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American dream means everything to Brazil’s Alves

Do you remember the part about a land which should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, about a place with opportunity for all according to ability and accomplishment?

You know, all the stuff you hear before turning the channel or shutting off the radio to calculate your weekly debt and verify you are still employed.

Thiago Alves doesn’t think it’s all some goofy slogan for a commercial or hokey words in song. He really believes it.

The kid can’t get enough of the American dream.

He’s a walking, talking, breathing 20th century novel.

“I love this country,” Alves said. “The place where dreams come true. The place where if you put your mind to something and work hard, you can get it. You can be anything you want.

“It’s not like Brazil.”

I am guessing Thiago won’t be hired as the next celebrity spokesman for the Rio de Janeiro tourist bureau.

What he could become tonight is something much more: a champion.

On any other card of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Alves against Georges St. Pierre would stand as a pay-per-view main event on its own. Its hype could carry an entire show. It wouldn’t need a running partner.

But in the extreme scale that has become UFC 100 at Mandalay Bay, the welterweight title fight instead will be staged before a matchup of heavyweights Frank Mir and Brock Lesnar.

“If (St. Pierre-Alves) was a headline fight on any other card,” UFC president Dana White said, “people would be losing their minds and going crazy.”

You won’t find Alves arguing about placement.

He has waited years for this moment and stumbled along the way reaching it. He has been at times as disciplined as a 5-year-old left alone with a jar of jellybeans. He likes to party like Kyle Busch likes to race.

Alves was once suspended by the Nevada Athletic Commission for eight months for testing positive for a diuretic, which he said he used to make weight for a fight. Another time, he simply failed to make weight. It’s as if he cuts down with a butter knife.

What did he do during those eight months on suspension?

“Partied,” he said.

He is as free talking about missteps as he is his desire to beat St. Pierre and win a title at age 25. The only thing standing in his way is the most athletically gifted welterweight champion in UFC history.

Anderson Silva, as middleweight champion, is considered the best UFC fighter on the planet, but St. Pierre resides in the same neighborhood.

“I get to fight one of the best in the world and get my belt at the same time,” said Alves, who on Friday made weight for the 170-pound fight. “He has it, but I’m taking it. No disrespect to Georges, but this is my time. There is no doubt in my mind.

“I was born for this moment. I just know it. I’m ready. I can’t wait.”

He is convinced it will happen because of the young man who arrived from Brazil six years ago, with $70 in his pocket and unable to speak a word of English. He made $220 a week while training with American Top Team in Florida back then and sent half his wages home to family each month. He still does. The envelope is just heavier now.

He is convinced St. Pierre’s time as champion is over because he really believes the fantasy exists for those who chase hard enough. Alves dreams big.

An interesting point: He learned English because, in his view, if you’re going to embrace and live in a country, it’s on you to speak the language. He loves everything American except its soccer because, well, football to Brazilians is as close to a life-and-death experience as walking the streets of Rio after dark.

There hasn’t been the trash talking around St. Pierre-Alves as other UFC 100 fights. You haven’t seen the level of laughable self-importance as Lesnar arriving to media functions with his own public relations team, led by some guy shooting for a Jon Bon Jovi look who walks around giving the impression of always texting someone important.

It has been more business than anything for the main event before the main event. Thiago Alves is just ready, is all. He has chased this moment for years.

“I got here when I was 19,” he said. “I started fighting and got a little money and fame, and it’s true I enjoyed myself a lot. But I always knew what I came here for. Leaving and going back was never an option. I have to finish my goal of winning a title or my life has no meaning.

“There is more opportunity here in America. It’s just waiting for you to take it.”

And if he does by winning tonight, what then?

“Then,” Alves said, “I’m really going to party.”

Las Vegas Review Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at 702-383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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