Following a 2 year plus layoff spent repairing a myriad of injuries, talented, long time UFC welterweight Thiago Alves will return to the octagon Saturday, adding 15 more minutes of intrigue to an already compelling fight card. Despite his expansive MMA experience and the unusually lengthy absence, Alves resumes his career at only 30 years of age, still plenty young to make full use of his considerable talents.
What, if any, permanent effect his various injuries have left him with remains to be seen and no small amount of ring rust is yielded by a multiple year break from competition, however, even a slightly less than mint-condition Pitbull is an instant factor at 170. With a couple of wins tucked under his post-surgery belt Alves could quickly find his way back into the top ten rankings and has plenty of time to realistically work his way back to a 2nd career title shot.
One of the most exciting things about Thiago’s return is how well he matches up with many of the UFC’s best welterweights. In a division that has long been ruled by and populated with a surplus of excellent wrestlers, Alves’ excellent take-down defense and diverse Muay Thai skills pose a serious stylistic threat to many top WWs. Those who remember Alves’ effective counter-wrestling and vicious 8-limbed onslaught against Josh Koscheck and Matt Hughes might see how those skills could create problems for fighters such as Tyrone Woodley, Jake Ellenberger, Hector Lombard and even current champ Johny Hendricks. The more striking-based Welterweights (Condit, Lawler, Brown, Saffiedine) all possess a reach advantage over Pitbull, but little else to stop his bulldozer-like aggression.
Alves’ notable losses have been to smothering, unrelenting grapplers (Fitch) or exceptional, Hall of Fame-bound freaks of nature who seamlessly sow together an overwhelming diversity of top level MMA skills (GSP). In the current crop of UFC welterweights, I see Damien Maia giving Alves the most trouble with his unorthodox take-down techniques and octopus-like adhesion to his opponents bodies. The broad, technically sharp skill set of Rory McDonald could also be problematic.
However, assuming he avoids injury and his crowd-pleasing style keeps him in favor with the matchmaking powers that be, Alves is poised to carve himself a relatively quick path back to the top of the 170lb. division. Fellow MMA fans, we have been deprived of Pitbull’s dynamic and technically satisfying stand up for far too long. The wait ends Saturday night.