THERE ARE THREE BEINGS on Earth who despise Sam Alvey, and at this very moment they are huddled in a corner, looking at him, waiting for an opportunity to go around him or pass through him.

- Advertisement -

“Look, as soon as I open these gates, they will unite and run away from me,” says the UFC fighter. “They hate me so much.”

- Advertisement -

And indeed, Alvi opens the gate in his barn, and three black-bellied sheep form a small flock for a few seconds … then they rush past him, out of the barn into Alvi’s open field, where his horses roam.

- Advertisement -

Alvi is confused. He takes good care of the sheep. He loves them so much that he calls them Hughes, Jefe and CC, so when he refers to them, it sounds like “UFC”. He sounds a bit heartbroken as he looks out into the field and talks about the unrequited love of U, F, and C. Sheep hide next to Alvey’s two horses, Khan and Whisper, like quarterbacks hiding behind two big linemen.

At night, Alvi can only make them come back by herding the horses into the barn, waiting for the sheep to follow them, and then closing the gate behind them. They run to the corner of their stall in the barn and jinx him as he locks them up in the paddock for the night and leaves. He always says softly, “Goodnight UFC,” but they are ruthless with their frost.

“I don’t understand,” Alvi says. “I just do not know. I raise them from the day they are born, I feed them and do everything for them. And they hate me so much.” Alvi seems to be in need of a hug at this point. But for the most part, his life here on the farm in Tennessee is a wild and happy adventure. He married McKee Sullivan, winner of Season 11 of America’s Next Top Model, and they both had the same basic goals: to have as many kids, animals, and UFC fights as possible.

They had plenty of all three. That’s up to six kids under the age of 10, and they’re almost certainly not done yet. McKee just gave birth to son Evander in early June during a 22-hour home birth on their farm. She is as calm as Sam. She gave birth at home, other babies were wandering around, and Sam was filming it. “It was a beautiful day and I wanted the children to see how they were born,” she says.

They raised almost the entire farm animals as if they were beloved children. For some time Mackey kept all 30 chickens in the house and gave each of them names. For example, there is Batman 1, Batman 2 and Batman 3.

At one point, she tells a story about how she took care of the chickens. As she speaks, she breastfeeds Evander with one arm and prepares Swedish pancakes in the kitchen with her other arm. In the midst of it all, a bald cat with one eye—Cali Kitty, recently rescued—hops off the counter and onto her shoulders. Kali Kitty just puts a scarf around her neck while she bakes pancakes and babysits Evander. It looks like some kind of impossible challenge to TikTok.

When she finishes listing the names of the chickens, she mentions two turkeys, two horses, three dogs, three guinea fowls, three anti-Sam sheep, four cats, four geese, and six ducks. Sam wonders if they should count Kevin’s turtle, which they found by the road and put in their pond, but they haven’t seen him in a month. Probably no?

“Why did Kevin ever want to leave?” Mackey repulses.

So Kevin stays in the lead. This leads to a quick count of 57, but McKee jumps up and says, “That’s 57…so 63.”

Wait, where did the extra six come from?

“I expect there will be children there,” she says. “We have 63 heartbeats to take care of.”

“Then you need to do 64,” their 9-year-old Reagan says, and the whole room is baffled until she throws a climax. For Jordan.

Everyone laughs and looks towards the guest bedroom. Apparently, a Bellator fighter named Jordan Winsky, a longtime friend of Alvey, lives in the house. But Sam announces that the 64th heartbeat is probably not going to be seen by many people today because he has been playing video games all night.

Okay, let’s add a 33-year-old 12-3 cage fighter and take 58 juveniles on the Alvey farm.

To fund this adventure, Alvey fights every time the UFC calls. And it’s happened often: Alvey is about to fight his 24th UFC career fight, hallowed in an organization where only 28 fighters have ever made 26 career fights. UFC champions Brock Lesnar, Ronda Rousey and Bas Rutten have made 18 UFC fights. combined. This is a special class of pleasant, hardy grinders who have survived two dozen fights in the octagon.

Alvey has all of these qualities, plus he might be the most beloved character in the UFC. In a world of action movies that beg to be called “Ax Killer” and “Nightmare,” Alvy is… “Smile at Sam.” His father suggested that perhaps Grinning Reaper had slightly more advantages. But Alvey eventually decided that the nickname that suited him best was “Smile’n Sam” and he’s stayed that way ever since.

