November 09, 2016
Eddie Alvarez prefers it this way. He likes being the guy no one is talking about, the underdog, the long-shot. He enjoys these things because of how they make him feel.
The 32-year-old Philadelphian and current UFC lightweight champion likes these things because they make him nervous. Keep him on guard. Ready for whatever comes next.
But when he steps into the octagon opposite featherweight champ Conor McGregor (20-3-0) on Saturday night, on the biggest stage in the sport's history, as the headliner of not only the most impressive card UFC has ever put together, but also the promotion's first event in New York – and at Madison Square Garden, no less – he won't feel a damn thing.
“There’s not a thought or emotion that’s going to help me inside the cage," Alvarez (28-4-0) said during his workout for the media last week at Joe Hand Gym. "Not one thought. Not one emotion. My job is to fight. And if I’m thinking or feeling, than I’m not fighting. I like to be free. I like to go in there and be myself. And in order to that, you just have to be mindless and just go in there like a dog and get it done.”
But it doesn't mean he's unaware just how big of a moment this is, not just for him as a fighter and father of four, but for the sport of MMA as a whole.
“It’s surreal," he said. "We’re not just talking about headlining at MSG, we’re talking about breaking every record in UFC history. Every single one, except for [attendance]. And the only reason that wasn’t broken is because MSG doesn’t have the capacity to break it, or else we would have.
"So a lot of people are going to show up to see me shut this guy up. A lot of people are going to show up to love him. But we’re going to silence the country of Ireland, make America great again, and make the UFC great again. We’re going to do a whole lot of good in one night.”
In terms of trash talk, that's about the most you'll get out of Alvarez during the lead up to his first UFC title defense. He tends to leave the verbal sparring up to the other guy. And with an opponent like this, why not?
“The build up has been great," Alvarez added. "You guys [the media] love Conor McGregor. He gets a lot of clicks and the media loves that kind of stuff. But this sport needs a balance between humility and business and showmanship. And I’m going to be that balance. I’m going to be that balance on November 12th, give this guy some humility, and make UFC great again.”
The UFC's most popular (and arguably most polarizing) star, McGregor, 28, is never short on words, as was evidence during a recent conference call with both fighters, one in which 90 percent of the talking was done by the Dublin native.
"He was standing on his tip-toes and making these funny little faces," McGregor said when asked what he saw the first time he looked into Alvarez's eyes during last month's press conference announcing the fight. "It was actually a weird reaction. It humored me. But it’s like they put it off as part of a game. This is part of something I have to deal with to get to this fight. And then, I see them break, bit by bit. And then we’re in the octagon, and I break them myself. That’s it. I’m looking forward to it.
"He’s claiming it’s an easy contest. I look forward to when the eyes shift, when the eyes roll, and the electric shock darts through his whole body and goes to his knees. And then he comes up and is in survival mode and the panic sets in through his whole body, his whole face. That’s something I’m looking forward to. And I will go out there and punish him for that, for those words that he’s saying. I’m going to retire him after this fight."
Before he could get out another word, you heard, "Oh, you’re so full of sh*t!" in Philly accent so thick it could only belong to the North Catholic grad.
"He’s been through a hell of a lot of wars," McGregor continued. "He’s been dropped, continuously. I can see it in him. You can see the effects of war on his face. I’m respecting him, he’s a fighter. Nothing but respect. But this will be it for you. You’re going to be badly, badly hurt, Eddie. I mean that. It’s over for you. You will not fight again after this. You will not look the same. You will not think the same. And that’s it."
And then a chuckle on the other line.
"You’re laughable, man," Alvarez jabbed back. "Laughable."
Since the fight was announced, Alvarez has found himself laughing at his opponent's claims more than once. Take, for instance, McGregor's claim that the fight won't go past the second round.
“We’re in America. We’re able to say whatever we want," Alvarez said. "We have freedom of speech. And he’s using that to the fullest of his ability. You can say whatever you want here — that’s what’s great about our country — no matter how ridiculous it sounds. That’s a ridiculous statement to me. And to continue to say it? November 12th, he’s going to have to put some action into that. And I’ve yet to find a guy who'll do that to me, what he’s saying."
All that talk won't matter in a few days when the two square off at MSG.
For Alvarez, a fight of this magnitude has big financial implications for him, his wife and his four kids. But he's just happy to be in a position to make a living in the fight game, especially after all these years.
“I wouldn’t have rather fought my career any other way than what I did," he said. "I didn’t take the most popular road — a lot of guys go straight to the UFC and do it that way. I did it a little differently. I managed, at 32, to fight the best guys in the world. And then get to this stage, where [McGregor and I] are fighting.
“I didn’t know if this would ever work out financially, but I knew I loved what I was doing and I kept my eye on the ball. Our time’s here now. And we’re about to take out arguably the biggest name in MMA. I’m excited to do that. I’m excited to be the guy to shut this guy up.”
He wasn't kidding about not watching much film of his opponent. Otherwise, he'd know that, win or lose, it's impossible to shut this guy up.