AXS TV Fights
Exclusive Interview: ‘Smilin’ Sam Alvey and McKey Sullivan
The relationship between corner and fighter is one of the most important in the fight world. A good or bad corner can make the difference in whether or not a fighter wins or loses. Conversely, even the greatest advice from the corner only works if the fighter listens to them. In his most recent two fights at MFC 36 and MFC 37 we witnessed “Smilin” Sam Alvey do both. At MFC 36, in his five round war with Elvis “The King” Mutapcic for the middleweight title, Alvey did not listen to his corner and lost a tough UD. In his next fight against former UFC veteran Jay “Da Spyda Killa” Silva he took home a third round TKO and listened to his corner throughout the fight.
A fighter and his/her corner must remain strong and be able to weather the difficult times the fight game will throw at you. Alvey has an especially strong and close relationship with his corner because she is also his wife, McKey Sullivan. Outside of the fight world she is known as the winner of Cycle 11 of America’s Next Top Model. To those of us who follow MMA she is know as Sam Alvey’s wife, and corner. She has cornered him for all of his fights except the TUF fight and is a big part of his 20-5 record, and why he is poised to once again challenge for the middleweight title. Oh yeah, she was also almost eight and half weeks pregnant for his last fight while she was working his corner. The one concession to her condition was teammate Bryan Harper also co-cornered for this last fight. After his last fight and before the birth of their first child they took a few moments to discuss their relationship as corner and fighter.
Dwayne Wolff: Did McKey not being there for the TUF fight affect you?
Sam Alvey: I like to get myself in a good rut. I like doing the same thing at the same time every day and I got to the Ultimate Fighter and I didn’t get to do the same things everyday. She did warm me up like we normally do and I think it showed.
DW: Has your relationship as corner and fighter changed over the years?
Sam: We have just kind of grown in the together. I personally haven’t noticed much of a difference because we started together. So it’s kind of the same things as it has always been.
McKey Sullivan: I see a big difference. In the beginning the game plan was just give him whatever he needs. If he needs water that’s great and at one point we had to ice his feet but mostly it was just cheering him on and taking video. Then he started winning and moving up. All of the sudden we put tape on his hand, and warm up before and work out strategy. Then while he was still an amateur other people started getting involved in his fight career and it was like, Oh My God, there is actually more to this than I would have thought: learning about warming up, jumping rope, doing a proper hand wrap, and I just realized – if he is going to start getting better at this I need to start doing what the other corner’s are doing.
There is no doubt that McKey has raised her game along with Alvey. During the title fight with Mutapcic, commentator Pat Miletech said several times that if Alvey would listen to his corner he would have a better chance in the fight. During the fight and in between rounds she gives specific directions that can easily be incorporated very similarly to the way Greg Jackson and Duane “Bang” Ludwig are when they are cornering. She is a big part of why he is poised once again to challenge for the MFC middleweight belt in a re-match with Mutapcic in the very near future.
DW: Was it re-watching the Mutapcic fight or just knowing how it went that you realized you needed to listen to your corner more?
Sam: Just knowing how the fight went and between every round she kept telling me do this or you’re not doing this and I just knew better than her I guess. But just pretty much from the fight I knew it was close, and any little thing every round of that could have gone a different direction if I had landed one more or even just shot and taken him down once it would have changed the outcome of the fight especially with him having a point deducted and what we both saw was I needed to listen more.
McKey: He could kind of tell by the look I had on my face afterwards.
DW: So it is frustrating when he did not listen in that fight?
McKey: Definitely. I think you can see me rolling my eyes in his corner. It is a little frustrating that you see something that he could be capitalizing on and he doesn’t do it. But, when he does listen it feels pretty good.
DW: How were you able to listen better in this last fight against Jay Silva versus the Mutapcic fight?
Sam: I think the biggest thing was I realized that I didn’t listen to her after the fight. That when I should have changed strategies I didn’t. Once I realized I didn’t do it I paid closer attention. This fight you could see it most of the first round against Jay Silva I was kind of laid back. I didn’t fight like I needed to until the end of the round. Then I got back to the corner and both her and my other corner Bryan Harper said I gotta press. Every time I press, he folds. I started pressing and had a great second round and finished him in the third.
