Brotherly love between Alvarez and Hopkins

A little help from his friends: Eddie Alvarez is evolving into the next great Philly fighter. Ed Mulholland for ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Less that two years ago, Bernard Hopkins -- Philadelphia’s most famous name in the prize ring -- likened MMA to adult entertainment. This was his way of saying he didn’t like it and nor would he be interested in renting its videos. Then he went to see a Golden Boy Promotions' recruit spar (Hopkins himself is a member of Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy stable) and was transfixed by the other guy. The one who wasn’t on his radar yet was beating down the recruit.

That fighter turned out to be Bellator’s lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, who was shooting a documentary at the time ahead of his title defense against Roger Huerta.

From that moment on, Hopkins had a newfound respect for mixed martial artists. Alvarez is the reason B-Hop changed his tune about MMA, as has been evidenced in the WBC’s light heavyweight champ’s interviews with MMA media this week.

“I got a chance to meet Bernard, and he didn’t look at MMA as anything too serious,” Alvarez said from Tenth Round gym in Fairless Hills, Penn. “We happened to be training in the same gym together and I caught his eye. I sparred against a guy Golden Boy was looking at and I did really well, and that kind of changed Bernard’s mind, that MMA guys aren’t just sloppy boxers. He actually saw behind the scenes, how hard I work and the effort I put into my training. He had the utmost respect for that, and I appreciate it.

“If you’re talking about Philadelphia and fighting, the first person you think of is Bernard Hopkins. So he inspired me in a way, and I look up to him. It’s cool to see he respects our sport.”

Alvarez, who grew up in the rough-and-tumble Kensington area where the original Rocky movie was filmed, will be on hand for UFC 133 tomorrow, just as Hopkins will. Alvarez has a title defense lined up against wrestler Michael Chandler for Oct. 15 in Atlantic City, N.J. One of his frequent training partners, the UFC’s lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, is prepping for Gray Maynard. Maynard trains with Chandler at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas.

It’s east versus west.

“Me and Frankie have been training together and helping each other out since [the] B.J. Penn [fight in April 2010], even before that,” he told ESPN.com. “It’s just one of them things, a weird coincidence. Me and Frankie, we’re always together and we’re actually fighting two training partners from another gym. We’ve got to represent for the east coast and hold it down. It’s going to be a whole Biggie/2Pac deal.”

After the Chandler fight, Alvarez will have two fights left on his contract, and will be free go where he chooses. He is aware that there are a lot of fans who are either pining for him to fight in the UFC, or are discounting him for not fighting in the UFC. And right now he says he’s pretty open to returning to Bellator -- but he’ll be all ears if the UFC gets motivated enough to bring him over.

“This was my thinking, when I first started with Bellator, it was ‘hey, this is a new company and I’m an up-and-coming fighter, and the company’s up-and-coming, and we can help each other grow,” he said. “They look like they’re growing, and I’d be more than happy to stay with Bellator and do that. It’s really up to the powers that be.

“When I tell people that it’s completely out of my hands, that it’s not my decision where I go, it really isn’t my decision. When my contract’s up, if people want to see me in the UFC, it’s not up to me. It’s up to Dana White to come up with a number that Bellator can’t match. If they want to get mad at something because I’m not there, you get mad at him, not me. It’s a clause in my contract, right of first refusal. When that contract’s up, if I’m not in the UFC after that, it’s not my decision.”