The 2009 plan for Amilcar 'The Terminator' Alves was very simple - an imminent retirement. With only one fight in the first quarter of the year that generated a submission victory with no buzz, he had nothing in the way of aspirations for the rest of the year.
So with the birth of his first child taking place, no fights with good paydays on the horizon and with the necessity to make money, Alves started thinking in-depth about putting his pro MMA career in the past prematurely to embark on a new journey.
"I was like, 'I have an 11-1 record, my last fight didn't even get published on the main MMA sites, why should I keep fighting?'” he said. “This search for explanations was harming my focus, my training, and my whole life, because I didn't have reasons to keep fighting if I didn't have rewards. And when I mean rewards I don't mean money, I mean chances. I forced guys to tap, knocked a few out and nothing was coming to me. At a certain point of my life I thought, 'man, I'm a loser - either I don't shine during my performances or my opponents were really cans.'"
He smiles, knowing that 2009 didn’t end the way he expected it to. There was more to come for this Judo black belt and Nova Uniao member as the opportunity to avenge his lone defeat was knocking on his door. December 5th was a chance for redemption, followed by new opportunities for a revamped career if a victory favored him, right?
"No," he says, laughing. "Beating the guy who beat me at that point wasn't seen this way, but I thought that overcoming him would make my retirement peaceful and would end my career in great style. That victory would let me smile when I talked about my career and how I kicked asses, and not have to say, 'Hmm, I lost once, why I didn't fight him again?' With that said, what a well-planned retirement."
If his intention was retirement, its ending had the same speed of the knockout that he imposed on Fernando Paulon, the only man who beat him, in only 59 seconds. Because the accuracy of that knee not only sent his foe to the canvas unconscious, it stopped his plans of staying away from MMA.
"When they booked me against Paulon, first thing I put in my mind was 'don’t take it as a rematch.’ Why? Because imagine if I lost again, it would affect me deeply - the guy wouldn't be better than me just once, but on two different occasions, in the beginning and at the possible end of my career."
Ironically, he owes the second wind given to his career to Paulon.
"I owe to him what I'm enjoying now," he says. "Before facing him I trained hard, but had in my mind that I could smash him when I wanted to, that it would be easy. I learned that lesson the worst way possible, tapping several times to not sleep inside his choke (laughs).
"After that I was grounded, seeing MMA as MMA, two tough guys with 50% of a chance to beat each other. Defeats are part of the game, you just train more , respect your opponent and have less mistakes than him."
For a guy like Alves, with 25 years of experience in Judo, Muay Thai and Jiu-jitsu, and only four years in MMA, the combination of 'learning + lessons' were what motivated him. He saw his Olympic dream in Judo move away before his MMA career and as 2009 was a weird year for him, he opted for Muay Thai competitions while MMA matches didn't materialize, because the Andre Pederneiras pupil wanted to prove himself. And that opportunity arose in a Muay Thai Grand Prix, as Alves, the least experienced of eight competitors, had the chance to pick an opponent. But instead of pointing to the easiest one, he chose the toughest, who, later, became the champion.
"When I pointed the guy, my cornerman peeled his eyes (laughs) and said, 'are you insane?' No, no I’m not. Man, do you know how I started training MMA? No? Handling pads with Pedro Rizzo kicking and getting dizzy with the power. If you don't know much about Rizzo, ask Dan Severn or Randy Couture what the kicks of Rizzo are capable of (laughs). I started everything to be the best. The best in Judo didn't happen, but I tried my best. Muay Thai the same. If I'm training hard, why not face the best sooner than later? Okay, I lost by decision - that's not a shame, I tested myself and realized I could face anyone."
The well-spoken Alves is now inside the Octagon, where the best fighters are, and if testing himself against the best is his goal, he’s finally home. When asked if he'll be a different fighter against his opponent at UFC 118 this weekend, Mike Pierce, Alves replies in the hilarious style that he's known for, but at the same time with the seriousness that the fight deserves.
"Look, I don't have to worry about it. I'm not a Hollywood star, one day who knows (laughs), that wants to be perfect in how I talk and how I act. I'm a fighter, I know my style will please the crowd and company and I'm not going to change the things that are working well and that put me in the UFC. Imagine if I’m fighting in a main event where people say, 'oh no! Alves is on the main card, he's boring, I won't buy it.' I'm more likely to be the man that everybody enjoying seeing.
"I respect Pierce, I know he's good, strong and has the experience of three UFC matches, but my style will be too much for him and this will be the first step of many to build a solid UFC stint."