Slugfest is “Fight of the Year” Candidate
All Photos by Chris Farina
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Did you watch the Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado
fight on Saturday night?
If you were there live, no doubt you’re still buzzing about it. If you caught it on HBO, your TiVo is probably getting a workout. And if you haven’t seen it yet and you love boxing then this is one war that’s a “must see.” An instant classic. A brutal slugfest that will leave you in awe of two pure warriors willing to go out on their shield.
This was a highly-anticipated war of attrition that everyone had been percolating over for weeks. Scheduled for ten rounds for the vacant WBO Latino Light Welterweight Championship, the battle was the co-main on Top Rank’s Nonito Donaire vs. Toshiaki Nishioka headliner at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California.
Both fights had the fans excited and the Rios-Alvarado scrap was one I was really looking forward to seeing too. We all wondered: Would it–could it–possibly live up to all the hype? Would the build-up for this bout really pay out? And would it be the thrilling bomb-throwing battle we all wanted and expected? YES, YES AND YES.
Pure and simple it was “Puros Chingasos”!
Everyone had a feeling this would be an instant classic a la Corrales-Castillo, Vazquez-Marquez, Gatti-Ward.
The day of the fight I felt like I was the one heading into battle. Counting down the hours till the fight, I couldn’t eat, I was filled with so much adrenaline and looking ahead to finally hearing the bell that would bring on the collision. In the arena, the fans enjoyed a good undercard but I could feel the nervous tension and excitement building for the Rios-Alvarado and Donaire-Nishioka clashes to begin.
The crowd was electric with not just one but four national anthem sung (English, Spanish, Tagalog and Japanese). And with the fans proudly waving their respective country’s flag the venue was packed solid–the buzz boiling over when the fighters came out of the tunnel to, literally, the roar of the crowd.
As Rios (31-0-1, 23 KOs) and Alvarado (33-1, 23 KOs) came out of the tunnel, Colorado’s Alvarado had a live performance with a rapper repeating “Green Light” lyrics–ready to go! And Oxnard’s Rios came out to a lively banda playing. Then the canvas cleared with just the two prizefighters and referee Pat Russell center ring. There was a brief pause as the audience held its breath–just the before the action started. Once the bell rang, the action never ceased. Scheduled for ten rounds, we were treated to seven frames of insane uppercuts, vicious body punches and hooks thrown with the worst of intentions. There would be no cautious “feel out” round.
And the first round had everyone wondering if this pair of tattooed gladiators could possibly keep up the frenetic pace?
Echoing in the crowd was a chorus of “Whoa!” “Oh!” and “Wow!”‘ after every shot landed. If you were in the Home Depot Center and you had a pulse, every second of every round was captivating. It was impossible to avert your eyes. I didn’t want to blink; I didn’t want to miss a thing. If this tilt happened back in the days of 15 rounders and more, when fights were allowed to continue at length with no regard for fighters’ health, no doubt this bout would’ve had one boxer carried out on a stretcher. It was that brutal. And that was just the first round.
With ripping body shots by “Bam Bam” Rios, Alvarado stood toe to toe connecting with his long arms and piston-like jabs. Campaigning now at 140, Rios surged forward showing that this new weight division suits him just fine. The opening frame was a scorcher, a real “don’t blink, don’t breathe” round of two guys willing to trade. After the first three minutes ended I turned to a fellow writer as we both mouthed: “Round of the Year”!
And the action only accelerated from there. Guns blazing, the two champs stayed in the pocket in the next round. Brandon going to work on the inside; “Mile High” Mike (a blur in bright turquoise trunks) showing his speed, conditioning and uppercuts in rounds so close it could’ve gone either way.
Fighting on home turf, the crowd favorite Rios heard his fans chanting his name as the next round began. Team Alvarado also had their share of supporters and the bout became “805 vs. 303.” It was bombs away from the two as they exchanged power shots and unloaded combinations that would have other fighters buckling under the assault.
Showing good chins and great hearts, there wasn’t much let up from the two rivals. Trading leather, these two were tailor made for each other. A close competition, at times razor close with the threat of one punch changing the entire game.
The crowd was on their feet cheering as everyone knew we were witnessing something special. How loud was it in the building? The roar was so loud that it was nearly impossible to hear the 10-second warning as the rounds ended.
Fighting center ring, the guys continued to swing for the fences in an all-out barrage of punching. Alvarado looked like a man on a mission, wanting the victory so bad while Rios kept his hands up while going to work on the body. Would the brawler or the boxer-puncher pull out a win? After six rounds it was still anyone’s game, the victory up for grabs–and all could change with just one swift punch.
Then came Rounds 6 and 7.
A rocking overhand right by Rios changed everything. Hurt by the fists of “Bam Bam” Rios, the rough and tough 32-year-old continued to jab and throw uppercuts before being rocked by hard shots that would eventually put an end to the contest. Brandon’s overhand rights kept finding their mark and at 1:57 in the seventh stanza, well-regarded referee Pat Russell waved the bout off, protecting the Denver fighter from further punishment.
Many in the stands questioned if this was an early stoppage? Back in the days of 15 rounds perhaps the official would have let the competition continue. Nowadays with the emphasis on the safety of the fighter, Russell’s decision was queried by HBO‘s Max Kellerman, with Pat Russell explaining why he stopped the fight–for the health of the boxer.
With the win, Brandon, 26, collapsed in joy as his trainer Robert Garcia exulted along with his protégé who just won a new belt. The mayhem ended with a TKO victory for Brandon Rios in, arguably, a “Fight of the Year” contender.
Will there be a rematch after this instant classic, a barn burner to remember?
HBO’s Harold Lederman had it 4-2 for Alvarado at the time of the stoppage while the official judges Max De Luca and Zac Young both had it 57-57 even while James Jen-Kin scored it 58-56 for Rios.
With Brandon poised to possibly take on the winner of the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez match, the fans will have to wait and see if there will ever be a rematch with Rios’ worthy opponent in Alvarado.
And in defeat, Colorado star Mike Alvarado can hold his head up high. He gained the respect of everyone watching and earned new fans after Saturday’s fight.
This Rios-Alvarado feud was incredible. An unbelievable fight in which both soldier unloaded every weapon in their arsenal. On the CompuBox (“Where every punch counts”) stat sheet, Alvarado threw 779 (423 power shots) total with Rios logged in with 541 (440 power shots).
It was a stunning display of the brutality of boxing–a reminder this is truly a blood sport. There are not enough adjectives to try and describe what I saw and what I felt before, during and after this war. Watching two men pummel each other to a pulp is not for the weary. Both men showed their war wounds on their faces with swollen bruises distorting their features. Brutality and beauty found in this wicked sport we love.
After watching replay right after the stoppage, Brandon Rios exclaimed upon seeing his big overhand right: “That was beautiful!”
Brutal and beautiful. This is a fight that will be remembered. If you haven’t seen it yet, you owe it to the two combatants to witness what they gave–and took–in the ring. Both men for the fans, always leaving everything in the ring.
To the victor goes the spoils and the sky’s the limit now for Brandon Rios in his new weight class.
But there is also no “loser” in this game.
I caught up with Mike Alvarado’s cutman today, Rudy Hernandez. The L.A. cornerman worked with Alvarado (who trained at the Azteca Boxing Club in Southern California) and was in the corner for both Mike’s fight as well as Toshiaki Nishioka’s. Rudy told me, understandably, that the team was a little down after the stoppage but Alvarado quickly rebounded. “Mike was pumped and now he’s even hungrier for the next fight!” Hernandez said during our catchup call. “He went back to Denver today and is hungry to get back in the ring.”
And in defeat, there lies a morale victory.
“I’m proud to have been with Mike Alvarado on Saturday night as he performed like very few will–or ever would,” comments Rudy (brother of Genaro “Chicanito” Hernandez, who passed away last year). “Mike fought his heart out and like the warrior that he is, he wanted to continue. Mike Alvarado is a WINNER who won more fans in one fight than most would win in a career time.”
With the Rios vs. Alvarado fight in the history books, it will remain a bout to be remembered.
Congratulations to both prizefighters on their blood and guts performance, a frontrunner for 2012 “Fight of the Year.”
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