Eddie Alvarez knows what hard work is about -- real man work. The type of pounding that could beat anyone down. Make their bones brittle. Make their mind wander. He used to work construction while climbing his way up the mixed martial arts world. There were days when his joints ached from heaving concrete and cement all day, and his desire to lift another finger was too draining to train. Yet he did it. There were times when he’d just collapse and wake up hours later in a lounge chair, not knowing what day or time it was.
Yet he kept pursuing a dream.
Alvarez has the hardcore streets of the Kensington section of Philadelphia embedded in him -- and it’s something that Conor McGregor quite frankly may never understand.
Next Saturday, it’s that side of Alvarez (28-4), the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight champion, which he plans to unleash on McGregor (20-3) when they meet in the main event of UFC 205 in the historic first UFC fight to take place at Madison Square Garden in New York City (live odds).
“As a kid, if you don’t grow up with a lot of resources, you’re forced to become resourceful,” said Alvarez, taking a few minutes during a media workout session to speak with individual members of the press. “I’ve always used that as motivation in and out of cage; you have to find light where there is none. It’s the story of my life, and it’s why I know I’ll beat Conor McGregor at UFC 205.
“One of the things that the streets of North Philly taught me, other than fighting, is that real people recognize real people. If you have something that you want people to perceive that isn’t honest, it’s in us in Philadelphia, and it’s transparent. It comes out. If you’re a fake, the streets in Philly taught me, you’ll be found out and exposed. We wear our emotions on our sleeves. If you’re a phony in any sort of way, streets of Philly teach you to see it.”
It’s why the father of four laughs at McGregor’s antics and mouthiness. It’s why the 32-year-old feels immensely confident facing McGregor.
“Maybe that’s what McGregor doesn’t know; maybe it’s why his tactics don’t work on someone like me, because I’m a real fighter,” Alvarez said. “I mean spends a lot of time talking to the media, and people think what he’s saying to the [press] how good he is. I think it’s more a way to convince himself that he’s something that he’s not. When he speaks to [journalists and broadcasters] about how good he is, it’s just a way of self-motivation.”
Alvarez has come light years from the all-Philadelphia Catholic League wrestler at now defunct North Catholic High School. He tells you he believes in the MMA lifestyle, and it’s a rigid and real lifestyles he lives. Wednesday was an unusual day for him in that he went on the media merry-go-round. But most of his days are filled by getting up around 6 a.m., feeding his three older sons breakfast and getting them to school and sending his baby daughter to day care. He prepares lunch, and either he or his wife will take the boys to school.
He works out his daily schedule with his wife over the kitchen table drinking coffee.
Then it’s training, and lifting: breaking down the disciplines he’s mastered. He truly believes that fighting is an obligation he has to uphold for himself -- no one else.
“It’s a gift and every day I look to get better, and I’ll admit, my inner drive is a little out of fear of not wanting to get a job and not wanting to be a regular every-day person, but if you look at who I am, and everything around me, I am, I suppose, a regular, every-day person,” Alvarez said. “I love what I do. I enjoy what I do, and not wanting to struggle money and work construction every day of my life. I do normal-people stuff. It’s why I say I’m genuine. I see value in my lifestyle.
“I’m not curing cancer, I’m fist fighting. I made a better life for myself and my family, and hopefully, I can inspire someone out there to do what I did. You can’t put a ceiling over yourself. I hit one goal, and then I look toward another goal. I’ll obsess about a goal until I get it. It’s a simple pattern. I come up with an idea, I go after what I want and I don’t [expletive] stop until I get it. That’s been the formula with everything I’ve done in my life.”
Fighting McGregor wasn’t on Alvarez’s list until recently. The Philadelphian respects him. He reminds you he knocked out every southpaw he’s ever faced with the most vicious shots he’s ever delivered as a fighter. McGregor is a southpaw, a different southpaw who’s pretty good.
“I don’t look at him as anyone different than who I fought,” Alvarez said. “McGregor has deep holes in his game that I’m going to exploit. I think his best attribute is to react quickly. He has really good reflexes. That’s his most dangerous weapon. The first thing I have to eliminate is that. I think there are a lot better guys out there that get a lot less attention than he does. There more well-rounded guys who get a lot less attention, and a lot less money. That’s 100 percent.”
Joseph Santoliquito is the president of the Boxing Writer's Association of America and a frequent contributor to Sherdog.com's mixed martial arts and boxing coverage. His archive can be found here.