“The Underground King” has come a long way from his difficult beginnings to become one of the premier lightweights in mixed martial arts today.
Alvarez grew up in Kensington, an area in North Philadelphia that had a crime rate 83-percent higher than the national average in the United States.
A few years after his family first moved there, Alvarez noticed things in his neighborhood were starting to take a turn for the worse.
“Growing up in the neighborhoods in North Philadelphia was okay, and then there was a major change when I was about 7 or 8 years old,” Alvarez explained.
“The area became really drug-ridden. Heroin made its way into the neighborhood and basically deteriorated the whole neighborhood into just a poverty-stricken, drug-driven area.”
Alvarez’s parents enrolled him into a private catholic school outside Kensington to keep their son away from the negative influences in the neighborhood.
With many youths in Kensington either consumed by drugs or drawn into a life of crime, Alvarez knew he had a chance to get a head start on his peers in life.
Refusing to become just another statistic in a crime-infested neighborhood, Alvarez was extremely driven at an early age to make the most of this opportunity.
“I was driven at a very young age,” Alvarez said. “I know I had to work twice as hard – three times as hard as everyone else to make it, or at least get out of that neighborhood.”
Before his journey into martial arts, Alvarez honed his athleticism when he joined his school’s track team.
Under the guidance of his father, Alvarez quickly developed the work ethic needed to succeed.
“I joined a track team and the school was three miles away, so I used to put my backpack on, and my dad used to tell me that I don’t need a ride to school – since I joined track, I should practice running,” he explained.
Even then, Alvarez was disciplined and focused in his approach towards athletics.
“So I used to put my backpack on, and at 8 years old, I used to [run] about three miles all the way to school. I used to get changed in a nearby alley – changing into my Catholic school uniform – and put my sweaty stuff in my bag,” Alvarez recalled.
“I remembered being really young, being very responsible, very accountable, and doing things that even adults wouldn’t be driven to do at a very young age.”
Alvarez was inspired by Sylvester Stallone’s titular character in the famous boxing movie Rocky, which was filmed in his neighborhood. He believed his story mirrored that of the film, and that he would eventually rise out of his circumstances stronger.
“Rocky was filmed in my neighborhood in North Philadelphia, so fighting, that’s what we did,” Alvarez said.
The values of hard work and triumph against all odds were a huge source of motivation for Alvarez, who found it in his nature to battle for everything he ever wanted.
“I grew up on Rocky – working hard and the victory at the end of it all. I love that. I love that story. I watched it over and over,” Alvarez shared.
Even after leaving his neighborhood nearly twenty years ago, and now in a position to give his family a better life than he had, Alvarez has never forgotten his roots.
Alvarez knows he is a product of his environment, for better or worse, and it has helped to mold him into the World Champion he would eventually become.
“I’ve defied the odds,” Alvarez said. “I’ve made a good life for me and my family. Maybe Rocky is living the Eddie Alvarez story.”