From 2008 until August of 2010, Thiago Alves’ strongest asset wasn’t his tremendous striking skills. It was the poker face he wore before each fight.
On the surface, Alves had the look of a man assured of winning. It did not matter who the opposition happened to be -- Matt Hughes, Josh Koscheck, UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre or Jon Fitch -- Alves always gave the impression he would leave the Octagon victorious.
But too often that wasn’t actually what he believed.
On many occasions there was doubt in his mind. Alves wasn’t always 100 percent confident he would be the best man inside the cage on fight night.
The lack of confidence had nothing to do with believing in his skill-set -- he's always believed in his physically abilities; it’s what gave him the strength to step in the cage against top 170-pound competitors. The source of Alves’ doubts would creep in during training camp. He wasn’t comfortable with the folks calling the shots -- his coaches.
In the past, Alves and his handlers weren’t on the same page during training camp and it reduced his confidence and performance on fight night.
After an impressive 2008 campaign in which he registered wins over Hughes and Koscheck, Alves suffered unanimous decision losses to St. Pierre and Fitch.
“For you to step in there and give your best, you have to know that the entire team gave its best, that everything was done right,” Alves told ESPN.com on Tuesday. “If you have any doubts in your mind it’s going to show in the fight.
“It was just a matter of getting the right people behind me, and getting my confidence back. I’m still at American Top Team, but like in every camp there are coaches who come and go. Right before my fight with Koscheck, we [the coaches and I] had a falling out. That dragged on until after the [St. Pierre] camp.
“After that fight [against St. Pierre], I found new people. It took me a few fights to get adjusted to the new coaching staff.”
Alves (19-8) has won two of his three most recent fights and his confidence level is at a career high. He will carry that confidence into his welterweight showdown Friday night against Martin Kampmann. The two meet in the main event at UFC on FX 2 in Sydney.
Kampmann (18-2) is as tough as they come, and is looking to maintain the momentum he regained with a unanimous decision over Rick Story in November. That win allowed Kampmann to halt his losing skid at two.
But Kampmann could be facing his stiffest test as a professional in Alves. The Coconut Creek, Fla.-based Alves appears to be in the best shape of his career, both physically and mentally.
Alves, who has struggled in the past to make the 170-pound limit, gives a large chunk of credit for his turnaround to nutritionist Mike Dolce.
“I brought in Mike Dolce after the Fitch fight and that took me to another level in my career,” Alves said. “My old strength and conditioning coach used to pretty much abuse me when it came to the weight cut. It was painful. It would make me think about quitting my job.
“Since I started working with Mike Dolce, I’ve enjoyed the whole process. Three days before the weigh-in and I’m just 11 pounds over the limit. This has never happened before in my career. And I feel great. I’m ready to fight right now.
“When I know I have the right people behind me and I know I did the right training I know I can go out there and perform at my best. That’s what happened in my last fight [a first-round submission victory over Papy Abedi in November] and that’s exactly what’s going to happen Friday night.”