UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez has been the subject of many headlines over the last few days—and very few of them have painted a positive picture of him.
Our news feeds have been flooded with reports that the champ’s hardball negotiation tactics are the reason his long-rumored fight with Irish superstar Conor McGregor fell through. We’ve seen countless call-outs from streaking lightweight contender Khabib Nurmagomedov, who has claimed repeatedly that Alvarez has refused to sign a contract to fight him. We’ve seen headline after headline suggesting that the reigning lightweight champion, for one reason or another, is simply not interested in signing on to fight McGregor or Nurmagomedov.
— khabib nurmagomedov (@TeamKhabib) September 23, 2016
Don’t think for a moment, however, that Alvarez doesn’t want these massive fights. While it may be true that he’s holding out on signing the aforementioned contracts—perhaps to encourage a pay boost—Alvarez has always thrived when the lights are brightest. Big fights have always been his bread and butter, and a quick look back at his spectacular record is all the proof of this claim that you need.
Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane.
The night is October 21, 2010. Alvarez is scheduled for a Bellator 33 bout with former UFC standout Roger Huerta, after his originally slated opponent Pat Curran was sidelined with an injury. The fight will go down in front of thousands of dedicated fans in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—Alvarez’s hometown. Instead of crumbling under the pressure to perform in front of his hometown fans, however, Alvarez hands the highly-regarded Huerta one of the most decisive beatings of his 28-fight career, battering him to a doctor stoppage between the second and third rounds.
Less than two years later, Alvarez is scheduled for another massive test against streaking grappling specialist Shinya Aoki. The pressure this time around, is to avenge one of the three losses on his record. He does so in the most dominant fashion possible, brutalizing his Japanese foe to a first-round TKO.
Fast forward another year and a half, and Alvarez has the opportunity to avenge another loss, this time to Michael Chandler. Two years earlier, Chandler had burst onto the scene, shocking the world with a fourth-round submission defeat of his far more experienced foe. When it came time for this rematch, the world watched on as Alvarez looked to correct his earlier hiccup. Correct it he did, flourishing under the pressure to have his vengeance, and besting Chandler in a back-and-forth barnburner.
Then came Alvarez’s long-awaited arrival in the UFC.
Because Alvarez lost his first bout on the sport’s biggest stage, giving up a unanimous decision to the streaking Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in an action-packed fight, he faced tremendous pressure in his sophomore UFC bout, a showdown with former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez. If he lost his second Octagon bout, after all, his years of success outside the UFC would quickly be attributed to the scale of competition he’d faced. He’d be pegged as a can-crusher who couldn’t cut it inside the Octagon. In spite of this tremendous pressure to prove himself as a UFC-caliber fighter, Alvarez rallied to defeat Melendez, stealing a split decision in yet another tooth-and-nail battle. And just like that, he had silenced his doubters and justified his place on the UFC roster.
In his next bout thereafter, Alvarez faced arguably the starkest test of his long career: a scrap with Anthony Pettis, who had recently surrendered the UFC lightweight title to Rafael Dos Anjos. If Alvarez won this fight, the expectation was that he would be awarded a lightweight title shot. And while his wrestling-heavy strategy drew the ire of fans who had grown accustomed to his typical, brawling style, Alvarez ultimately earned the win he needed, defeating Pettis by split decision.
As expected, Alvarez was then awarded a shot at Dos Anjos’ well-guarded lightweight crown. The two shared the headlining honors of a Fight Pass card in the midst of the UFC’s International Fight Week celebrations earlier this year. Though very few people gave Alvarez a chance against the dynamic Dos Anjos, he came through in the biggest way possible, thrashing his foe to a TKO win in less than four minutes. And just like that, he was the UFC lightweight champion.
As these key victories show, Alvarez’s specialty is rising to the occasion when the lights are shining bright and the world is watching on. Given how well acquainted Alvarez is with the pressure of high-profile fights, it’s ludicrous to assume that he’s not interested in fighting McGregor or Nurmagomedov. Though these fights would represent some of the biggest moments of his career, he’s well equipped to deal with the pressure they’d produce, and as history shows, he’s more than capable of coming out on top in either bout.