Northeast Times

The champ

  • Taste of victory: Eddie Alvarez holds the lightweight championship belt outside his Morrell Park home. The Bellator Mixed Martial Arts fighter won his matchup against Michael Chandler on Saturday via split decision. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Hometown hero: Eddie Alvarez’s neighbors tied a massive “Welcome Home” banner between two trees near his driveway. Many of them took off to celebrate his victorious return from Long Beach, Calif., where the lightweight championship took place. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Hometown hero: Eddie Alvarez’s neighbors tied a massive “Welcome Home” banner between two trees near his driveway. Many of them took off to celebrate his victorious return from Long Beach, Calif., where the lightweight championship took place. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

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.”  ••

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