Eddie Alvarez put on another brilliant performance at Bellator 77 against highly touted striker, Patricky "Pitbull" Freire. Where Freire is known for hard kicks and running or jumping knees, Alvarez is known for the significant boxing skill he has acquired over the last three or four years. Alvarez has always been a slow starter - for some reason certain individuals can have their hands in the right place but struggle to co-ordinate their movements properly for the first part of a bout, perhaps it is nerves or simply need of a warm up - and though he got hurt briefly by Freire, it was largely a case of Alvarez hunting for openings and staying safe.
Head kicks aren't Alvarez's strong suit but his assessment of the situation as perfect for a high kick was excellent. As with most of Alvarez's striking wins, this one was put in motion with his boxing. One of Alvarez's signature techniques is angling off of the right hand - which I will discuss fully in my upcoming book Elementary Striking - which has fallen largely out of practice in boxing. No matter how much you hear commentators talk about angles, few fighters are good at moving to them even in the upper echelons of boxing. It's not a difficult thing to do, but it's hard to stay disciplined enough to do it over the course of a fight rather than once or twice.
Here is Alvarez's angling right hand - you will recongize it from most of his fights, most notably against Pat Curran whose defense frustrated Alvarez.
1. Alvarez leads with a right hand, stepping forward with his left foot.
2. Alvarez brings his right foot up to follow his right shoulder and hip.
3. Alvarez pushes off of his right foot out to the angle. Freire swings back at Alvarez but misses.
Traditionally angling off of the right hand has served to achieve an angle from which to attack, but Alvarez simply uses a fast right lead to land glancing blows and irritate his opponent before jumping out to the angle. For examples of how this technique can be used to achieve a dominant angle and then what can be done from there I recommend reading my previous piece on Tyson's use of this punch or watching Nonito Donaire utilize it.
As Alvarez began to use this technique Freire began to slip or parry it. Below Freire slips to the elbow side of Alvarez's right hand lead (good form) and attempts to return a right hook but Alvarez is out of the way.
1. Alvarez throws the right lead which Freire slips.
2. Freire throws a right hook, just missing Alvarez.
3. Alvarez's angle and Freire's slip creates a huge distance between the men.
Below Patricky Freire parries Alvarez's right hand and is again too late to counter Alvarez as he moves out to the angle.
1. Alvarez throws a right, Freire parries with his left hand - exposing the left side of his face.
2. Alvarez jumps away before Freire can counter.
The frequency with which Alvarez attempted this one trick - three times in a row at one point - implies that he wanted to cement the idea of avoiding it in Freire's head. At the end of the first round Alvarez backed Freire onto the fence and used Freire's reaction to his right hand to land a high kick that turned off the lights for Pitbull.
1. Freire's back is to the cage, Alvarez is feinting with his hands.
2. Alvarez throws his right hand forward and Freire ducks to the elbow side of it.
3. Alvarez throws his right shin bone up into Freire's face as the latter attempts to slip the punch he thought he saw.
While I love Bellator and appreciate the competition to Zuffa managed promotions, it would certainly be a pleasure to see Eddie Alvarez invade the UFC lightweight division, or even go to Strikeforce (should it still be alive) to give Gilbert Melendez a bout that is worth watching. If there is one thing the UFC lightweight division could use it's heavy handed finishers like Alvarez and Melendez.