DW: How much of the fight with Jay Silva went as you thought it would and what adjustments did you have to make?
McKey: We kind of had two separate ideas of what we thought would happen going into the fight. We thought he would try and stand but also thought he might try to get him against the cage. During the fight Silva really didn’t want to engage especially after Sam rocked him. It went as expected. The only thing was Sam started a little slower with the original game plan.
DW: Do you two watch fight film together or separate and then compare notes?
McKey: We will watch it together and take notes, what we think about the guy is doing. I point out what I see and him with what he see, what we think might happen in the upcoming fight and come up with our game plan from there.
DW: Do you also go back and watch your fights afterwards together?
McKey: Normally about twenty times and he has a high winning percentage and he enjoys his moments, like watch this, but I have my critiques and bring him back down to earth. Yeah you won but check that out and with the losses it takes a day or two before we will want to look at it, but it is definitely something to learn from and after every loss Sam has comeback stronger.
DW: Are you involved in his training process all the way through his workouts as well, or is it purely strategy?
McKey: I’ve been a lot less active with him. Normally I will go in and he shows me what he has been working on. We’ll wrestle a little bit and spar a little bit but too much because I hit him too hard. But I do go in and watch all his sparring and learn what he needs to do and we kind of make game plans so that we can make sure that he is focusing on the things he needs to focus for the particular opponent coming up.
DW: What do you think are the keys to an effective fighter and corner relationship?
Sam: They just have to know each other. More the corner has to know the fighter than the fighter has to know the corner. They just have to know what they are capable of as a fighter. I’ve got a strong jab but not every corner would know that about me. So she can use that to her advantage where some corners that don’t know how I fight so well wouldn’t be aware of what I am use to doing or what I do well.
DW: What do you expect or want from the corner during the fight?
Sam: Most of the time what I’m looking for is whatever I don’t see. Even when I corner I try to tell guys what I don’t think they see. They know how to fight, I know how to fight, but I may not always see everything because I’m in there. She’s keeping an eye out for what his tendencies are and am I doing anything wrong also – that is really all I am looking for.
DW: Is it an advantage with communication being husband and wife?
McKey: Yeah it’s more comfortable. He definitely probably feels more comfortable with me telling him critiques causes he’s used to it. I don’t know, I’ve cornered guys I know and guys I don’t know and it’s kind of in the moment, its all the same thing, but it is good knowing that I know exactly what he can do, and what he can’t do, and its good knowing somebody that well.
DW: Do you think it makes you more comfortable, Sam, knowing that it’s her and where it comes from?
Sam: Yeah I’m real comfortable with her in the corner. She knows what I’m thinking before I do most of the time. So everything she says makes sense to me and I trust her. Whatever she says I trust will work and it tends to. I got a pretty good record now and she’s a big part of that. She understands the sport as well as anyone does. I don’t know if she will ever step into the cage but honestly it’s not out of the question.
DW: That is a question I wanted to ask McKey. Do you have an interest in stepping inside of the cage?
McKey: I’ve always enjoyed training. Sam and I are always training around the same time, and it’s been a great workout routine for me, but with the modeling thing it has never quite worked out, and now with the pregnancy it never quite worked out. In the future when I’m not modeling and not pregnant it wouldn’t be too out of the question to try fighting. I’m just not quite sure on how well I take a punch. I’ve gotten black eyes and split lips and stuff like that but some of the fights I seen it gets quite brutal out there I’m not sure how I will handle it.
Whether or not she steps inside the cage she will continue to be a big part of the fight world through her corner work with Alvey. They have just celebrated the birth of their first child. I am sure they will have a fight coming up in the near future for MFC. If it is not a rematch for the title against Mutapcic it will certainly be an elimination bout to determine who gets the next shot at the belt.
In the meantime, you can follow McKey on Twitter @GrandmaMayo and Sam @smilensam. He encourages any fans who have a question to hit him up on Twitter, he is very good about answering them. They would also like to thank all of his sponsors and Team Quest “the greatest team in the world,” as Sam puts it. I hope you enjoyed their unique insight into the fighter and corner relationship.
All photos via McKey Sullivan’s Play Place – Sam Alvey
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