Thiago Alves believes he has built up credit with whatever forces control injuries in mixed martial arts. After four surgeries in the past two years, he’s paid up for a while.
Finally healthy, Alves (19-9) will return to the UFC for the first time in 25 months to face Seth Baczynski at a UFC on Fox event this weekend in Orlando.
Since a third-round submission loss to Martin Kampmann in March 2012, Alves, 30, has undergone surgery to repair damage in each of his pectoral muscles, the ACL/PCL in his left knee and his left biceps. He was forced to pull out of two fights in that span.
“I was angry at my body,” Avles told ESPN.com. “I asked, ‘Why you giving up on me? We’ve got a lot of fights left.’ It never crossed my mind to quit, though. I’m young. In a weird way, it was a perfect time for everything to happen back-to-back.
“I think I’ll be good now for six years; no injuries.”
Forfeiting 25 months of competition (during his athletic prime) has been a tough pill to swallow for Alves -- but he’s doing his best to give it a positive spin.
He was financially able to remain a full-time fighter during the past two years, even though he didn’t collect a single fight paycheck. UFC fighter insurance helped; Alves said it covered the costs of three of his four procedures.
American Top Team owner Dan Lambert helped Alves pay for the fourth.
“I haven’t gotten a significant paycheck in two years, but I’ve been able to maintain the same focus on getting better,” Alves said. “I’m very blessed to be a part of ATT.”
Even with the financial help, Alves was forced to prioritize his spending in ways he hadn’t previously. In other words, there weren’t as many discretionary dollars lying around to fund Alves’ social life -- which he says has been a blessing in disguise.
Alves has admitted to having a taste for the party scene, but in the past two years, he couldn’t be a part of it even when he wanted to -- he couldn’t afford it.
“When you don’t have income anymore, you can’t spend that much money,” Alves said. “That was one of the greatest things. I had to cut costs. It changed my lifestyle. I went to the gym, back to home, back to the gym. All the partying, all the waste of money isn’t happening anymore. Everything is precise and it feels really good.”
Maturity, really, is what it sounds like Alves has gained when listening to him. He has drastically changed his diet in recent years. After missing weight twice in four fights from 2008 to 2010, Alves was nearly forced by the UFC to move to middleweight.
These days, Alves is working diligently with well-known nutritionist Mike Dolce and expects his weight cut this week to be one of the easiest of his career.
He says his relationship with coaches has never been better and, during his long break from the cage, found time to get engaged. Everything about his personal life is vastly different than in 2009, when he fought Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight title at UFC 100.
“I wasn’t ready for the title at that time,” Alves said. “I’m glad I didn’t get it. Maybe I wouldn’t even be alive if I had become champion at that time because I was in such a wrong way.”
It’s pretty crazy when you consider Alves has already fought 17 times for the UFC, just sat out 25 months -- and is still just 30 years old.
Now that his body is cooperating again, Alves is confident big things lie ahead.
“I’ve been pushing my limit constantly since the surgeries to see how my body holds up and it’s been great,” Alves said.
“The welterweight division has always been competitive. There are so many guys at this weight. It doesn’t mean the division is better now, though. The biggest threat has always been [St-Pierre] because he’s such a smart fighter. I don’t see other guys doing that. The guys you see in this division right now, once they get hit a few times they are going to go after you. The division is wide open. I see a big opening.”