PHILADELPHIA -- Eddie Alvarez waited to feel the magnitude of the moment as he stood eye-to-eye with Conor McGregor on a Madison Square Garden stage. Alvarez, hyping the biggest fight of his career, wondered if nervousness would kick in as he stared down McGregor. Maybe anger. An adrenaline rush, something, that would sound the emotional bell inside his body that he shared space with one of UFC's top fighters.
He had listened to McGregor yap and boast with all the theatrics reserved for a daytime talk show, and when the time hit in September for the UFC 205 headliners to finally face off, Alvarez felt nothing.
"My heart rate didn't go up not two beats," Alvarez said. "I was standing in front of that man and I didn't feel anything. I don't know what was going on. Maybe I was just off that day. But this guy made me feel nothing."
Trash talk? Perhaps, but the 32-year-old Alvarez insisted he had a detached demeanour because he viewed McGregor as just another victim on his roll call of champions that he will beat down for a win.
"I don't get caught up in names," Alvarez said. "I just fight."
His most pressure-packed fight yet -- the one that could help launch Alvarez into McGregor-type paydays -- is ahead.
Alvarez makes his first UFC lightweight title defence against McGregor on Saturday night at MSG in the promotion's return to New York for the first time since the state lifted the mixed martial arts ban earlier this year. McGregor, the Irish fighter with the brash public persona that made him one of UFC's top draws, is also the featherweight champion and has vowed to walk out of the cage with both championship belts draped over his shoulders.
Alvarez has found the lightweight belt quite comfortable propped on one of his shoulders this summer in his native Philadelphia.
He seemed primed to fill a role as Philly's one-man fifth franchise once boxer Bernard Hopkins retires in December. Alvarez has been a championship man about town, as he threw out the first pitch at a Phillies game or mingled with fans at a beer event appropriately named BrawlerFest. Hopkins even tipped his cap toward Alvarez, offering congratulations on a banner raised outside the gym where he trained.
Alvarez may make history in New York. But he made his name in Philly fighting on streets, outside bars, even playgrounds, for any reason years before he became a settled family man and forged his way into the MMA cage.
"I never said I'm going to start fighting and I'm going to be the best in the world at it," Alvarez said. "My original mindframe when I started was, no one could beat me in a fight. I was 19 or 18 years old. You couldn't convince I could lose a fight. You just couldn't. I'd laugh at you."
Alvarez, 5-foot-9, 155 pounds, was a high school wrestler who had his eyes opened to MMA when he attended a UFC card in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He became hooked when he was introduced to a group of men training in a basement near his Kensington home.
"It wasn't even known, The sport wasn't really anything," Alvarez said. "No one knew nothing about MMA. I went, this is cool."
But not cool enough to stick with the sport while he was still in high school. When he graduated, Alvarez was directionless and still spent his weekends out with the wrong crowds and getting mixed up in fights -- that kind that could have landed him in jail, not prepping for title shots.
"Sooner or later I was like, I need to go see those guys that went down in the basement," Alvarez said. "I need to see if they're still training and they were. Except they had a gym now."
Alvarez made his pro debut after just eight months of MMA training. He went undefeated in his first 10 MMA fights and won Bellator's lightweight title in 2009. He became entangled in a protracted legal conflict with Bellator and eventually signed with UFC in 2014. Alvarez was trounced by Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone in his first bout, but recovered with split-decision wins over Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis to earn a lightweight title shot.
Alvarez won the 155-pound title with a dramatic first-round stoppage of Rafael Dos Anjos in July on a UFC Fight Night card.
Up next, McGregor, who is coming off a decision victory against Nate Diaz in a welterweight bout in August at UFC 202.
"A lot of people are going to show up to watch me beat this guy up," Alvarez said.
McGregor said this week he would "retire" Alvarez in the fight.
"It's over for you. You will not fight again after this," McGregor crowed. "You will not look the same. You will not think the same, and that's it."
Alvarez laughed off the threat -- and made one of his own.
"We're about to take out arguably the biggest name in MMA," he said.