He’s a tough-as-nails, heart-of-gold, 29-year-old professional fighter who was born in Kensington and who swears he owes it all to his family and the City of Brotherly Love.
This story isn’t about Sylvester Stallone’s fictional character, Rocky Balboa, although quite a few of his neighbors draw that comparison.
No, Morrell Park resident Eddie Alvarez is the real deal.
The Bellator Mixed Martial Arts fighter just won his most recent matchup against Michael Chandler on Saturday via split decision to capture the lightweight championship in a close fight that some have called the best in professional MMA history.
“I’ve been in some fights with some pretty tough guys, but this was by far the worst adversity I’ve dealt with,” Alvarez said from the basement of his house on Monday.
Outside, his neighbors had tied a massive “Welcome Home” banner between two trees near his driveway, and many of them took off from work to celebrate his victorious return from Long Beach, Calif., where the fight took place.
“It was really back and forth,” Alvarez said of the match, which left him with a swollen, stitched-up eye.
To anyone who watched the fight on Saturday night, it was clear that both fighters took a beating, leaving the floormats a bloodstained mess. Chandler had defeated Alvarez in 2011 for the lightweight world title, and Alvarez called the fight a “test of heart wills,” adding that he “was fortunate enough to get a crack at him again.”
Alvarez got his start as a fighter on the streets of Kensington as a kid.
“I just remember being young and where most kids are playing hockey and stickball, I had a pair of boxing gloves,” Alvarez said. “The only times that we would call a timeout is when a car would come down the street. I remember like it was yesterday fighting and slap-boxing on the courts at Scanlon Playground.”
His mother and father were of Irish and Puerto Rican descent, respectively. As Alvarez put it, “Two of the biggest fightin’ races there are.”
Growing up, he was intrigued by fighting and shows and movies like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Karate Kid and, of course, Rocky. He said growing up in Kensington made being tough a “necessity,” but that it wasn’t until joining the Northeast Catholic wrestling team that he got the bug for competition.
“That helped me grow my competitive mind,” Alvarez said, noting that the wrestling team taught him “hard work, dedication and perseverance.”
After graduating high school, Alvarez worked as a concrete mason, but he decided to give fighting a shot. After eight months of training, he took his first pro fight and won by knockout.
Alvarez landed a sponsorship from Bellator, one of the largest MMA promotions, which took him around the world to places like Japan, Russia and Costa Rica to pursue his goal of becoming the top lightweight fighter. In the meantime, he married his wife, Jamie, who lived in Bridesburg, and the couple had three boys: Eddie, 8; Anthony, 5; and Alastor, 3.
The family moved to Morrell Park after Alvarez received his first signing bonus from Bellator, and he said his neighbors have been his strongest supporters, next to his wife, of course.
“She’s always front and center and she’s always the loudest voice around,” Alvarez said, adding that Jamie missed only two of his fights, both of which because she was pregnant.
His relationship with Bellator recently has been what Alvarez describes as “ugly,” and Saturday’s match was widely regarded as a make-it-or-break-it moment for both Alvarez and the promotion company’s reputation.
“It was important for me to let them know how much of a value I am to the company and to gain some small leverage back,” Alvarez said. “Getting this win and becoming the champion, it puts the power back in our hands to make some decisions.”
The win, however, means that he will continue to train and prepare for his next fight. There are rumors of a planned rubber match between Alvarez and Chandler, but the specifics remain to be seen.
While Alvarez and his family currently spend most of their time in Florida, where the champ does much of his training, Alvarez said that he will never sell his house in the Northeast.
“I’m there just for one goal and to train and become No. 1 in the world,” Alvarez said. “But I don’t think I’ll ever sell my house. These are the people I love, and this is my home.” ••