Mixed martial arts fans around the world know Eddie “The Underground King” Alvarez is one of the most successful and entertaining competitors his sport has ever seen.
However, what a lot of them may not know, is that the American’s legend was born in Japan.
As he entered the DREAM Lightweight Grand Prix, Alvarez was considered a top prospect in the United States, but he was not as well-known despite his impressive 12-1 record.
That all changed as he tore through the tournament with three straight wins – including two at the end of a pair of the most thrilling bouts in martial arts history.
On 31 March, Alvarez expects to put on another performance to remember when he returns to Tokyo to face Timofey Nastyukhin in the opening round of the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix at ONE: A NEW ERA.
The contest at the Ryogoku Kokugikan will be his debut in ONE Championship, as well as his first in The Land Of The Rising Sun in more than a decade. That is a prospect that has him fired up.
“I made a true name for myself in America being in Japan,” Alvarez says.
“I didn’t become a name until I represented America in a Japanese tournament. I love those fans and to go back there and put on a show, I have a lot of good feelings, good moments and good history in Japan.
“To go back there, to play for that crowd, it’s incredible. I’m crazy excited. You guys will see it in my performance how excited and how happy I am.”
Kicking things off in Japan reminds Alvarez just how much he embraced the martial arts culture there earlier in his career.
While his displays had the crowd on its feet during flurries of intense action, for the most part, the audience is hushed throughout a match-up.
That creates an atmosphere unlike anywhere else in the world, and it sends tingles up Alvarez’s spine when he thinks about the moment when he will finally get the chance to experience it again.
“I like the silence and the intimacy,” Alvarez explains.
“I like to hear my opponent quit. In Japan, there’s no noise and yelling to block out the fight itself. Some people need to do that to fight.
“But to throw a punch and hear it land on a guy’s body and hear his breath and just hear him quit, there’s nothing like it.”
“The Underground King” has been a part of many of his sport’s most memorable bouts, but never has he been more frequently inclined to put on unforgettable wars than under those conditions.
Though he did not win the competition he entered in DREAM – an injury cost him his place in the final – he emerged as its standout performer and a fan favorite thanks to unforgettable contests in the quarter-finals and semi-finals.
Each was regarded as the best bout of that year by several different media outlets, but his all-time classic battle against Joachim “Hellboy” Hansen still stands as his favorite.
“Two born fighters fighting in a foreign country, who got the first standing ovation in Japanese [mixed martial arts] history,” Alvarez remembers.
“I was a fan of his going into the fight. I watched him in the Grands Prix and watched him in PRIDE – I always looked up to him. That was almost like a kid in a candy store, fighting my hero and having a fight of a lifetime.
“The fight was incredible. The fans stood up, they screamed, they clapped, and they yelled – which is very uncharacteristic of Japanese fans. We made some history that night together.”
Unlike most competitors, who may only experience that kind of exciting encounter once or twice in their career, Alvarez has made a habit of engaging in them.
When he enters the ring on 31 March, the four-time Lightweight Mixed Martial Arts World Champion is primed to deliver another, as he has the perfect foil in Nastyukhin. Like his opponent, the Russian loves nothing more than to stand and trade in search of a knockout.
The stars have aligned for Alvarez. The 35-year-old is back in one of his favorite hunting grounds, and he has a willing opponent to put on a show to match, or even exceed, some of his best moments.
“[The Hansen match] was very memorable, and I’m looking forward to making some new memories coming up ahead,” he adds.