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Eddie Alvarez’s plan worked: He’s fighting for a UFC title now

Eddie Alvarez celebrates defeating Anthony Pettis in their

Eddie Alvarez celebrates defeating Anthony Pettis in their lightweight bout during UFC Fight Night 81 at TD Banknorth Garden on January 17, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. Credit: Getty Images/ Maddie Meyer

Since signing with the UFC in 2014, Eddie Alvarez has fought three times. He’s won twice.

Now take a look at his list of opponents. It reads as much like a top lightweight division ranking as it does a fight resume: Donald Cerrone, Gilbert Melendez, Anthony Pettis.

“I think we’re defined by the people we fight,” Alvarez said. “We’re defined by our opponents and I want to make sure my opponents are always quality, good, and the best. That’s the only way I can legitimately tell people that I’m the best in the world.”

Melendez was a former Strikeforce champion. Pettis was a former UFC and WEC champion. Cerrone has been a top-tier lightweight fighter in both the WEC and UFC for years.

The fourth step in the shaping of Alvarez’s fighting career is reigning UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos. The two fight Thursday night in the headlining bout of UFC Fight Night 90 in Las Vegas. It’s the first of three straight nights of fights for the UFC during International Fight Week in Vegas.

“I never thought that I’d lose my UFC debut,” Alvarez said about his unanimous decision loss to Cerrone nearly two years ago.” I could have done what a lot of fighters do and fight a top 30 guy and build myself back up but it was important to me to stay with the same plan that I came here with and to fight the absolute best that the UFC had to offer.

“I just thought with that mindset as long as I’m fighting the guys who are in front of me and beating them that I couldn’t be denied a title shot. So I think the strategy was correct.”

That strategy indeed delivered a title shot to Alvarez (27-4, 2-1 UFC). It also delivered dos Anjos, a winner of five in row including a dismantling of Pettis to win the title and then a devastating first-round technical knockout of Cerrone in his first defense.

The only reigning UFC champion from Brazil, dos Anjos (25-7, 14-5) brings big power and strong jiu-jitsu to the octagon against Alvarez, one of the toughest fighters at 155 pounds.

“I just feel that I’m so confident because I feel that I have more weapons than Alvarez,” dos Anjos said. “He’s a tough guy. He’s a tough opponent. But I just feel it’s my time. I just feel I have more weapons to win this fight. My standup is better. My reach is better. My ground game is better. I feel great. I feel confident and I can’t wait to get the W on July 7.”

It is the first fight for dos Anjos since pulling out of a March title defense against featherweight champion Conor McGregor because of a broken foot. (McGregor instead fought and lost to Nate Diaz in a welterweight bout that night at UFC 196.)

“I think actually out of everyone I fought he’s the most complete fighter,” Alvarez said of dos Anjos. “When I look and watch him fight, it’s hard not to be sort of a fan. He does things quickly, violently. I like the way he fights. It’s the kind of fight that I welcome. I like when guys are aggressive. I like when guys are mean and violent. It gets me excited.”

New York Sports