by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
Currently the American Top Team is one of the hottest teams around. Long known for producing solid Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu based fighters; the ATT has recently become the showcase for some of the top rising contenders anywhere.

Earlier this year both Denis Kang and Marcus Aurelio took big steps forward towards Pride’s Welterweight and Lightweight Championships when both won their matches at Bushido 10. Aurelio in particular put people on notice when he defeated the once indomitable Takanori Gomi in convincing fashion.

Now at UFC 59 both Jeff Monson and Thiago Alves have opportunities to take steps closer to UFC gold. And while Monson fights for the number one contender status in the heavyweight division, for Alves UFC 59 represents a chance for him to make his own name among the talent rich welterweight division.

Nicknamed “Pitbull” for his aggressive non-stop style of fighting, Alves made his mark through the ATT’s connections in the Midwest and Florida fighting circuits. Never one to back down from a challenge, win or lose, he always put forward an exciting fight.

Upon winning three of his first four fights, Alves put himself in a position to impress at King of the Cage’s Payback PPV in early 2005 and he did not disappoint. Just 15 seconds into the fight Thiago knocked out then undefeated Jeff Cox and in the process showed everyone he could be dangerous anywhere in a fight.

Impressed by Alves’ skills, the UFC invited Thiago to compete at Ultimate Fight Night 2 against fellow rising prospect Spencer Fisher. Perhaps too focused on Fisher’s blazing hand speed, Alves underestimated Spencer’s ground game and got caught in a triangle choke late in the second round.

Even with the loss however Thiago looked good enough to warrant a return to the promotion one month later in a prelim fight at UFC 56. This time against Russian Ansar Chalangov, Alves showcased his superior skills and finished the overmatched Ansar half way through the first round.

So with an even UFC record Thiago returns to the company to see if he can take another step forward and make a name for himself in a stacked welterweight division. To do so he’ll have to beat a man who handed him is first ever loss in Derrick Noble.

To win Alves must remain aggressive but not underestimate any part of Noble’s game. Derrick has shown great well-rounded skills and stamina, but has been complacent at times, and it is then when Thiago must take advantage. Simply put Alves must not allow Noble to dictate the pace of the fight.

A win would further Thiago’s standing in the log-jammed 170lb division. Currently with all the talent in the division it’s important for someone like Alves to make a strong name for himself now as jockeying for contender status will begin once Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre settle the title picture later in the year.

A loss, while a setback for Thiago, won’t be devastating as the UFC will always be looking for fighters that can provide exciting matches against the remainder of the weight classes’ talent. Basically this fight can either be a stepping stone for Alves or make him one for others.

At UFC 59 the ATT can take a big step forward with the participation of Jeff Monson and Thiago Alves. For Thiago in particular this is an opportunity to put himself one step closer to where Monson finds himself, in title contention.

With the UFC looking for young talent to market to an ever-growing fan base, fighters like Alves can find themselves quickly in demand if they perform well on a consistent basis. And that will lead to the kind of exposure that not only gains all-important endorsements, but eventual title shots.