Eddie Alvarez was in the most dominant position in MMA when Saturday’s fight with Dustin Poirier took an instantaneous turn for the worse. While on top of Poirier and pinning him against the cage in the second round, Alvarez threw an illegal elbow that resulted in the fight being stood up. Momentum shifted from Alvarez and to Poirier, who moments later landed punches and knees and eventually earned the TKO win.
Who deserves blame for Alvarez’s loss? Mark Henry, Alvarez’s coach, says it should be on him.
“If you’re going by fault, [on a scale of] one to 10, I’d give it a thousand — my fault,” Henry said on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show on Monday. “I’d say definitely it was my fault.”
Video of the pivotal sequence, which took place right in front of Alvarez’s corner, shows Henry yelling for his fighter to throw elbows, and in doing so, the coach motions in the illegal 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock angle.
“The first gesture you can see from me is 100 percent the wrong gesture,” Henry said. “I wanted him to know we wanted elbows. The second [gesture], you can see me kind of slapping the inside of my elbow. That’s the elbow I wanted.” Video shows Alvarez briefly looking toward his corner as Henry was making the first elbow gesture. Then he threw the illegal blow, and referee Marc Goddard halted the action and stood the fighters up.
“I wish he would have given us a warning,” Henry said of Goddard, whom he nonetheless described as “an amazing referee” and “one of the best.”
The coach acknowledged that the call was correct.
“I’m not stupid — you can’t do a 12-6,” Henry said. “But it is what I showed. Eddie did look at me at the time. It’s 1,000 percent my fault. It’s a shame. I definitely let Eddie down and my team down.”
Henry, a New Jersey-based coach who also trains Frankie Edgar, Marlon Moraes and others, also revealed that Alvarez suffered a neck injury during training that had his coach suggesting he pull out of the fight. It was a stinger that prevented him from wrestling during camp and severely cut down on his sparring.
Alvarez nonetheless went through with the fight and seized advantage until it was reversed in an instant in the second round.
Alvarez (29-6, 1 NC), after being stood up from the full mount position, soon was caught by a flurry of punches and driven back against the cage, where Poirier (24-5, 1 NC) finished him at 4:05 of the round.
It was the second controversial ending for a matchup of these fighters. When they met last year, Poirier was in control in Round 2 until a hurt Alvarez turned the tables. Alvarez had Poirier on the canvas against the cage and landed a knee to the head, illegal in that position. The bout was ruled a no contest, necessitating a rematch.
This past weekend’s bout had the added gravitas of being for the No. 1 contender spot in the lightweight division. That status might not bear immediate fruit for Poirier, though, as the UFC has said Khabib Nurmagomedov likely will next defend his belt against ex-champion Conor McGregor, who has been absent from the Octagon since November 2016.