully, knowing full well that he would end up in the Octagon in the future.
After TUF, Alvey signed with renowned Canadian-based fight promotion Maximum Fighting Championship (MFC) in Dec. 2012, which produced MMA standouts like Patrick Cote, Douglas Lima, Emanuel Newton and Pat Healy.
While in MFC, Alvey collected a 3-1 record, with three finishes. His lone loss came at the hands of Elvis Mutapcic in what was a competitive striking battle for the Middleweight title.
Alvey won the vacant MFC middleweight belt after "The King" fled for World Series of Fighting (WSOF), on his second try with a last-second, technical-knockout win over a durable Jason South. Watch their 24-minute slugfest from Oct. 2013 in-full below.
He now held gold and was on the brink of forcing UFC's hand.
Alvey had become a formidable fighter on the feet, where he was equipped with power in both hands. The southpaw could catch you while backing up, or by pressing forward and was particularly dangerous when throwing a left hook.
He also expends little energy, preferring to pick his spots for combinations, as opposed to throwing strikes in high volume.
Alvey made one more MFC title defense, a fourth-round knockout of Wes Swofford, before he avenged his previous loss to Meerschaer in May 2014.
UFC signed Alvey to a contract the next month.
After an uncharacteristically poor performance against former British Association of Mixed Martial Arts (BAMMA) Middleweight champion Tom Watson, in which Alvey was lethargic and slow on the trigger, the latter settled down, dispatching Dylan Andrews, Cezar Ferreira and Dan Kelly all in the first round over a seven-month period.
Alvey was ragdolled by the Brit Andrews early, but showed composure in escaping the clutches of the "The Villain," clobbering him once he found top position.
When pitted against "Mutante," he patiently stalked his Brazilian opponent and waited for his opening, sending a straight right, followed by a left uppercut, through the former's defense, sending him crumbling to the mat.
In May, Alvey fought the Olympic Judo competitor Kelly in his home of Australia, flattening the overly aggressive 37-year-old early with vicious right and left hooks.
His next challenge is the former All-American wrestler Brunson, who sports a 4-1 record in UFC.
Despite fashioning his hands a great deal since his Octagon debut, Alvey, who has been tested and put in precarious spots on the feet and ground before, knows exactly what to expect from Brunson. He also would be disappointed to see his streak of first-round finishes end on Saturday.
"Derek Brunson is going to wrestle me. He’s a smart fighter and he comes from a fight-smart camp," says Alvey. "If it goes to the judges, I’ve let myself down as an opponent. Stuff happens. I’ve gone to a decision before, but I never intend on going to a decision."
Remember to stay with MMAmania for UFC Fight Night 73: "Teixeira vs. Saint Preux" coverage, including live updates and play-by-play right here, post-fight recaps and analysis; plus much more!