That’s why it’s so hard to believe that the luckiest man in MMA hasn’t won a single fight in four years.


WHEN ALVI WAS A CHILDhis mom always told him, “Don’t worry about the little things… and it’s all the little things.”

Everyone writes it on their kitchen board. So it can be frustrating to see someone who seems to actually be able to live that mantra. Alvey is so happy and considers his life a great success… and yet is in the middle of an all-time UFC drought.

He hasn’t won a fight since June 1, 2018, just as Ben Simmons was named NBA Rookie of the Year and Baker Mayfield was about to be rescued by the Browns. There have been 10 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and nine MCU TV shows since he defeated Gian Villante at UFC Fight Night: Rivera vs. Moraes. “The last few years have not gone according to plan,” he says, smiling. He knows what an understatement that is.

Alvey is 0-7-1 this stretch, accepting a series of possibly ill-advised last-minute offers or accepting late replacements for scheduled fights. Only BJ Penn had so many fights without a win. If Alvey doesn’t defeat Michal Olekseichuk on August 6 at UFC Fight Night in Vegas, his current contract will end with the worst winless run in UFC history. “Maybe that’s all for me, even if I win,” he admits.

And yet you will never know this by watching him move through the world. How many of us could go without winning for four years in our professional lives and be Smiling Mike or Smiling and Michelle by the watercooler?

When Alvi finishes feeding the animals in the morning, he goes inside to eat himself. The UFC now has a nutrition plan for fighters and Alvey has worked with a UFC nutritionist to develop a packaged food delivery that suits him.

So he takes a low-calorie baked ziti out of the freezer and heats it up. At some point very soon Alvi will have to worry about his weight. As he heads to the microwave this morning June 17th, he weighs 224 pounds. On the afternoon of August 5, he will weigh 186 pounds.

The children lined up along the kitchen table, eating their breakfast. They take turns returning to the couch to hold Evander. He is a remarkably calm three-week-old man. though he always seems to have that expression on his face like he’s watching a live broadcast of a crazy reality show. But in this case, it’s the reality show Meet Alvy, and he’s now in the cast.

At 9:30 a.m., 36-year-old Alvey finishes eating, which means it’s time for him to go to the local gym to work out. He has his main camp in California with MMA legend Dan Henderson. But in Tennessee, he found the nearby Guardian MMA club to spar before heading west for an intense seven-week prep for what will likely be his last UFC fight.

He thinks he’s won a few of those fights – three of them were by the always dreaded split decision, the worst possible scenario for every fighter, where one referee could miss or overestimate one punch or takedown and count it for the other guy. In these three fights, Alvey actually outplayed his opponents 184-176, but did not score a single victory (two losses and one draw).

“Split solutionshe says, shaking his head, pronouncing the “s” sound in the word “decisions” in such a drawling, fastidious tone that it looks like it needs to be squeaked. He says that the UFC management told him that they agree with him. that he got the job at least a handful of times over the past four years. In this case, those assurances seem legitimate, because in today’s UFC it’s almost inexplicable to see a mid-level fighter (Alvey reached #15 but hasn’t been ranked in years) to hold eight fights without a win and stay in the organization.

Its attractiveness is no doubt an important part of that. Cage fighting can be a brutal survival of the fittest sport with brutal, unconscious endings to fights and careers, and many of the biggest events benefit enormously when the insults between fighters are as nasty and real as can be. This is a world of mean faces, not smiles. And yet Alvi is still as busy as ever. “I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t like Sam Alvey,” says Henderson.

So Alvi is refreshing. He has a manager – her name is Mackey Sullivan – who hand-writes Christmas notes to about 90 UFC employees with whom her client has ever interacted. It always includes a family photo with smiling Alvies, as well as a $5 Starbucks gift card for each person. UFC president Dana White always gets a $10 card.

For better or worse, he is also a Dana White fighter. This means he has had several last second fights over the years, none of which he won, but he always showed up. “I am a fighter who never says no,” says Alvey.

When Henderson listens to the beginning of a question about Alvey’s willingness to take any fight, he purses his lips in disapproval and then interrupts, “It didn’t help his career because he wasn’t more careful with his opponents and he wasn’t ready to fight,” he says. “Engaging in fights on short notice didn’t help him much.”

Millions of Americans can probably identify with the two-stroke…