Long after his boxing career was over, I had the opportunity to speak to former world champion Jesse James Leija, and I asked him what it was like to miss weight for one of the biggest fights of his career – a 2003 title bout against Kostya Tszyu. He didn’t hesitate in his response, likening it to seeing both your parents shot in front of you.
UFC welterweight contender Thiago Alves won’t go that far, but it’s close.
“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “You put in all the work, and you expect the results, but they’re not there.”
In two high-profile fights, at UFC 85 against Matt Hughes, and at UFC 117 against Jon Fitch, Alves came in above the 170-pound limit, drawing scorn from fight fans and irritation from opponents and UFC brass. After the August loss to Fitch, UFC President Dana White even insisted that Alves would be moved to the 185-pound weight class.
But as Saturday night approaches at Montreal’s Bell Centre, Alves will be back in the Octagon and fighting as a welterweight against John “Doomsday” Howard. And he can thank former Ultimate Fighter cast member and current nutritionist Mike Dolce for that.
“He’s changed my whole life, my whole attitude, and my whole mood when it comes to getting ready and getting prepared for a fight,” beamed Alves. “I’m actually having fun again. At this time before, I was miserable and stressed and just wanted to get through with the day. Now I’m enjoying every second of the day and having fun. I feel healthy and I’m eating a lot, and that’s even better.”
You can hear the recharged energy in Alves’ voice, and despite knowing that he will field dozens of questions about his weight cut in the days leading up to Saturday’s bout, he’s taking it all in stride, knowing that once he makes weight, he can get back to the business of being the welterweight contender who won seven in a row (five by knockout) from 2006 to 2008, and not the lethargic one-dimensional striker that dropped back-to-back decisions against Fitch and welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. Now we will get to see Alves elevate his game, since he’s focusing on the fight ahead and not the scale.
“Before, my biggest fear was making weight,” he said. “I couldn’t rest, and five weeks before a fight I would be thinking about it and it was a constant stress in the back of my head – you gotta make weight, you gotta make weight. And I didn’t know anything else; for me that was normal to be worried about the weight and stuff like that. Today, I know that it’s not, and I look at the past and wonder how I was so naïve. But you have to make a few mistakes to get to the right place so thank God I teamed up with Mike and now life is good.”
Especially since Alves believes that a move to the middleweight division would have sapped him of some of the things that have led him to the top of the 170-pound weight class.
“I feel that’s where I’m at my best,” he said. “170 is perfect for me. I’ve fought all the top guys there, strength wise I feel stronger than all of them, and if I moved up to 185 I’m gonna give up a lot of the advantages that I have, and in this game, you don’t want to give up everything, you want to just take. So 170 is perfect for me, especially right now. Maybe 155, you never know.”
He laughs, and yes folks, he’s kidding about the 155 part. But it is clear that a new day has dawned for the 27-year old, whose career was in jeopardy back in March when he was forced to pull out of the original date of the Fitch rematch due to an irregularity on his CT scan stemming from a pre-existing condition. A subsequent surgery separated an artery from a vein in his brain and soon after he was given a clean bill of health and allowed back into the gym and into competition. Then came the Fitch disaster, but now things are back to normal in the world of Alves.
Things couldn’t possibly get better, could they? Well, he is facing a non-wrestler for the first time since he stopped Karo Parisyan in April of 2008. That’s Hughes, Josh Koscheck, St-Pierre, and Fitch in consecutive bouts. It’s almost enough to make a guy run out and buy a singlet, but now Alves gets fellow Muay Thai practitioner Howard, someone who has gone on record saying that he hopes the ‘Pitbull’ will stand with him.
“John Howard’s a pretty tough guy,” said Alves. “He lost his last fight (against Jake Ellenberger) so I’m pretty sure he wants to get back on a winning streak just like me. He’s a striker and he likes to go out there and throw punches, and let’s see if he really likes that and wants to do that with me. Most guys say they’re strikers but once they get hit in the face they try for the takedown. But we’ll see how it goes. I’m just concentrating on winning the fight, and whatever it takes – standup or on the ground – I think I’m better than him everywhere and I’m just gonna go out there and get business done.”
And after going the route to the tune of 11 combined rounds in his last three fights, Alves would like nothing more than to end this bout before the final bell sounds.
“That would be really nice,” he said. “But at this level, I learned my lesson a few fights ago that once you chase the knockout, it’s really, really hard for you to get it. And when you just fight and think about scoring and hurting your opponent, that’s when I get most of my knockouts. I’m not gonna chase the knockout, I’m just gonna go out there and try to hurt him every single moment of the fight and bring the pain.”
That’s the old “Pitbull” talking, and after a tumultuous 11 months in 2010, he’s ready to end things on a high note in month number 12.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and now I have the opportunity to finish the year just the way I want it,” said Alves. “So what happened in the beginning of the year is in the past right now, and December 11th I get a chance to redeem myself and do what I was born to do, and I’m gonna make it happen. I’m not gonna waste it this time.”
Free Prelims on UFC.com/Live
For the first time ever, two preliminary bouts will be aired live and free online at http://www.ufc.com/live.
The Dustin Hazelett vs Mark Bocek and Dan Miller vs Joe Doerksen fights
will be available to everyone worldwide at no charge starting at 9pm
ET/ 6pm PT/ 2am GMT.
Alves: World's Happiest Welterweight
"I’m just concentrating on winning the fight, and whatever it takes – standup or on the ground – I think I’m better than him everywhere and I’m just gonna go out there and get business done.”