Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.
One of the most anticipated fights on the UFC 218 main card featured two of the toughest lightweights on the Ultimate Fighting Championship roster, as Eddie Alvarez met Justin Gaethje. During their coaching stint on Season 26 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” the two 155-pound stalwarts kept fans interested without resorting to trash talking or other antics that seem to have become the norm in mixed martial arts.
That’s not to say histrionics aren’t required to sell tickets at times, but when warriors like Alvarez and Gaethje leave their blood and sweat in the cage, it should be enough to keep any fight fan engaged.
While the buying public was treated to one of the best events of 2017 on Saturday at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, a Detroit Free Press columnist thought the show was lacking. An admittedly casual observer, Carlos Monarrez wrote, “UFC 218 felt like it could have been any boxing or martial arts event -- from the ’80s or ’90s.” If that’s the case, then longtime fans will have no issues with what took place at UFC 218; and the buildup to Alvarez-Gaethje serves as an example of the sportsmanship that exists in MMA, sportsmanship that those who remain unfamiliar with the sport can respect. Alvarez spoke to the purity of competition before they locked up in the cage.
“It would have been disingenuous to go in there and poke Justin in the chest and act like I had a beef with him,” he said. “He’s a genuine person. I am myself. We don’t need to sell this fight.”
The bout absolutely delivered, as both lightweights moved toward each other in every round and landed their best shots while waiting to see who would fall first. Gaethje’s leg kicks wore down the Philadelphia native but were met with savage body shots that would turn the tide in Alvarez’s favor in the third round. Alvarez did what 17 other Gaethje opponents failed to do before him, earning a stoppage on the former World Series of Fighting champion with a devastating knee strike. Their efforts earned them $50,000 bonuses for “Fight of the Night.”
Mutual respect was shown elsewhere at UFC 218, most notably in the main event, where Max Holloway retained the featherweight title with his second win over Jose Aldo in six months. However, Gaethje and Alvarez took it to another level, turning to social media to complement one another. Alvarez via Twitter called Gaethje the “toughest son of a bitch” he has ever fought -- high praise from a man who has squared off with Michael Chandler (twice), Gilbert Melendez, Donald Cerrone, Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor, among others. Gaethje thanked the former UFC and Bellator MMA champion for the experience: “Win or lose, this thing hurts.”
What comes next for Alvarez and Gaethje remains to be seen, as both men deserve of much-needed period of rest. One thing is certain: The UFC can save its promotional dollars whenever Alvarez and Gaethje are involved. The mere mention of their names should be enough to draw a crowd.
Edward Carbajal serves as the lead MMA analyst for Frontproof Media and holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a brown belt in Ishin Ryu Karate. He has covered combat sports since 2014 and has been a fan of MMA since UFC 1. You can follow Edward on Twitter @Carbazel or at his website, TheBlogBoardJungle.com.