With a career that stretches back more than 15 years, Eddie “The Underground King” Alvarez has achieved so much, but he is nowhere near finished.
In 2018 the former Bellator and UFC World Champion joined the ONE Championship roster with one ambition in mind – win an unprecedented third lightweight World Title.
His quest toward that goal will begin on 31 March where he faces Timofey Nastyuhkin at ONE: A NEW ERA in Tokyo, Japan.
It will be a familiar environment for Alvarez, who cut his teeth against some of the best athletes in the world in Japan.
But before the American got to that point, and went on to build one of the most iconic careers in martial arts, he emerged from humble beginnings. This is his story.
Gonna Fly Now
Alvarez grew up in the same part of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where the movie Rocky was filmed, but there were no bright lights or red carpets in his neighborhood.
Instead, Alvarez says what was once a working-class area for families transformed into a destitute den for drugs and violence by the time he was 9 years old.
It was not easy living in such a rough area as a kid, but Alvarez does not look back with any regret. He believes his experiences allowed him to become an even better mixed martial artist later in life.
“Where a lot of fighters paint a picture like, ‘I was a victim of this, and everybody should feel sorry for me because I went through a terrible time’ – in retrospect, I feel like it was an advantage to me,” Alvarez says.
“I didn’t have a lot of resources, and I had to figure out ways to survive and get by and deal with situations that a normal kid didn’t have to deal with. What it did was it made me become a better fighter, even though I wasn’t competing yet.
“Whenever you’re not given a lot of resources, you become resourceful, and inside of a cage or a ring, you need to be able to adapt, change, and be resourceful.”
A Greater Calling
Alvarez grew up learning through the school of hard knocks because he had to battle for everything he had in life and that often times included defending himself on the street.
Eventually, Alvarez found himself in wrestling during his final years in high school, but even that did not immediately spark a passion for martial arts.
He ended up pursuing a career in mixed martial arts through necessity. He had to find a job to pay the bills while also preparing to provide for his first child.
“When I was 18, my parents moved away, and I didn’t go to college, so my parents moved out of the house I grew up in, and I stayed in Kensington at 18 years old. I had to get a job,” Alvarez says.
“I felt my calling was greater than to just work a job every day, make ends meet, and make bills meet. Fighting gave me that outlet. It was something I was always gifted in, something I always enjoyed with competing and that was my way out.”
“The Underground King” is known for his work ethic, and that was what he needed to be successful enough to make his athletic pursuits a lucrative, full-time endeavor and support his young family.
He knuckled down, and did everything in his power to succeed.
“I made a promise to myself at a young age. If God were to grant me that opportunity to fight full-time and just do it as a job, then I would be responsible, I would be accountable, and I would treat it like a job. I would never take it for granted.
“The day I was able to quit [pouring] concrete and fight full time was a great moment in my life.”
As his career started to flourish, Alvarez got a big break in 2008 when he was a late replacement in the DREAM lightweight grand prix in Japan.
That opportunity put him on the biggest stage in his career to that point, but it also started to interfere with his life at home.
Alvarez admits he has always struggled to find a balance between his work inside the cage and his family life.
“It’s been an ongoing tug of war, an ongoing challenge for me,” Alvarez explains.
“I’m not a very good multitasker. I get very fixated on something when I have a goal in mind. I get so fixated that nothing else really exists. I wear a number of hats. I’m not just a fighter. I’m a husband, I’m a father, I’m a businessman – I have a number of businesses other than fighting.
“When I’m very zoned-in and very focused and very one-track-minded, that has been my biggest difficulty in a work-life balance. That’s been the biggest difficulty in my whole career.”
Thankfully in recent years, Alvarez says he has started to find ways to strike that balance better than earlier in his career.
Now, he is as dedicated to spending time with his loved ones as he is to providing for them, and being the best father and husband he can be makes him happier than anything.
“I’ve gotten a bite on that, I’ve gotten way better at it than I’ve ever been,” Alvarez says.
“I’ve become way happier as a person. I think a lot of my success has been me personally dealing with a lot of fear, anxiety, wanting to do things for people, wanting to please people, and me not wanting to disappoint people.
“It was never for me, looking back in retrospect. I was fighting for a number of reasons, and when I look at my life now, it’s for me.”
World Championship Résumé
Alvarez has been a champion in every major organization he has competed, but one World Title that has eluded him is currently held by Eduard “Landslide” Folayang in ONE Championship.
The opportunity to make history is the primary reason Alvarez decided to join the promotion in October.
“I’m a competitive person, I always have been,” Alvarez explains.
“I’ve conquered every promotion I ever went to. I beat the best guys in that promotion and became their champion.
“ONE [Championship] happens to be one promotion I think is going to be a major, major player in the coming years, and they have a World Title that I don’t have.”
In some ways, Alvarez says pursuing this title will bring out the very best in him because he wants to become a World Champion in The Home Of Martial Arts for a much different reason than before.
“This will be my first World Title where I’m fighting simply because I want to fight,” Alvarez says.
“If I don’t want to fight anymore, I simply don’t have to fight. I could do a number of different things. I’m fighting because I want to fight and because I want to become a World Champion.
“I want to do it for myself. That’s what this World Title is about.”