Lightweight Eddie Alvarez returns to action at UFC 188 this coming Saturday, and rightly or wrongly, his performance there, against former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez, will do a lot to determine how the MMA world at large judges his transition to the UFC. To start, this is a bout that many were calling for years ago, when both men were with their previous employers: Melendez, as mentioned, with Strikeforce, and Alvarez ruling the roost over at Bellator MMA.

Times have changed, however.

Both men signed with the UFC, both were given a fair amount of hype, and while Melendez did come close against Benson Henderson in an immediate title shot, he lost both that title challenge, and a second crack at the belt against Anthony Pettis. Alvarez, meanwhile, dropped his welcome bout to the red hot Donald Cerrone, and this will mark his second walk to the octagon.

With a loss, the Alvarez experiment will likely be viewed in the same light as fellow Bellator alum Hector Lombard’s transition to the promotion or worse: should he go on to pick up a win or two (it’s likely he’ll get at least a third fight), it will be seen as decent, but not the immediate threat to the title many had hoped for. A third loss would bring out the bust label.

It’s never something you want to see any fighter go through, and it’s important to note that Alvarez has yet to have an “easy” fight in the UFC: Cerrone and Melendez are, frankly, among the best of the best. Yet that’s where many felt Alvarez belonged. His performance this Saturday will likely settle that debate, one way or the other.

Here then are the keys to victory for Eddie Alvarez come UFC 188.

Fight Smart

One of the things that makes Eddie Alvarez a fan favourite is his tendency to stand and trade with opponents. He has, over the years, shown massive heart and been in some impressive wars, namely his pair of fights against Michael Chandler. However, one of his greatest assets — heart — often works to his detriment, as Alvarez is far too willing to eat a punch to land a punch. Against a volume striker like Melendez, Alvarez needs to be wary. He’ll definitely need to fight smart, as Melendez is capable of sneaking inside and really unleashing a lot of fast, accurate strikes. He’s not exactly a knockout guy, but he’s extremely effective. One other aspect: Alvarez needs to utilize leg kicks.

Be The Better Wrestler

So you’ve got the punches in punches problem. Well, if you’re fighting smart and keeping Melendez on the outside/avoiding his volume strikes, there are a few options open to you. For one, wrestling — but that entails putting yourself at the risk of Melendez’s slick BJJ game. It’s not easy, but it’s somewhere Alvarez may have to dominate. These are two extremely well matched fighters, and the ground game is no exception: both wrestled in high school, though Alvarez arguably had a few extra accolades at that level. That said, he pursued MMA immediately after, while Melendez went off to college. They’re still essentially on the same level, however, so this will all come down to who is better Saturday night, should the fight go to the mat, which it likely will at some point.

Keep A Level Head

Not quite the same as “fight smart” — but close. A lot of talk has come up over the last few days about the circumstances surrounding this fight. Alvarez has gone on record saying he wants to make Melendez pay for asking for this fight, and alluded to the fact that he seemingly ducked him in years past by passing on a DREAM tournament Alvarez was taking part in.

No matter how personal this may be, Alvarez needs to avoid turning it into a grudge match. Gilbert Melendez is simply too good to lose your head against.

At the end of the day, this is one of the most evenly matched bouts of the year. Gone is the reach advantage of Cerrone, gone are those first time octagon jitters. Now it’s just time to see who the better man is.

It’s anybody’s fight.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.