Whether he is referred to as the “Muay Thai Wrecking Machine” or “The Pitbull”, both monikers accurately describe the performance that Thiago Alves (17-7) put on at UFC 124 this Saturday night. With past difficulties of making weight, two consecutive losses to UFC Welterweight Champion “Rush” Georges St. Pierre (21-2) and former top contender Jon Fitch (22-3), and the threat of having to move up to the middleweight division or possibly being cut from the UFC, Thiago Alves’ most recent match-up against “Doomsday” John Howard (14-6) was do-or-die in terms of his professional fighting career. He had to silence critics and please UFC President Dana White all in one stroke. “The Pitbull” did just that.
Alves’ first step to be back on track and surely on Dana White’s good graces was to find a way to cut weight to 170lbs. in a manner that would not drain him of his cardio or power. In past fights Alves, who typically walks around at about 200lbs., has faced scrutiny for coming in over the 170lb. weight limit – 171 as grace due to scale uncertainty. The Brazilian’s inability to make the substantial cut has plagued him for the better part of his welterweight career. He was found guilty of taking Spironolactone, a diuretic used to help make weight, in his match with BJJ black belt “Peruvian Savage” Tony DeSouza (10-4) at UFC 66 four years ago.
Despite defeating UFC Hall-of-Famer Matt Hughes (43-8) in devastating fashion via second round TKO, the June 2008 fight was met on a catchweight after Alves weighed in at 174lbs. His most notable weight offense was this past August when he came in just half a pound, 171.5 pounds exactly, overweight at UFC 117 against Jon Fitch. Rather than take the two hours to try and shed the extra weight, Alves opted to settle at a catchweight and give up 20% of his purse to his adversary. Even with his continuous persistence that welterweight is a good fit for him, his actions spoke much louder than his words, and told a much different tale: the weight cut had taken too much of a toll on Alves’ body, and it showed in his lackluster performance that night. Consequently Alves gave up the Unanimous Decision to Fitch. Disappointed and growing tiresome of Alves’ weight cutting woes, Dana threw Alves one last chance to stay in the welterweight division or be forced to compete as a middleweight.
Alves’ nutritional queries would lead him to “Skull Cracker” Mike Dolce (4-9), former Ultimate Fighter Season 7 cast member and founder of the “The Dolce Diet”. Dolce’s outlook on nutrition and dieting are held in high regard in the mixed martial arts community with an array of top fighters such as middleweight contender Chael Sonnen (24-11-1) and former Light Heavyweight Champion “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (29-8) frequently resorting to him when cutting weight for an upcoming fight. Come weigh-ins, the Thiago Alves that looked drawn out and weary did not appear as he did in his second bout with Jon Fitch, but rather a more refreshed, energetic Alves whose love for the sport could have been enough to motivate him to fight.
Making weight however was just the beginning for Alves to prove he was still a threat in the welterweight division – he also had to prove it. The person to test him: John Howard. A wrestler originally with the submission ability and wildfire striking to boot, Howard’s opportunity to challenge Alves would not only make for an enjoyable fight but one that could have launched him into the higher echelon of the UFC welterweight division. In a bout K-1 aficionados would have admired, Alves put on a Muay Thai clinic against Howard, establishing his dominance early in the match by bludgeoning Howard with vicious leg kicks, sharp combinations, and precise counter-striking. Granted he could not finish Howard, which is testament to his toughness as well, but Alves put on a showing that was expected and long awaited from him by the masses. Perhaps even more impressive was that during the exhibition Alves did not show any signs of fatigue whatsoever, demonstrating that the weight cut had no ill-effect on his performance that evening.
So now the question needed to be answered is this: “What is next for ‘The Pitbull’?” A title shot or even title contention should not be considered so soon. After all if anything his performance against Howard, though arguably his best, was more of a fight for redemption of his past offenses and performances. To ensure that Alves maintains a level of consistency, he must contend with another high-level fighter and perform to the same degree as in his three round battle with John Howard. The winner of Judo ace Dong Hyun Kim (10-4-2) and Nate Diaz (12-6) would prove a good test for Alves to prove himself title shot worthy be it Kim’s relentless grappling or the dangerous overall game Diaz presents. With matches of former WEC Welterweight Champion “Natural Born Killer” Carlos Condit (26-5) vs. TUF Season 4 alum “Lights Out” Chris Lytle (30-17-5) and Danish striker “The Hitman” Martin Kampmann (17-4) vs. Gaidojutsu black belt “The Nightmare” Diego Sanchez (22-4) already booked, two other high caliber fighters that would make good matches for Alves would be third degree BJJ black belt “Cacharrao” Ricardo Almeida (12-4) or British slugger “The Outlaw” Dan Hardy. Both fighters present a solid stand-up game to challenge the Muay Thai of Alves as well as the credentials to rival him should it be taken to the ground. However with dangerous striker “Rumble” Anthony Johnson (8-3) looking to make a return to the Octagon early next year, a big-name match would do him well as well as test how Alves fairs with an opponent with an outstanding size advantage.
It has been proven that a fighter who feels rejuvenated comes back as the most dangerous version of himself. With the fire lit under his ass by Dana and with the help from Mike Dolce, Thiago Alves is back and in full effect. As Thiago said, he is having fun again in the sport, looking forward to training and putting the time in to get another shot at the welterweight title. If what “The Pitbull” demonstrated in Montreal was him having fun, his next opponent should consider reserving a hospital bed ahead of time to be safe.