Eddie Alvarez entered the Dream 2008 Lightweight Grand Prix as a dark horse to win the star-studded tournament. After defeating Andre Amade, Joachim Hansen and Tatsuya Kawajiri, he earned his spot in the finals, but had to withdraw due to cut suffered in the semi-final bout.
The spectators that filled the Osaka Castle Hall in Osaka, Japan on July 21 witnessed a “Fight of the Year” candidate when Alvarez and Kawajiri slugged it out for seven and a half minutes to determine who would advance to the finals to take on favorite Shinya Aoki, who had defeated Caol Uno in the previous fight on the card.
"Once we felt each other’s power, and we hit each other, it just became mayhem," the Philadelphia fighter told MMAWeekly.com about the match with Kawajiri.
Alvarez received a cut under his right eye early in the fight, and the action was stopped to check the laceration at a time when Alvarez seemingly had Kawajiri hurt and fatigued. Asked about the decision to check the cut at that time, he replied, "The only thing I thought was they were trying to give Kawajiri time to get his breath back.
"It was part of my gameplan going in. He's 30 years old. I'm 24. My conditioning compared to most of the fighters out there, that's where I win fights," stated the Top 5 ranked lightweight. "I'm able to attack and keep coming. That's a big advantage of mine and they were taking that away from me by giving him his breath back.
"I kept arguing with the referee while I was in the corner, saying, 'I'm okay. I'm okay.' Let me back out," he added. "I don't know if that was more about them checking a cut or giving him some air."
Fifty seconds later, the fight resumed. And almost immediately Kawajiri stunned Alvarez with a punch that sent him to the canvas, swaying the momentum of the fight. Alvarez soon found himself mounted, but was able to scramble to his feet where he'd eventually knock his opponent down and finish him on the ground with strikes.
In a tournament format where you compete more than once in the same night, victory celebrations are short lived and the focus quickly shifts to resting, re-hydrating and preparing for the next fight. Alvarez did just that.
"I went to the back, I iced up, everything that we had practiced for the last six weeks before that night. I went through these trials plenty of times, so I did it just like I did it in practice," explained Alvarez. "I went to the back. I started icing up, massaging. I took my reload that I had. It's like carbohydrates and protein. I felt great. Within like 15 or 20 minutes, I felt fully recovered. I was icing up and all we had to do was keep that eye open.
"The doctors were checking it and everything seemed positive. Every time they came back to check it they seemed pretty positive, so I was pretty excited to be able to finish this up. Finally they sent in like seven different doctors. They all checked me. I passed all of their tests. They asked me how many fingers do I have up and whatnot. I passed everything as far as I was concerned."
"Then, they all got in a big huddle. I was like, 'what the hell is going on here? Can someone interpret, or let me know what's going on?'" continued the lightweight contender. "Finally the matchmaker came to me and was like, they think if you go back out and get hit you're going to go blind. They may even be concerned about you going blind right now, like before you even go out there. On the side of the white part of my eye, there was a blood bubble coming off of my eye, like protruding off of my eyeball. They were concerned about that busting and me having vision problems."
"I understand keeping my safety in mind, but I asked the guy, 'is it anything 100,000 dollars can't fix?' I wanted that money, man. He looked at me and said, 'seriously, I can't let you go back out there.' I just started crying like a girl. I couldn't deal with it. I worked so hard," added the disappointed fighter.
Alvarez tries to stay positive when looking back at the situation and was satisfied with his performance. "I'm not disappointed in anything that I did that night," stated the former Bodog welterweight titleholder. "The only thing I'm mad about and upset about is that I didn't get the big check that I wanted... I could have used that money. I seriously could have used that money. Other than that, I'm not disappointed about anything I did. Everything that was in my control I worked hard for, I controlled.
"The situation sucked because everything that I could control that night, like my performance and getting the knockout and everything, I was happy with. I controlled everything that I was able to, but it was just something that was beyond my control that I'm not used to."
Joachim Hansen replaced Alvarez in the finals and defeated Aoki to win the Grand Prix. With the disappointment behind him, Alvarez looks to the future. "I could have used the money, yes. But I'm still the only undefeated fighter in that tournament and I'm happy with that," he reflected. "My money will come. I'm going to get my day."