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'The UFC didn't need to keep me' - Sam Alvey talks opponent change, losing streak and fighting during a pandemic [Exclusive]

UFC 249 Ferguson v Gaethje
UFC 249 Ferguson v Gaethje
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 20 Mar 2021
Exclusive

It can be hard for fighters struggling to find form to remain positive. But UFC light heavyweight Sam Alvey breathes positivity. Despite no win since 2018 and four defeats in his last five outings, nothing stops the man from fulfilling his moniker, ‘Smile’N’ Sam'.

It’s frustrating that losing is part of the sport when someone as humble and forthcoming as Sam Alvey is on the end of it. Many on the winless streak he’s enduring might have been cut. Perhaps a poor run of luck in his fights has kept him in the promotion, or the entertaining nature of his fights, win or lose.

Alvey’s loss to Ryan Spann felt like a must win. His draw with Da Un Jung felt like a must win. His April fight with Julian Marquez is a must win. This has to be when he delivers. Next to no fighter can survive six bouts without a victory. If everything goes according to plan for the 34-year-old at UFC on ABC 2, this won’t be the last time we see him enter the UFC Octagon.

Sam Alvey vs. Julian Marquez

I spoke to the 34-year-old MMA veteran three weeks out from his make-or-break fight. His opponent? ‘The Cuban Missile Crisis’.

It looks like quite the intimidating name to come up against, but Sam Alvey thinks Julian Marquez’ last fight brought a repackage. “I think at this point his real nickname is ‘he’s that Miley Cyrus guy’, that’s how everyone kind of knows him.” Sam Alvey [33-14-1] had been originally scheduled to fight Zak Cummings until the Texan withdrew. Replacing his teammate on short notice, Marquez is an opponent Sam Alvey thinks might be a tougher test:

“We’ve got, probably a little bit (of a) tougher opponent in Marquez,” he answered with a little uncertainty given the skill of Cummings. “Tougher might be the wrong word. He’s just a different set of skills, he’s a different fighter. We’re adapting and we’re going to show up in tip-top shape…”

Adapting to a late notice change in opponents might seem like a daunting task for some. For Sam Alvey, this is the norm. The Wisconsin native explained how he’s come to accept he won’t face the guy he’s meant to be in the Octagon:

“For me it’s pretty typical, I never fight the guy I’m supposed to fight,” Sam Alvey laughed. “When we found out about the fight we had 12, I think, or 10 weeks, and so we knew right off the bat it wasn’t going to stay the same opponent,” he answered suggesting he’s learnt to accept the unpredictability of having a fight booked in the current climate. “We knew he was going to get hurt, lost or something. We were just training and getting ready the best we could.”
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After a loss to Ramazan Emeev in Poland, Sam Alvey made the move up to the light heavyweight division. A middleweight his entire career, the former Maximum Fighting Championship (MFC) middleweight champion made his 205 lb debut in early 2018.

Wins over Marcin Prachnio and Gian Villante set him on the right path; a path that would be diverted back to 185 lbs in the five fights that followed. I asked Sam Alvey if his team had identified a weakness in Marquez, something they could target. His response was an aspect of the sport he has in abundance:

“I think his biggest weakness is inexperience. I have more knockouts than he has fights,” an answer you’d assume is an over exaggeration, but Sam Alvey’s tally of KO’s does indeed blow Marquez’ tally of MMA fights out the water, 19 to 10. “I’ve been in there; I’ve fought some of the best in the world. Even recently I’ve fought some of the best in the world, I’ve beaten some of the best in the world,” he answered with an evident passion for competing. “As good as he is, he may be one of the best in the world someday, but he’s got to get through me first.”

Marquez lost a spit decision to Alessio Di Chirico in 2018, a fight that would sideline the 30-year-old over two years. In the catchweight bout, he suffered a rare torn latissimus Dorsi, a large muscle in the back.

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After two separate surgeries and heavy recuperation, Marquez returned in style at UFC 258, notching a submission win over Maki Pitolo. Talk of the effects of inactivity has been a hot topic after Conor McGregor’s defeat in January.

Sam Alvey, who has fought five times in the same period Marquez has fought once, is unsure how big of a factor it will be.

