by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
Following an unbelievable year that saw him defeat three different Top 10 opponents, American Top Team fighter Thiago “Pitbull” Alves has been named MMAWeekly.com’s 2008 Fighter of the Year.

When the year began, Alves had already stated that he planned on making major waves in the UFC’s welterweight division and said numerous times that he would one day put the 170-pound title around his waist.

The year for Alves began with an April match-up against perennial contender Karo Parisyan at a UFC Fight Night event in Denver. What happened in the fight was a second round TKO by Alves after he landed a devastating knee strike to Parisyan before finishing him off with a few more punches on the ground.

After injuries plagued the main event for UFC 85 in England, Alves stepped up on short notice to fill in and face former welterweight kingpin Matt Hughes in a pivotal bout that helped to shake out a top contender in the division.

The one downside for the fight was Alves missing weight for the contest after an ankle injury in training prevented the young Brazilian from doing the proper cardio to drop the extra few pounds needed to make 170. While Alves still held himself responsible, he explained the situation to MMAWeekly Radio after the bout was over.

“I called my manager, Mr. Dan Lambert, and I told him to call Joe Silva and everything, to ask permission so I could take a cortisone shot, that was pretty much it. I couldn’t do anything for three days, so my weight got really heavy,” Alves commented. “I couldn’t work out. When you take a cortisone shot, you kind of hold water in your body, and I was doing fine, but the last four pounds I couldn’t make it, I couldn’t do it. I sat in the sauna; it was really bad. I apologize to the UFC, I apologize to all my fans.”

In the fight, Alves showed true dominance by putting Hughes on the defensive almost as soon as the bout started. He peppered Hughes with shots while stuffing takedowns, before hitting a thunderous flying knee that put the former champion down and out in the second round.

While most assumed Alves would soon be in line for a welterweight title shot, the American Top Team standout didn’t want to sit out for long. He was prepared to face Diego Sanchez in October, but an injury forced him out. So Alves got another “Ultimate Fighter” season 1 cast member instead as Josh Koscheck accepted the fight on short notice.

Koscheck, considered to be one of the best wrestlers to ever fight in the UFC, struggled mightily trying to get Alves to the ground during their bout and instead ate a steady diet of leg kicks that punished him all night long.

Alves hit Koscheck with a variety of strikes throughout the bout, and while his opponent should be commended for holding up under extreme pressure, the Brazilian dominated his way to a unanimous decision win over another top ranked fighter.

“It’s just hard work paid off man. I’ve been training really hard and working really hard trying to get to this point,” Alves told MMAWeekly.com “It’s been paying off.”

In early December, UFC president Dana White confirmed that Alves was indeed next in line for a shot at the welterweight title. He will watch the upcoming bout between Georges St. Pierre and B.J. Penn with baited breath, as he will face the winner, likely in the spring of 2009.

Always staying humble, Alves always pays tribute to his training partners and coaches at American Top Team, but 2008 was definitely the year of The Pitbull. Thiago Alves earned his place as Fighter of the Year.