July 08, 2016
Twelve years ago, Philadelphia lost its collective mind cheering on a local horse named Smarty Jones who fell one win shy of the Triple Crown.
A decade later, in 2014, the city again rallied behind one of its own – Mo'ne Davis and the Taney Dragons – as they attempted to win the Little League World Series. They too felt short of reaching their goal.
Perhaps that's why it's surprising that so few people are talking about Eddie Alvarez, who is not only as "Philly" as they come, but also the city's first UFC champion after he upset Rafael Dos Anjos for the lightweight title on Thursday night.
His family and friends? They showed their support in a big way. Hardcore MMA fans? They too know how important this accomplishment is. But the average Philadelphian? They probably haven't ever heard of Alvarez.
And that's a damn shame.
It's a classic chicken-and-egg scenario. In order for the UFC to bring a big card to Philadelphia -- they last came to the city for UFC 133 back in 2011 -- they'll want to make sure the interest level is high. But, according to some, the best way to gain new fans is by having the promotion visit the city more regularly.
“Philly is behind with MMA," Alvarez told PhillyVoice on Friday, less than 24 hours after his big win. "I feel like it hasn’t caught up with the rest of the country. And I feel like part of it is because the UFC doesn’t come here all that often. But a lot of it is because we don’t have a lot of MMA athletes."
That's where Alvarez comes in.
He's undoubtedly the face of MMA in a city that's well known for its toughness. And what he's been able to accomplish to this point in his career -- his win over Dos Anjos made him the first person ever to win titles in both UFC and Bellator -- puts him in the discussion as one of the city's best fighters ever, boxers included.
"Bringing the title there can bring more attention to Philadelphia," he added. "It can bring more attention to the MMA scene. And, hopefully, it can force the UFC’s hand into coming back.”
But if Alvarez (28-4) wants to make this a reality, he thinks the city also needs to embrace its newest champion.
"Look, I’m trying to get the media, all you guys, behind me," he said. "I want to have a parade. We need to celebrate this thing big. In order for UFC to come back to Philly, we need to make this a big deal and force the UFC’s hand to come back to the city."
Before you laugh at the idea of having a parade for Alvarez, don't forget that we had one for Taney, who didn't even make it to the LLWS title game. It was a good story, for sure, but were they really more deserving of a celebration than someone who has reached a place no one from this city ever has?
As for Alvarez, he doesn't see this kind of thing as a celebration of past success, but more as a means to an end: defending his title on his home turf.
"I want to defend this belt, but I don’t want to defend it anywhere else but Philadelphia,” the 32-year-old said.
During his post-fight press conference, Alvarez called out featherweight champ Conor McGregor, who was planning to make a jump up to lightweight and immediately contend for a title.
"I would ask (UFC President) Dana White, 'Please give me an easier fight like Conor McGregor,'" Alvarez said. "I deserve that. I've been fighting the best guys, so I would like a gimme fight. So, Conor, I'd more than welcome that."
. . .
"Look, there's a lot of guys in the UFC who are good at one thing, and they get matched up stylistically well," Alvarez said. "They make their way to the top without ever going against the true best guys in the division. They sneak their way around them, and they live off perception, not what really is. (McGregor) is one of them. I think he can get found out. If he was ever to fight Rafael Dos Anjos or to fight myself, he'd get found out very quickly."
And after a night to sleep on it, his thoughts on defending the title against the Irishman didn't waver. Especially if that fight is in Alvarez's hometown.
“It would be a great way to welcome [McGregor] to Philadelphia,” he said.
Before any of that can happen, however, decisions that are largely out of Alvarez's hands need to be made. Although he did say he will try to convince UFC President Dana White to bring UFC back to Philly.
"Philadelphia is a legendary fight town," White told PhillyVoice back in January following Alvarez's win over Anthony Pettis. "Whether you're talking about its history in boxing with guys like Joe Frazier and Bernard Hopkins or MMA with UFC stars like Eddie Alvarez and Paul Felder, Philly is a city defined by toughness, and famous for its food and die-hard sports fans."
The idea is to bring it back to the city of Philadelphia and everyone who helped me out, everyone who supported me, we’re going to celebrate this victory.
Now, it's also home to the lightweight champion, one who has already turned his focus to what comes next.
“I don’t think [it's really sunk in]," Alvarez said. "Look, I don’t really get too high off wins, I just get really low off losses. I don’t really care too much about winning, I just hate to lose. I’m just happy. Really excited. I think we grew a lot during this training camp but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”
To anyone who's ever met the Kensington native and North Catholic alum, that shouldn't come as any surprise.
But that doesn't mean he didn't celebrate last night in Vegas with his wife, Jamie, his brothers and a contingent of Philly fans so large that you could hear them chanting "Eddie! Eddie!" during the broadcast.
“We had a great time," he said from his hotel room. "Still, it’s surreal. Surreal.”
By Friday, however, his thoughts were already back in the 2-1-5.
“I wish I was home being able to watch it with everyone though,” said Alvarez, who added that he saw the video of posted online of his family and friends reacting to his big win. “I love to see the reaction. That’s my favorite.”
The father of four expects to return home on Sunday on Monday with some new hardware, and is likely saving a lot of his energy for the party that will surely be awaiting him upon his arrival.
"The belt’s sitting here [next to me]. The idea is to bring it back to the city of Philadelphia and everyone who helped me out, everyone who supported me, we’re going to celebrate this victory.”
Whether or not that celebration morphs into something more public -- and, perhaps, even a parade -- remains to be seen.
Here's more from our conversation with Alvarez...
How was this camp different?
“I felt a change in myself, in my mind, in my training, in my body. Everything. I knew that in order to fight a guy of this caliber, you have to make changes. You have to be willing to put yourself in situations that you’re not normally in. And I was willing to do that. I was willing to sacrifice everything in order to get this win.”
You said before that you wanted to turn this into a brawl. Is that what happened?
“You can’t let [Dos Anjos] be the boss. You have to let him know you’re the boss. You’ve got to exchange punch-for-punch, kick-for-kick, takedown-for-takedown with a guy like him because if you let him get momentum it can get really bad, really fast. So that was the most important part of the fight, the beginning part of it, to set the tone.”
When did you know that Dos Anjos was in trouble?
“It was a long right hand. My old boxing trainer used to call it ‘The Anaconda.’ It’s a long right hand behind the ear, and that’s what I caught him with. That stung him, and after that I was able to sic him. Got on him real bad and then went from there.”
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin