Former UFC and Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez was the Sixers’ bell ringer on Wednesday night.
Eddie, a Kensington native, is now fighting in the Asia-based ONE Championship promotion after leaving UFC in 2018, almost two years and three fights after headlining a Madison Square Garden pay-per-view card against Conor McGregor.
He lost his first fight in ONE, but then pulled off a comeback in his second outing, reversing position on former champion Eduard Folayang and submitting him via rear-naked choke. Alvarez then had to pull out of his next fight via injury, but has his sights set on a title in 2020.
Eddie was good enough to spend a few minutes with a small group of reporters during halftime of Wednesday night’s game, and we had a free-flowing discussion about his future, the decision to sign with ONE, and his desire to fight again in Philadelphia before retirement.
Crossing Broad: How was ringing the bell out there?
Eddie Alvarez: Excellent man. It’s always good to feel the energy of the fans. I have four children, so I don’t get out much. To be able to get out to a game and feel the fans again and get in front of them, that’s always exciting.
Associated Press: So the last fight didn’t come off; how are you feeling and what’s next?
Alvarez: So I hurt my ankle before the finals of the ONE lightweight grand prix. It was disheartening but it was a small bump in the road. I have aspirations in 2020 to win the ONE Championship world title, and in order to do that I have to be healthy. I took a few steps backwards to take a leap forward in 2020; come the first quarter I’ll get a really good challenge, then I don’t expect nothing but a title shot after that challenge. I beat the former champion in my last fight and I think I’m gonna get another former champion coming up, so that type of resume I think I should be able to vouch for another shot come maybe first half of 2020.
Crossing Broad: What’s been the biggest difference between ONE and UFC so far? And how has the adjustment been?
Alvarez: The treatment individually, for me personally. Everybody walks around saying ‘I’m treated so well’ in certain promotions, but it’s an individual thing. Some guys feel like they’re getting gipped. For me, with UFC, there are so many guys, and sometimes you get lost in the shuffle. You lose your value there or they don’t appreciate certain fighters the way they should. It’s always better to feel appreciated, not just by executives of the promotion, but the fans as well. In Asia it’s like football almost, you get off the bus and it’s like nothing you’ve seen before. They view (martial arts) a little bit differently than America. They view the athlete as a hero, win or lose, where here it’s like you get dumped on your head (if you lose). It could be a championship fight against the best in the world and they dump you on your head (laughs). There (in Asia) they appreciate the heroes and the fighters for their character and their willingness to fight their asses off inside the cage.
The Athletic: Where do you see the direction of UFC going? A lot of people seem to have different opinions on that.
Alvarez: I’m interested in your guys’ opinion (laughs). I love the UFC, I love watching it. An event like the last one I just saw (UFC 245), it’s the best vs. the best, the whole main card reminded me of the old UFC where you had Matt Hughes, Georges St. Pierre, loaded cards from top to bottom and real fights. What’s happening is, I don’t like the way they’re making their own rules. Jose Aldo just lost to Marlon Moraes, a friend of mine, and Dana (White) goes public and says Aldo is getting a title shot. Like, what?
Crossing Broad: Almost like there’s no rhyme or reason?
Alvarez: Yeah, imagine that in this sport (basketball). You’re in the playoffs, a team wins and gets the right to go to the championship. The league doesn’t see it profitable enough so they just let another team go.
Crossing Broad: Like setting up the New York Knicks and LA Lakers in the NBA Finals.
Crossing Broad: Because people will watch it on TV.
Alvarez: It’s happening across the board. You hear them saying Conor (McGregor) is gonna get a title shot if he beats Cowboy (Donald Cerrone). He got wiped out by Khabib (Nurmagomedov). It wasn’t close. You get wiped out and you have to be honest with yourself. A lot of people have beaten Cowboy. I lost to Cowboy but Cowboy has lost something like seven out of his last 10 fights.
(note: Cowboy is 4-6 in his last 10, so Eddie was close)
Associated Press: So how is (ONE Championship CEO) Chatri Sityodtong?
