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Alves ready to get back in the Octagon ... as a lightweight

Former welterweight title challenger Thiago Alves is planning a comeback as a lightweight in 2016. Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Thiago Alves is healthy. The fractured rib that forced Alves to pull out of a UFC Fight Night headliner against Benson Henderson in November is healed up and no longer an issue.

The 32-year-old is close to accepting a fight, although one thing has to happen first: He has to lose about 8 pounds.

A longtime welterweight, Alves (21-10) will make his lightweight debut in 2016. Currently, the Florida-based veteran says he weighs in the mid-180s. He'd like to have that figure down to 175 before accepting a 155-pound matchup.

This has actually been Alves' plan for a while. He decided to cut to 155 last year but accepted a welterweight bout against Henderson because it would have kick-started his standing at lightweight. Henderson is a former champ at that weight.

"I think I'm going to be a dominant force at 155. By this time next year, I'll either be fighting for the belt or I'll already have it around my waist."

Thiago Alves

"The UFC offered me the fight and I said, 'Let's go one last time at 170,'" Alves told ESPN.com. "It would have been a good matchup for me, to see how I deal with a guy who is usually 155. It was frustrating to lose that opportunity, but it didn't go through, and now we're just focused on the next step, which is to make 155 and dominate that weight class."

Alves is an unlikely candidate to drop in weight. In 2010, UFC president Dana White encouraged him to move to middleweight, after he missed the 171-pound limit twice in four fights. During a news conference at UFC 117, White said his matchmakers agreed -- Alves was a middleweight.

A onetime title challenger at welterweight, Alves hasn't came in heavy in five years. He credits his work with nutritionist Mike Dolce, saying the cut to 170 has gradually gotten easier over time.

"I know I struggled before to make 170, but I didn't know how to eat," Alves said. "I've been working with Mike for five years now, and every camp is easier. It just makes sense with my body type. We did a body scan, and I'm supposed to lose 10 pounds of muscle and 10 pounds of fat. Five more weeks of my diet, and I should hit the target weight.

"I'm giving up too much reach and height advantage at this weight class. When you're fighting guys at the top of 170, they're all over 6-foot-1, 6-foot-2. I'm 5-foot-9 with a 70-inch reach. I'm giving up a lot of weapons. There are ways to get inside, but even if you're really good at that, you're eating punches, knees, elbows while trying to close that gap. A lot of people have changed the way they cut weight, and it just makes sense for me to be at 155."

Alves is coming off a TKO loss to Carlos Condit last May. Before that, the American Top Team fighter had won two in a row. He's had trouble staying healthy in recent years, with just four total appearances since the start of 2012.

Nevertheless, Alves believes his popularity and track record will net him a top opponent once he's ready to accept a fight. In one year's time, he expects to be competing in UFC lightweight championship fights.

"I'll most likely get a top-10, top-5 guy," Alves said. "Two fights in this weight class, dominant performances, I'll be in title contention. I see a lot of good matchups. Al Iaquinta, Eddie Alvarez -- there are a bunch of good names out there. I think there are great fights for me, great fights for the fans. I'm very excited about going to a new weight class and fighting new blood.

"I think I'm going to be a dominant force at 155. By this time next year, I'll either be fighting for the belt or I'll already have it around my waist."