Everyone’s favorite perpetually smiling, redheaded middleweight fights this Saturday night at UFC Fight Night 108 from Nashville. Sam Alvey will headline the Fox Sports 2 prelims portion of the card, fighting former title challenger and current #11 ranked Thales Leites. Alvey is on a four-fight win streak, and Saturday’s fight will have him tie the record for most UFC fights in a twelve-month period with six. Since the June 18th, 2016 fight with Elias Theodorou, Smile ‘N Sam (Yes, that’s the way he spells it, and also yes, it’s intentional.) has fought Eric Spicely, Kevin Casey, Alex Nicholson, and Nate Marquardt in quick succession, and Saturday’s fight with Leites will put him into a tie with Cowboy Cerrone for the UFC record.
Alvey had his first pro fight in 2008 and has compiled a record of 30-8-0 with one no contest*, working his way up from local shows in his native Wisconsin to a brief stint in Bellator, Season 16 of The Ultimate Fighter, and the Maximum Fighting Championship middleweight title before signing with the UFC three years ago. He is married to America’s Next Top Model winner McKey Sullivan, and they recently welcomed their third child.
This morning I had the opportunity to speak with Sam Alvey, and our conversation follows:
Dave Willford: You’re working toward the record for most UFC fights and most wins in a 12 month period with a win over Leites. Assuming you come away without injury on Saturday, have you been working with the matchmakers to add another before mid-June?
Sam Alvey: Yeah, so it turns out that I fight on Saturday, I step into the ring and I tie the record. Cowboy Cerrone still holds it. I want to break it. I have until June 18th to fight one more time, and I hope to do just that. I hope I can find another match sometime before June 18th.
“People just kept running into my fists, so I just kept giving them the opportunity to do it.”
DW: There are five events and several middleweight fights before then. I hate to wish injury on anyone, but if someone drops out, hopefully you’ll get the call.
SA: Yeah, there’s always the chance of that. I know Vitor and Anderson, they don’t have matches yet either. I’d be willing to step up and fight one of those guys.
DW: With all the turmoil in the middleweight division, how far away do you think you are from a title shot?
SA: You know, I have no idea. I’m going to just keep fighting, keep winning, and keep making more fans. That’s always kind of been my motto, my goal, with all this fighting is ‘Just keep winning, and eventually you’ll get to where you need to go.’
DW: Most of your wins have come by knockout, and most of Leites’s have been by submission. Have you been adjusting your training for this fight to prepare for the ground threat, or do your camps mostly center on working your own skillset regardless of the opponent?
SA: You know, my last opponent was Nate Marquardt. He’s got a very similar skillset to Thales Leites. He probably hits a little harder and he’s not quite as slick at jiu jitsu. So I just keep doing what I do. I keep training. It’s been one long training camp this last year. I just keep myself in shape and work on trying to find a way to catch him before he catches me.
DW: Leites has lost three of his last four fights, albeit against top opponents. Have you noticed any weaknesses in his game from those fights that you think you can exploit?
SA: Yeah. We see a bunch of weaknesses and we see a lot of strengths. In the same regard, we see where a lot of my strengths and weaknesses are, and we’re pretty happy with how we line up with one another.
DW: After your season of The Ultimate Fighter, you weren’t picked up by the UFC. How valuable were the next two years with MFC to your development before signing with the UFC in 2014?
SA: I’m so thankful for all that the MFC has done for me. They’re such a wonderful company, run by wonderful people. I don’t think I would have had the career I’m currently having had it not been for the MFC.
DW: I see you competed in football and wrestling in school. What brought you into mixed martial arts? Did you have any background other than wrestling that led you into the sport?
SA: So, football I only played in college. I played one year in college, and I got beat up for that whole season. I was playing against a bunch of people that grew up playing football. So that was a bit of a mistake. But wrestling, I wrestled my junior and senior year in high school, then I went to a college without a team, and then I transferred to a college with a team, so I wrestled my junior and senior year of college also. That’s the only experience I had, was just a little bit of wrestling. I just thought I was a tough kid and I enjoyed the opportunities, so I just kept taking them.
DW: Coming in with primarily wrestling, at what point did you find that you were good at knocking people out?
SA: I just kept doing it. I think professionally I’ve got nineteen knockouts. As an amateur, I had five or something like that. People just kept running into my fists, so I just kept giving them the opportunity to do it.
DW: Was there ever a turning point in your career where you realized “Hey, I can go pretty far in this.” and things became more serious, or has it just been a gradual progression from your beginnings in Wisconsin to a ranked UFC contender?
SA: A gradual progression. I don’t have a story like so many other fighters do. I didn’t know this was something I wanted to do. I didn’t know about the UFC until I had ten professional fights or so. I just kept fighting. I thought it was fun, and eventually somebody said they’d pay me for that, and it’s even more fun then. I had no idea that it was going to be something I wanted to do, or enjoyed doing – well, I did enjoy doing it – but, you know, that was going to be a career.
DW: Associated with that, how big a benefit was moving to Team Quest to train with Dan Henderson in your development as a fighter?
SA: I would not have made it as far as I did without Team Quest and Dan Henderson, and all the coaches there. Ricardo Feliciano, my jiu jitsu coach; Gustavo Pugliese, he’s my boxing coach; and then a few Muay Thai coaches and Dutch kickboxing coaches through the years. I wouldn’t be the fighter I am today without having those influences on me. I owe my career to Team Quest.