Alvarez: Chatri is incredible. And here’s the difference between ONE and UFC – the executives at ONE are martial artists. They fight. They’ve been in fights, Muay Thai fights, grapple, they train just as the fighters train. I go back in the room sometimes to do my weight cut and Chatri is ripping pads, with a real guy, and I’m like ‘holy shit this guy can fight.’ There’s more of an understanding about the sport and the athlete from the executives than there is from guys who just kind of wear a suit.
Crossing Broad: Was it disappointing to see that they brought a UFC Fight Night here I think literally right after you left for ONE?
Alvarez: I texted Dana immediately and said ‘are you fucking kidding me?’ And he goes, ‘oh well we wanted you,’ which was ironic. I vouched, I won the world title, begged when I had the title to fight in Philly, but no. And they hadn’t been in Philly for how long?
Crossing Broad: 2011 was the last one they did before coming back here in April.
Alvarez: 2011, and they did it on (the same day) as my fight in Japan. I fought in Japan and they did made sure they did it on the same day.
Crossing Broad: And I think Paul Felder was already booked for the following month, so he didn’t fight in Philly either.
Alvarez: I pushed to get Philly fighters on there. I couldn’t, so I wanted to live vicariously through someone. I pushed Dana to get as many, I let him know who the best guys in Philly were, so we could get somebody to represent our city. But look, it was a bitter pill to swallow. I’m not gonna lie. It’s a bucket list item, and if I couldn’t do it with UFC, I wanna do it with ONE. So when I win the title in 2020, then we tell them, ‘hey Philly is the spot.’ There’s nothing like a ONE Championship show. If you take the trip to Japan or Singapore and sit in the audience and watch this fucking thing your mind will be blown. They do the old school Pride entrances, the old school introductions where you actually go out before you fight. I get chills thinking about it. They do the war drums in the beginning. It’s special. When it comes to the United States, people are going to be like ‘holy shit, this is real shit.’
Associated Press: Do you get the sense that they want to become big here?
Alvarez: Well when Demetrious (Johnson) and I signed, they signed with TNT immediately. That’s their foothold here in the U.S., TNT, which is massive. They want them here, I want them here, Demetrious wants them here. The idea is here, Philly or New York, or LA I believe, where the first show is gonna be. I think me with the belt would be an easy pick where to go. We’re gonna get the right venue, probably here (Wells Fargo Center).
Associated Press: Do you get a lot of guys texting you and asking about ONE?
Alvarez: Oh God yeah, everybody in UFC, we all have the same wants and same needs, ya know? And the same complaints. I get calls from old school UFC guys and and the news ones, like ‘what’s it like?’ I try to give the best advice I can give, that’s all.
Crossing Broad: Did you give any advice to Ben Simmons after he put Karl-Anthony Towns in the rear-naked choke?
Alvarez: (laughs) Yeah, so we have yet to go into detail on how to finish that. Look, when I watch basketball, admittedly I don’t know a ton about what I’m watching. You could perhaps not finish a free throw or not finish a three-pointer, but when you don’t finish a rear-naked choke I’m gonna come in and say something. For me they must be finished every time.
Crossing Broad: Well it was great because Towns put his hand on the floor like he was tapping out.
Alvarez: Oh yeah, that was great!
Crossing Broad: Yeah that was a viral moment, cool for MMA guys to then chime in and get into the basketball world for a day.
Alvarez: Yeah I did a small breakdown on TMZ and it was cool. Embiid got in a grappling exchange and he won that. And after he won that Ben sunk in a choke. But Ben messaged me and said ‘come down, I’ve got tickets.’ It’s funny. But it would be cool to get some pads out and get them to cross train martial arts in general, whether kicking or punching, not live of course, but to do the movements we do would benefit them.
Crossing Broad: They’d all have ridiculous reach, wouldn’t they? And they’d all be fighting at heavyweight. Joel is what, 240 pounds? He’d be fighting Stipe Miocic.
Alvarez: It would be incredible, they’re like avatars man. They’re super athletes, you know? (laughs)