SOUTHAMPTON, Pa. (AP) — Eddie Alvarez opens the door to his suburban Philadelphia colonial home wearing only grey sweatpants. The relaxed dress code was appropriate; he had trained during the day and was about to wind down in the steam room. He’s down to the final weeks of preparation for his bout at UFC 218 and Alvarez — his last name tattooed shoulder-to-shoulder across his back — feels strong as he nears his second fight of the year.
But it’s Wednesday night and that also means in the Alvarez house, it close to show time . Alvarez was a coach on UFC’s long-running reality series, “The Ultimate Fighter ,” that served as an opportunity to discover MMA’s next big female star, and as a promotional vehicle for his upcoming pay-per-view bout against Justin Gaethje.
Team Alvarez competed against Team Gaethje for TV bragging rights in the 26th edition of “TUF.” Up next, Alvarez (28-5, 1 NC) will fight Gaethje (18-0) at the end of the season in a 155-pound bout on Dec. 2 at UFC 218 in Detroit.
The two reality show finalists will fight Dec. 1 in Las Vegas and the winner will be crowned UFC’s inaugural female 125-pound champion.
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Every reality show needs a twist, only this big reveal surprised Alvarez and not the contestants — he wasn’t told he would coach women until after he signed his deal.
“I assumed that I’m training men that are 155 pounds and that’s why they picked me,” he said. “But they threw me for a loop there. I don’t really interact with many women at all. Everybody I train with, all my friends, they’re all men. Initially, I was a little bit hesitant, I didn’t know how it was going to end up. But a lot of these girls, especially the ones that are going to make it pretty far, they’re no different. I no longer looked at them as women; I looked at them as fighters now.”
UFC rented a sweet house (complete with arcade room and pool room) for Alvarez in Las Vegas for about five weeks spanning June to August to film the show. Alvarez’s coaches joined him and he treated the excursion like a training camp. He hit the gym around 8 a.m. each day and trained until about 10 a.m. Then he trained his team for two hours, took a lunch break, then another 45 minutes of his own training before one last short session with the women.
On fight nights, Alvarez, the former UFC lightweight champion, would stick around even later for recap interviews.
It’s time for one more rundown.
He pulled on a UFC “Team Alvarez” T-shirt, pulled up a barstool, settled in with a mug of tea and turned up the volume on the remote as he prepared to give The Associated Press a sort of director’s commentary Wednesday night on the ninth episode of the season, “The Fight Gods.”
“TUF” opens with a recap of the action from previous weeks and a preview of what’s ahead for the fighters as they get set for the upcoming quarterfinal fights.
UFC President Dana White is on screen and tells both teams they’re going to relax with a cruise. The women have ditched fight kits for formal wear and are greeted by Alvarez in a white tee and hat.
Alvarez shrugs off the line of attractive women that were ready to party for a night in Vegas.
“I’m a married man. It’s just people to me,” Alvarez said, laughing. “I’ve known Jamie since I was 15 years old. I don’t see other women.”
Alvarez’s wife, Jamie, and two of their sons soon join him in the basement for the TV watch party.
Here’s something left on the cutting room floor: “Justin on camera made a bet with me for the coaches challenge this night for $7,000 of our personal money. It was on that cruise. They didn’t show it. But he bet me. He had a couple of drinks. I had a couple of drinks. He started talking and we bet right there. It started at $5,000 and it got up to $7,000.”
Alvarez won the 800-meter swim race — and Gaethje paid in full. Alvarez keeps a photo of the check on his phone.
The show shifts to the weigh-in for the bout between Gaethje fighters Roxanne Modafferi and Emily Whitmire.
“Roxanne said the funniest thing to the first girl she fought at the weigh in,” Alvarez said. “They were both face to face and all she said was, ‘I’m very excited to fight you.’ That was the funniest thing I ever heard anyone say at a weigh-in.”
Modafferi barely needs the length of the commercial break to defeat Whitmire via stoppage in the first round. Alvarez got a kick out of Modafferi’s “Roxy-nado” nickname for her signature move.
Alvarez said he had no regrets over not selecting Modafferi for his team.
“I thought that since this was a 10-minute fight, that the whole tournament favored the athletes, not the best fighters,” Alvarez said. “Although Roxy was the best all-around fighter, she’s not the best athlete.”
But Alvarez was ready for his fighters to rumble, though, like a nervous parent, he couldn’t decide which one to support. He recused himself from coaching either fighter in the bout between DeAnna Bennett and Sijara Eubanks.
Alvarez’s “TUF” promo during the commercial break earns gentle mocking from his son, Eddie, and wife.
“So corny,” his son says.
“We’ll see how you do it when you’re in front of the cameras, buddy,” Alvarez said.
“TUF” returns with Alvarez telling Bennett and Eubanks he will leave coaching to the assistants for their quarterfinal fight.
“It was an easy decision to make,” he said at home. “I’d been working with both of them for three weeks. I’m damned if I’m going to tell Sijara how to exploit DeAnna when I know all of DeAnna’s weaknesses.”
Alvarez said he had no idea at the time how this matchup would go. The real winner? Both fighters and Alvarez — Bennett and Eubanks left for New Jersey when filming wrapped to train with Alvarez’s team.
Eubanks struggles to make weight and — cue the reality drama! — gets into a verbal spat with Team Gaethje’s Lauren Murphy . Alvarez says on the show how painful that last half pound or so is often the hardest one to cut.
Eubanks fails to make weight in her first attempt.
Not shown on TV, Alvarez’s attempt to sway the athletic commission to let the bout go on: “What they normally do is dock the paycheck 20 percent. I was trying to get them to give DeAnna $1,000 of Sijara’s paycheck. Why don’t we give DeAnna more money? Why don’t we let the fight continue since it was only three-quarters of a pound?”
The commission balked and instead gave Eubanks another hour to make weight. Murphy was ready to step in and take Eubanks’ spot and they continued to argue in the sauna.
“They didn’t show Sijara throw a giant bag of ice at Lauren’s face,” Alvarez said, laughing. “She missed.”
Back from the break, Eubanks makes weight and the fight is on. She also makes peace with Murphy.
Alvarez cringed as he watched Bennett and Eubanks stare each other down from across the cage.
“This was sad,” Alvarez said of what was ahead.
It wasn’t much of a fight. Eubanks stunned Bennett with a violent left kick to the head for the decisive victory and a semifinal showdown next week against Modafferi.
Alvarez rewinds the TV for the first time to catch the replay.
“During the fight, everyone was like, what the heck? It was so fast,” Alvarez said.
Spoiler alert! The winner of “TUF” is …
“They don’t have a winner yet,” Alvarez said.
What about next week’s bouts?
“I was told before I left the show to tell the media I have no clue what happens,” he said.
Eddie Alvarez Jr. presses dad for the deets on the semifinal winners.
“I’m not sure what went on,” Alvarez deadpanned.
“You don’t remember? Wow,'” his son said.
Alvarez made his MMA debut in 2003 and has fought some of the best in the sport — such as Conor McGregor — over an exceptional career.
It’s his turn to pass along some of what made him a champion to the next crop of potential future stars.
“I think the best part about coaching is kind of sharing my journey,” Alvarez said. “All the hardship and everything that I’ve been through, it doesn’t go in vain.”
Just don’t ask him to pick a winner.