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June 12, 2015

Philly's Alvarez hoping to shut Melendez up for good at UFC 188

Sometimes, the best things in life are the ones that require the most work. The most sacrifice. And, occasionally, the most patience.

For Kensington native Eddie Alvarez, his long, circuitous path to UFC 188 has required ample amounts of all the above.

  • MAIN EVENT: Velasquez vs. Werdum 
  • CO-MAIN EVENT: Alvarez vs. Melendez

    For a full list of local bars showing the UFC pay-per-view, click here.

On Saturday night in Mexico City, the 31-year-old former Bellator champ will face former Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez (22-4-0) in a lightweight bout that has been years in the making, ever since the two began trading verbal spars back in 2010.

"It's up there," Alvarez (25-4-0) said of where this fight ranks among his most-anticipated bouts. "It's been talked about enough. I mean, not just for me, but for fans as well. I think it's got to be up there. The fights I've lost, and then my rematches that I've come back and won, for me, those will always stand out in my mind as my top fights. But this one's definitely going to be up there."

And perhaps that's why UFC president Dana White decided to make this fight, one with no direct title implications, the co-main event at UFC 188. It combines a rare mix of former champs, both relative newcomers in the UFC realm, who are potential title contenders and bring an aggressive style to the octagon.

Oh, and they hate each other. They really hate each other.

"It's something to get you up early and make you go to bed late," Alvarez said of the trash talk between he and the 33-year-old Melendez. "Fighting a guy that you have some beef with, that you don't particularly care for, so it adds some fuel to the fire. It's never a bad thing."

So why were the two unable to get it done? According to Alvarez, that's on his opponent.

"We did [want to get something done]," Alvarez told PhillyVoice. "We tried. At least I tried. I think that he just talked about it."

Whether or not that's the case -- I'm sure Melendez would place the blame on Alvarez's camp -- the two top-10 lightweights will finally square off this weekend under the same promotion. Melendez, the No. 4 lightweight contender, joined UFC in 2013 and has gone 1-2 since with a win over Diego Sanchez sandwiched between two losses to Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis, respectively. 

"Overall, I've just never been more clear-headed and more ready. So my expectations are to exceed my expectations."

Alvarez, ranked ninth among lightweight contenders, joined UFC just under a year ago and is 0-1, falling to No. 2 contender Donald Cerrone by decision last fall. For a former champ, coming off a loss is the exception rather than the rule, but that doesn't change anything for the North Catholic grad.

"Regardless of whether I win or lose, I never change the way I feel about myself," Alvarez said. "I know I'm a champion and I know I have everything it takes to be the best in the division. The goal never changes and the belief never changes. It's about getting in the gym and keeping working."

And getting in the gym is just what he did.

Having been patient enough -- he's been dreaming of this fight for five years now -- it was time for the aforementioned hard work and sacrifice to kick in, as Alvarez left his wife -- a St. Hubert's alum -- and four kids at home while he went off to train.

"I've sacrificed a ton," Alvarez said. "I left home for a good two or three months. And I haven't seen my kids. I haven't seen my wife. I kinda leaves a chip on my shoulder, which always makes me fight better."

But it doesn't stop there. 

"Every morning, every night, every day, just starting in the gym," Alvarez added. "I'm on my own. Getting full nights of rest. I'm able to really connect everything: mind, body and spirit together. And it's hard doing that at home. I've got four kids running around, and it's tough to do that at a house like that. I really feel like it's going to show; my investment is going to show.

"Overall, I've just never been more clear-headed and more ready. So my expectations are to exceed my expectations."

And in order to do that, Alvarez needs to make a statement and deliver a knockout. That's always his goal, whether he hates his opponent or not.

"I'm hoping that it's so decisive that there wouldn't even be a question for a rematch," Alvarez said. "That's the expectation: to be dominant to the point where no one would want to see a rematch."

"I always want to finish the opponent," Alvarez said. "When it comes to decisions, then you're leaving it to opinion. It's just the opinions of the judges, it's not necessarily the truth. You can't deny a knockout. You can't deny a finish. No one can argue that. That's why I'm always looking to finish my fights and not leave it in the hands of opinions of other people."

When it comes to Melendez, Alvarez believes a knockout is inevitable.

"I think that [Melendez] takes enough risk, and so do I, that I don't feel like a decision is something this fight would go to," he said. "I think he makes enough mistakes for me to be able to exploit. And when I do connect, he's going to pay for it."

If Alvarez is able to make him pay, as he said, he'll rapidly climb the lightweight rankings. The question is, just how high he'll go before his next fight and whether or not a rematch with Cerrone would be in the cards.

"I won't be far off," Alvarez said when asked where a win would put him among top title contenders. "It puts me right back in title contention. I lost to Cerrone in a close decision. He was the guy who pretty much wiped everyone out. He hasn't had a close fight with anyone. He beat everyone pretty handily, besides myself. It would be nice to get back in there and redeem that loss, or if we can't do that, just try to fight another top two or three guy. And then knock on the door to a title shot. That's the goal: beat Gilbert and then anyone in front of him."

Considering the hype leading up to this fight, would Alvarez be interested in a rematch with Melendez, win or lose? 

"I'm hoping that it's so decisive that there wouldn't even be a question for a rematch," Alvarez said. "That's the expectation: to be dominant to the point where no one would want to see a rematch."

But first, he must win Saturday night. After all, when a fight takes this long and has been this anticipated, there's no point in looking past it. It's the one both fighters have been wanting for years. 

And Alvarez doesn't believe the passage of time will impact the outcome one bit.

"He has the same chance he had then: not a chance at all."

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin