SINGAPORE - Mixed martial arts (MMA) star Eddie Alvarez hailed fellow athlete Demetrious Johnson as "one of the greatest guys - if not the greatest" in the sport, as rumours of the latter joining him in One Championship continue to swirl.
Alvarez, 34, made the comments to The Straits Times in an exclusive phone interview on Thursday (Oct 25).
The former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight (up to 70kg) champion was officially unveiled as a free agent signing for One last Thursday, and is the biggest name to sign for the Singapore-based organisation.
When asked if he knew anything about speculation that flyweight (up to 57kg) great Johnson was close to a move to One, Alvarez coyly said: "I've learned over time, that if you learn about a rumour in MMA, it's actually true.
"It would be my honour if Demetrious Johnson and I are the first two (big-name) guys to go to One (directly from the UFC).
"I've always looked up to him, and I've always thought he was one of the greatest guys - if not the greatest - in the sport of MMA."
Alvarez added that before he signed with One, the organisation's founder and chairman Chatri Sityodtong had told him that "there will be other large names from the United States" who would join the organisation after him.
Contacted, Chatri said One was on the cusp of making more "major signings".
On Johnson, however, he would only say: "Demetrious Johnson is the No.1, pound-for-pound, greatest martial artist in history, and his extraordinary achievements speak for themselves. But what I'm most impressed by him is his character, values and life story."
Johnson is regarded by many as one of the greatest MMA fighters, and held the UFC flyweight title for 2,142 days - the second-longest reign in UFC history, behind Anderson Silva's 2,457 days as middleweight (up to 84kg) champion.
Johnson's 11 successful title defences is also a record in the UFC.
He tweeted on Thursday: "Just so every one knows I am pumped and excited for the future. Stay tuned! #newadventure."
Media outlets in the United States have reported that Johnson's move to One will see welterweight (up to 77kg) fighter Ben Askren move the opposite direction.
Askren, 34, retired in Nov 2017 at One's "Immortal Pursuit" event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, but has since hinted a return to action.
On Tuesday, he tweeted that he was "98 per cent" likely to fight in the UFC, when asked by a fan.
If it goes through, the swop will be the first of its kind to feature two world-class MMA fighters between major organisations.