by Tyreef Cash (@nixon_speaks)
The year was 2011, and the Tapout & Affliction era was in full swing. Little did anyone know back then that only 3 years later Reebok would come in and essentially bury the entire MMA apparel business, so times back then were innocent. Simple. You could walk around downtown and see any variation of walkout tees or clothes.
It was during this peak that Philly’s own Eddie Alvarez, fresh off of a pair of wins in Bellator at the time, decided to throw his hat in the ring. This is my little story of how things were back then, how an MMA apparel shop ended up being sandwiched in between a bar and a gas station while serving as a beacon to the youth, and how Eddie Alvarez made this Philly kids summer a bit more enjoyable.
As a Philly native nowadays looking at people like Bryce Harper, Joel Embiid and others, it is easy to forget that just yesterday my city was the butt of every sports joke. The Phillies World Series win from 2008 was starting to wear off, the Eagles were in no man’s land and the Sixers were trying to convince anyone that would listen to ‘trust the process’. The UFC had finally touched down in 2009 with “The Spider” in tow, but no one knew when they would be back and we didn’t have a ‘name’ in the mix to make it worth their time. I think you can start to see how the prospects of my great city being included into the MMA mix were sleek back then.
Then one day there I am, just listening to Power 99 bumping whatever song had enough 808’s to make me forget about the heat, and the promo that would, in time, change my outlook on Philly MMA and sports in general came roaring through my headphones.
“BE CALLER NUMBER 99, WE ARE GIVING AWAY 2 TICKETS TO BELLATOR THIS WEEKEND AT TEMPLE!”
What? I knew nothing of this Bellator but I did know that Ben Askren was legit. My HS wrestling coach Waverly Lane engraved his name into our heads via grainy technique vids and hanging up pictures of him in our weight check room. And since it wasn’t a UFC show, it would be cheaper I assumed. Since it was at Temple University, I could walk there too. I was sold! Now I’ll save the Ben Askren conclusion for another time, but in the same way Rumble Johnson took my attention at UFC 104, and the same way Derrick Lewis stole UFC 229, Eddie Alvarez, the man from Kensington, Philadelphia who attended my rival HS North Catholic back in the day, had my eyes glued to the cage as he put on a brutal fight with Roger Huerta.
I knew nothing of the guy at the time. All I knew was what I heard and saw that night, and that was that amidst the sports lull in my city, here someone was, a Philadelphia Catholic League veteran like myself. He was from the ‘hood’ just like me, putting his heart on full display right on Temple’s campus at the Liacourus. And just like that, faith in my city had been fully restored.
Now thats all good and dandy but up to this point, I still haven’t officially met the man. I was just another fan that knew we had something special living in the city. I went back to school and graduated the following year, came out the closet and finished my HS campaign with a few medals to boot; not much to see there. The summer before college, probably the most boring summer of my life, was in full swing and me and my partner at the time had nothing but time to burn. I would have never thought on that day that me saying ‘lets get Chinese’ would turn into an inspirational moment. I was just hungry.
But just like that, with those 3 words, it sent me towards the single most uplifting moment I’ve had in the sport. One block away from the Port Richmond Village, Eddie Alvarez had set up shop and was having a door buster event with all his family there, and my depressed ass was walking straight to it without even knowing.
This is how I ended up in The Red Corner.
“Wow look at his forearms, he has to be a wrestler,” I looked over and said as we hit the corner. Stomach grumbling made us both quickly forget about it as we trotted up the street towards this table and banner. In Philly you are conditioned that if you see those 2 things just sitting outside, it means someone wants you buy something, so we skirted past without a moments hesitation. As I did, I looked to my left and saw a little TV hanging on a wall inside this new shop, I couldn’t help BUT look [it was a replay of his Pat Curran fight]. That one glance stopped me dead in my steps, and there I stood in the middle of Aramingo Ave and Moyer, wondering what this mecca of MMA goods was doing here and why I had missed it all this time.
“You a wrestler?” was the next thing I heard, and it made everything click in my head. I turned around and there he was, the man I had just foolishly walked past, with a bright smile and cap on standing right in front of me with his hand reached out. As I shook his hand I was making all the correlations, Kensington, Temple, Bellator, and now The Red Corner… “Oh shit, you’re Eddie Alvarez,” was about 2-seconds from flying out of my mouth, but I had forgotten my manners. “Yes sir,” squeaked out of my mouth and he just laughed, like he knew what mental math I had just completed and wanted to break the tension before this oversized fanboy started to tell him about it. He said I could go in and watch the fight and we did, I had already seen it, but how could I tell the man no? Ya know?
I could continiue on with all the minute details but there was one thing he said in passing that has still stuck with me, and I don’t even think he was aware at the time. I feverishly told him me and my partner were going to leave, and that we were going to get food; he could tell I was being weird about saying it was my partner, and in true Philly fashion he just disregarded my nerves and shot clean to the point. “You Happy?” he said. “I think so?” I replied. With two eyes locked on me as he walked towards his wife and child, he uttered the 4 words I needed to hear at that time, “Life’s short, be happy”.
I didn’t know at the time how much I needed that, and I definitely didn’t know how hard it was to run an operation in Philly or where Eddie would end up. But I do know that thanks to Eddie Alvarez, I left the Red Corner uplifted, rejuvenated, and with a little more self worth than when I walked in. It all started two neighborhoods over, and while today the building may stand as just another Philly building waiting to get remodeled, I’ll always remember that building as the spot where I met Philly royalty.
So thank you Eddie, I’ll always remember The Red Corner.