UFC 258: Pitolo v Marquez
UFC 258: Pitolo v Marquez
“I have always been a big fan of fight as often as you can. I know he was injured, he bounced back,” Sam Alvey re-phrased after pondering his victory over Pitolo, “Maybe he didn’t bounce back strongly in his last fight, but he won, so I’m going to assume his ring rust is off. He looked in good shape, he didn’t look tired, and I’m just going to (think as if) he’s going to be the best I’ve seen him when I step in the cage with him.”

Sam Alvey was a collegiate wrestler and has trained with the great Dan Henderson, a former-Olympic wrestler, for over a decade. Even against an opponent with the size and strength of Marquez, he expects to have the edge if the fight makes its way to the mat:

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“He’s (Marquez) got two submission wins and he’s got about 130 submission attempts, it’s the guillotine or the kimura every time,” Sam Alvey stated with an air of confidence. “He’s got what he’s good at, I just have to make sure that I either don’t give him the opportunity to be good at it, or I have to be better in those positions. I think if it goes to the ground it’s my advantage, he does get taken down a lot (but) he makes people work for the takedown, he doesn’t just fall over like a lot of Jiu-Jitsu guys.”

The stakes are high for Sam Alvey

UFC Fight Night: Rockhold v Bisping
UFC Fight Night: Rockhold v Bisping
"Not many have stakes as high as Sam Alvey does heading into the second UFC event to be shown on ABC. It was clear the Team Quest fighter needed no reminder of its importance.“I’m sure my next, at least two fights are must win fights, (the fact) they haven’t cut me, it really is a blessing,” Sam Alvey’s answer was with clear appreciation for the UFC’s decision to have him fight again. “I hate feeling indebted to someone, but the UFC, they didn’t need to keep me. They saw something in me, they saw something in my last performances.”

Referring to his draw with Da Un Jung and his split decision loss to Ryan Spann, Sam Alvey said:

“I believe the UFC thinks I won my last two fights, maybe my last three fights. I’ve had a string of, I don’t know if bad luck is the term, but I’ve had a string of ‘not good luck’.”

Sam Alvey opened the UFC 249 pay-per-view with fireworks alongside Spann. Edged out in a close battle, Alvey thinks he was unlucky to come on the wrong side of the decision. It was the same story against Jung, a fight most believed the 34-year-old had won, with 17 out of the 21 media scores posted to MMA Decisions favoring him. Alvey needs the fortune to swing back in his favor but joked about the ways he could be cost a victory next:

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“I am fighting this. I can’t imagine another way that I can not win and continue on. You know what it’s going to be, he’s going to like, illegal knee me or something, it’s going to be (a) no contest and I’m going to say ‘well, son of a b***h,’ just maybe they’ll give me one more fight.”

Even with some debatable decisions and about as much poor luck as one fighter can manage, Sam Alvey takes it all in his stride and learns to laugh about it.

Fighting during a pandemic

UFC 249 Spann v Alvey
UFC 249 Spann v Alvey

Next month, Sam Alvey will be making his third walk to the Octagon since March 2020. At this time last year, the Covid-19 pandemic began to take its toll on professional sport.

Elite competitions around the world were postponed, canceled and clouded in uncertainty. The UFC perhaps went through the thinnest and clearest cloud, emerging after just over a one-month break. Sam Alvey helped lead the line, featuring in the first fight on the promotion’s return.

He went on to fight a further time in 2020 during the UFC’s second stint on ‘Fight Island’ in Abu Dhabi. For many, training and fighting was curtailed by travel and gym restrictions, family losses and life-changing struggles. Sam Alvey is grateful for the minimal impact the virus has had on him and his family:

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“You know, it didn’t change my life at all. My gym didn’t close down, I was never worried about it, so I worked out every day of the year, I had a great team and a great coach behind me.”

But it was not just his life and career that mattered to him, it was about ensuring his kids could continue on in the same vein:

“One kid, we enrolled her in a private school, so she didn’t even miss a day of school. My other kids are too young to need school, so I was one of the lucky ones where everything wasn’t affected that much.”

Sam Alvey returns to the Octagon to face Julian Marquez on April 10, at UFC on ABC 2.

Published 20 Mar 2021, 20:05 IST
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