Sam Alvey is always smiling.
He’s smiling when he’s on the grappling mats grinding out endless hours of wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu. He’s always smiling when he’s being deprived of food and cutting weight. He’s even smiling when he’s in the cage fighting against another man hell-bent on taking his head off. Even when he’s busted up and bloodied, Alvey is still smiling.
A smile in the testosterone-filled realm of combat sports is rare. Countless times fighters emerge from the locker rooms with a look of intensity glued on their faces. And then there’s Alvey, who enters the fray of the unknown in one of the most unforgiving sports in the world with a wide-eyed grin spread across his face.
That lingering smile, as well as his world-class fighting skills, helped turn him into a cult hit with MMA fans.
“I’m always smiling. If you say something bad about my baby, maybe I’ll stop smiling—maybe, no guarantees,” Alvey once said. “Pretty much I smile all the time. I’m a very happy guy. People that know me are the ones that came up with the [nickname Smilin’ Sam], and it was for a reason. I’m a happy guy. I’ve got nothing not to smile about.”
A simple realization of the beauty of existence can turn the most crumpled frown upside down, and in a divisive world full of hate and fear-mongering, Alvey draws a brighter light through the world enclosed around him.
That world includes his beautiful wife, McKey Sullivan, and their three children. It also includes a pair of four-ounce gloves, board shorts, a mouthpiece and a hell of a lot of courage.
But the one thing that truly sets Alvey apart from most fighters is the connection he has with fans. He is by far one of the most relatable fighters on the entire UFC roster. Anyone on the street would have a tough time branding him as an average Joe or a professional fighter. He could literally pass as that next door neighbor watering his grass and flipping hamburger patties on a propane grill every Saturday afternoon.
His smile is infectious and it transcends language barriers. Even a partisan Brazilian crowd relentlessly cheered him on after he floored one of their own, Cezar Ferreira, in the first round at UFC Fight Night 61. Alvey stood in the center of the cage in a goofy celebratory stance taking it all in with that trademark smile etched on his face.
Although fighting has long been an integral part of Alvey’s life, it was never something he thought he’d be doing professionally. He merely enjoyed the challenges of training and testing himself in a gym setting. The UFC didn’t even exist in his world when he stepped into his first dojo and kicked his first Thai bag.
“I’ve always loved fighting. When I started fighting, I had no intentions of the UFC, I didn’t know what the UFC was,” Alvey said on MMAjunkie Radio. “It was just someone setting up a fight and I fought, and eventually somebody said they’d pay me if I fought.”
“So I was like, ‘Oh suckers, would have done it for free.’ Somewhere along the line it turned into a career. I just love doing it. I’d say I’d fight for free, but you’re going to have to pay me to cut weight. And the honest truth is I’d fight anywhere at any time.”
Alvey will be fighting for the fourth time this year on Saturday at The Ultimate Fighter Latin America 3 Finale against Alex Nicholson. He is already coming off back-to-back wins over Eric Spicely and Kevin Casey. A third consecutive win would be a great way for Alvey to end the year, although he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of at least one more fight before January.
The top-heavy middleweight division is starving for fresh contenders and marketable personalities.
If Alvey’s fighting abilities can beam as brightly as his smile, he should have no problems breaking into the division’s top-15. But opponents and critics alike will have plenty of problems wiping the everlasting smirk from his face.