DW: You’ve taken a lot of short notice fights. Do you prefer to have a long training camp to prepare for an opponent, or is it better to take a fight with just a few weeks’ notice, get it done and move on to the next one?
SA: I’m fine with both ways. I like the short notice because I’m always in camp. I don’t ever take any time off. So the short notice fights I get to eat sooner. I get to make weight and eat again. I like those. If I get a bigger lead time, I’m happy to fight those also. I’m sure as I climb the rankings I’m going to get more and more of those types of fights. I’ve never said no to a fight. It’s kind of a goal of mine that I never will say no to a fight.
DW: As of last night you were ranked at #13 on the UFC middleweight rankings. Leites is at #11. Presumably a win will bump you up a few spots. Now that you are closing in on the top 10, will you be more selective in your opponents, or is it still pretty much anyone, anywhere?
SA: Anyone, anywhere. The fact that I’m in this position with the UFC and being a ranked fighter like that, it’s amazing. I’ve always had the philosophy ‘Anyone, anywhere, anytime,’ and I’m just going to keep doing that. If the number 173 guy ends up wanting to fight me, sure, I’ll do that too. I’ll get my title shot. I’m a fighter. I think Cowboy Cerrone said it like ‘Some guys are just fighter fighters, and there are some guys that are more technical.’ I’m definitely one of those fighter fighters.
DW: Having said that, do you have an opponent in mind for your next fight?
SA: Whoever will be willing to fight me before June 18th. If Michael Bisping wants to hook up on June 17th, I’ll take that shot, absolutely. If someone else says yes, sure, I’ll take that too.
“I don’t have it in me to be a heel. I wish I did, because I’d probably get more notice faster, but I’m the guy people want to like, the guy that people want to see win. And I’m very content being that.”
DW: How much of your post-fight comments in the cage are prepared, and how much is just spur of the moment?
SA: It’s all that. I have no idea what I’m going to say. I usually have an idea who I want to call out, and even that I screwed up last time. I meant to call out Jotko, and Jack Marshman came out. I’m so in love with this sport, so in love with that moment of amazingness when you get your hand raised, I don’t know what’s coming out.
DW: Some fighters seem to need to dislike their opponents or create animosity to get up for a fight. You seem to get along well with your opponents and keep trash talking to a minimum. In the age of McGregor where creating controversy seems to be almost as important as winning, do you ever get tempted to act like something you’re not to hype a fight?
SA: Isn’t Conor a boxer now or something?
DW: Yeah, supposedly…
SA: I couldn’t care less about what Conor McGregor is doing. He helped bring a wider audience to my sport and I’m very appreciative of that, but I’m going to get the big money fights because people want to see me. I don’t have it in me to be a heel. I wish I did, because I’d probably get more notice faster, but I’m the guy people want to like, the guy that people want to see win. And I’m very content being that.
DW: You’re the only fighter – who comes to my mind at least – whose wife corners his fights. How do you both make that work so well?
SA: Well, like I said, from the beginning I never intended on being a fighter. It was just something I did. And if I said she was my cornerman, she was a free ticket. She’d get in for free, so she was my cornerman. She started taking it far more seriously than I ever did at the beginning. She’s the reason I moved to California. She’s the reason I got all the fights I got. She just kept looking for that next step, and that put us here. She’s got the greatest hand wrap in the business. She sees things in my opponents before I even think to look for them, and she is a legitimate cornerman. Not just for me, but she corners others too. I’m just the most famous.
DW: It appears that you like to try new things beyond fighting. Participating on Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge, trying to get on Hot Ones (LINK), and things like that. Is there anything you have in the works for after this fight?
SA: I want to get on The Hot Ones. I can’t get the guy to say yes. But I’m also applying to Fear Factor. I love doing stuff. I like to think of myself as like an F-List celebrity: I have just enough of a name behind me that TV shows might put me on. If I can get on a couple more TV shows… Dancing with the stars eventually, although I don’t know if anyone really wants to see me dance… Fear Factor, though. I would love to be on Fear Factor, because fear is not a factor.
DW: I’ve been listening to the Pound for Pound podcast (LINK) since it started. I like that you often veer off from MMA and discuss random things like The Simpsons, video games, Amsterdam, etc. Was that a conscious choice to not get entirely bogged down in MMA, or was it just how the conversations between you and your co-host Jordan Killion developed?
SA: It’s just the way the conversations developed. Talking about MMA twenty-four hours a day, and then training twenty-four hours a day; that’s exhausting. It’s so boring. We like talking about the fights, but we like just hanging out on the radio a little bit more.
DW: You’ve got a lot of fights in only nine years as a pro. What are your goals for the rest of this year and beyond?
SA: The biggest goal is I really want to set the record for most fights. I want to set that record. I wanted to set the record for most wins within a year also, but I can only tie that record. Stupid Elias Theodorou. But I can tie that record. For the rest of the year, I never want to lose again, and I’m training so that I never lose again. I’ll fight whoever. It is a goal of mine that someday I want to coach an Ultimate Fighter season. And in my head, the perfect season to coach would be America vs. Australia, Whittaker vs. Alvey. But, I got to win a couple more fights before Whittaker would even think about it.
We’ll be watching Smile ‘N Sam fight Saturday night. If he wins, there’s no telling if he’ll call out Bisping, or give a shout out to Sean Evans for the chance to eat unbearably hot chicken wings on a YouTube show. Whatever happens, it should be fun.
(* There is some dispute on his actual record. One or two fights from smaller shows early in his career apparently never made it onto his record, but almost all sources list it as 30-8-0 (1 NC).)