Thiago Alves’ first trip to England for a UFC fight in 2008 may or may not earn a place on his personal highlight reel, depending on which part of the journey we’re talking about.
If we’re talking about the lead up to the fight against Matt Hughes, which included an injured ankle and an agonizing weight cut that Alves knew wasn’t going to be successful, he admits to “feeling desperate, thinking I was not gonna be able to fight.”
Yet despite coming in at 174 pounds for the welterweight bout, Alves got to fight when Hughes agreed to carry on with the UFC 85 main event, and that part of the trip, well, Alves was pretty cool with it.
“Fight day, I had a great time,” he laughs, which is not surprising, considering that he knocked the UFC Hall of Famer out in the second round. It was an impressive showing, not just because of the opposition, but because he was able to take the turmoil of the previous week, put it in the back of his mind, and perform when he needed to.
“It was just my mindset, and I was very blessed that day also,” he said. “I had a goal in front of me, I put a lot of work into it and I wanted a reward, and I went there and got it. That’s exactly the mentality I have right now too. I know it’s not gonna be handed to me, so I’m gonna go out there and take it.”
Right now, Alves is in England again, Birmingham to be exact, preparing for a big fight on Saturday against unbeaten, but relatively unknown, Papy Abedi. It’s big because it’s a chance for the “Pitbull” to right his ship after losing three of his last four bouts. So he knows what’s on the line this weekend.
“I’m to the point in my life right now that I don’t want to lose any fights anymore and it’s up to me,” he said. “I control my destiny, and I took control of all my actions and everything that happens in my life. This is it. I’m gonna take charge of my present and my future, and I’m not losing any fights anymore. I put in the work, and now I just have to go out there and perform at my best, and I know once I’m at my best, nobody can stop me.”
The win over Hughes took place in the midst of a seven fight winning streak that took Alves from talented underachiever to the legit number one contender in the welterweight division. But losses to champion Georges St-Pierre and Jon Fitch (in their rematch), and a scare when an irregularity on his CT scan stemming from a pre-existing condition forced a surgery before the second Fitch fight to separate an artery from a vein in his brain, set him back considerably. And though he pounded out a win over John Howard at UFC 124, a decision loss to Rick Story at UFC 130 in May was another disappointment despite Alves’ belief that he did enough to win the fight.
“The last fight, I really learned a lot,” he said. “Just because I worked so hard in my training camp, I thought the fight was gonna be easy. But when I wanted to fight, it was too late, and when I put in the work in the last round when I turned it up, it was too late. The first round I definitely lost, but I still think I got the second round by a small margin, and the third round I really took over. So I don’t really believe it, but I learned not to leave anything to anybody to decide. I’m gonna take control.”
And if anyone sounds more pleasant than Alves heading into a pivotal bout like this, I haven’t found him, and it appears to be a bunch of factors at work here. First, he’s confident that he’s sewed up the holes in his game for this bout. Two, he’s in his third camp with diet and conditioning guru Mike Dolce and he feels like he’s finally hit his stride. And finally, he’s not going to be fighting a wrestler (like GSP, Fitch, or Story) this Saturday.
“That too,” he laughs. “But that’s the thing. I’m looking for a wrestler after this just to see what I’m capable of doing. That’s the whole MMA game, and you’ve got to adjust to every situation. It’s flattering that they don’t want to stand and trade with me, but it shows that I need to improve in other areas. I’ve done it before, and it’s just a matter of time before I do it again. Everything in my life now, I think it’s just a matter of time. I’m gonna get everything that I want to get; it’s just timing and I’ve got to be patient and act when I need to act.”
As for the weight, the albatross that he has carried for years, the 28-year old sounds like he’s got everything under control, and he even claimed a week ago (when this interview was conducted) that he could have made weight by last Friday, something he wouldn’t dare to say previously.
“It’s a blessing,” said Alves. “And this is the first time that I’m actually comfortable with it. This time I see the results on my body and the change in my body and I see the change on the scale as well, so it’s pretty awesome not having to worry about the weight, and the weight is no longer an issue, so it’s one less worry in my head, and I’m very excited to get in there and perform.”
But what about the wildcard in all this, Sweden’s Abedi, who comes into the UFC with a stellar reputation and everything to gain from toppling a respected contender like Alves? Was the Brazilian surprised that he was given a newcomer for his bout on this UFC 138 card, and not a more high-profile foe?
“A little bit,” he admits. “But like I said, I’m at the point in my career where I can’t afford any losses anymore, so I’m taking this fight as a high profile fight like a title shot or something that’s gonna decide my life forever, especially because I have so much expectations on me. If it’s somebody that nobody knows, people expect more from me, but I don’t really think about what people expect. I think about what I expect from myself, so I’m very prepared wherever the fight goes. I’ve seen all his best fights and he’s a tough guy, but he’s never fought on the UFC level before, and it’s gonna be a big change for him. So it’s an opportunity for him, but it’s an opportunity for me too.”
That opportunity is to put on a spectacular Pitbull-esque performance and end 2011 in impressive fashion before looking toward 2012. Papy Abedi is thinking the same thing though, and Thiago Alves knows it…and likes it.
“If you look at this (fighting in the UFC) as an opportunity to do what you love to do and go out there and make all your dreams come true, then that’s a dangerous man, and that’s the way I think he (Abedi) is thinking right now,” said Alves. “Because that’s exactly what I’m thinking and exactly what I want.”
Thiago Alves - Smiling, but Still Dangerous
“I’m to the point in my life right now that I don’t want to lose any fights anymore and it’s up to me. I control my destiny." - Thiago Alves
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Sunday, December 4
Las Vegas, Nevada