Ex-UFC champs Eddie Alvarez, Demetrious Johnson set to grow ONE's U.S. fanbase

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·4-min read

Eddie Alvarez is known as “The Underground King,” which is very appropriate but may not be the best nickname. When he faces Iuri Lapicus on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET, TNT) in Singapore, it will be the fifth different country he’s fought at in his last five fights.

In his career, the 37-year-old Alvarez, who has held lightweight titles in the UFC and Bellator, has fought in seven different countries in 12 different organizations.

He’s one of the fighters that the Asia-based ONE Championship is banking on to help it gain a foothold in the U.S.

He’ll be in the co-main event Wednesday as ex-UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson challenges Adriano Moraes for the ONE bantamweight title in the main event.

MMA is a worldwide sport, and Alvarez is one of the fighters who is willing to seek out challenges wherever they lie.

“We can all get fixated on one promotion and fighters from a handful of countries, but there are great fighters everywhere,” Alvarez told Yahoo Sports. “Fans don’t always understand that because they’re just fed one source of information.”

Alvarez, who has wins over Justin Gaethje, Rafael dos Anjos, Michael Chandler, Anthony Pettis, Shinya Aoki, Gilbert Melendez, Patricky Freire and Tatsuya Kawajiri in his legendary career, said anyone who believes he’s been given an easy bout for ONE’s debut on TNT is mistaken.

Alvarez is a -250 favorite at BetMGM, while Lapicus is +200.

“He’s a phenomenal athlete, just a big, strong guy,” Alvarez said. “He’s from a judo background. But he trains at arguably one of the best striking schools in the world at Giorgio Petrosyan’s. I’m looking for a well-rounded guy, a big, strong athlete who has the ability to get the job done. But not on the night me and him fight. I have an experience edge and I have multiple things I can go to, not just one or two.”

Alvarez hasn’t fought since Aug. 2, 2019, because of injuries and the pandemic, but he’s proven he can deal with layoffs.

He’s 37 now and has been in a number of memorable battles, and so in a way, the time off has done him well.

“Every time in my career when I’ve had to take a long period of time off, and there were two other times before this one where I took more than a year off, both times I came back very strong,” Alvarez said. “It was a good thing. It was a well-needed rest. I never try to resist what the fight gods have in store for me. Whatever happens, there is nothing we can do about it, so [the pandemic and the injuries] that was the hand we were dealt. I’m ready.”

Eddie Alvarez of the USA submits Eduard Folayang of the Philippines during their match for the ONE Championship Dawn of Heroes event held at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, south of Manila on August 02, 2019. (Photo by George Calvelo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Eddie Alvarez of the USA submits Eduard Folayang of the Philippines during their match for the ONE Championship Dawn of Heroes event held at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, south of Manila on Aug. 2, 2019. (Photo by George Calvelo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Johnson is ready, as well, for his first bout at bantamweight since he was decisioned by Dominick Cruz in a UFC title fight on Oct. 1, 2011. Since then, Johnson has competed exclusively at flyweight, going 16-1-1. His only defeat was a split-decision loss to Henry Cejudo at UFC 227 on Aug. 4, 2018, in Los Angeles.

Moraes is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but also has good striking credentials. At 5-8, he will also have a five-inch height advantage on Johnson.

Johnson, though, isn’t going to change his approach that has worked so well for him.

“I have to go out there and do what I do best, which is impose my will and go out there and mix it up,” Johnson told Yahoo Sports. “My mindset hasn’t changed one bit. Even when I defended my [UFC] belt so many times and going over to ONE Championship and fighting in the grand prix, it’s always been the same mentality: Go out there and scrap and look for opportunities, fight as hard as I can and do my best.”

ONE is counting on Johnson and Alvarez to help it build a broader fanbase in the U.S.

As Alvarez said, anyone who has seen him fight before knows what to expect.

“It’s no secret what I do and what to expect from me,” he said. “Whoever I fight, wherever I fight, you know you’re going to get a show, and I don’t think anything is about to change.”

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