By Cliff Rold
With a combination of legs, right hands, and tremendous guts, 32-year old Jr. Welterweight Mike Alvarado (34-1, 23 KO) of Denver, Colorado, avenged the lone loss of his career Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada with a unanimous decision in twelve rounds over previously undefeated 26-year old former WBA Lightweight titlist Brandon Rios (31-1-1, 23 KO) of Oxnard, California. It was a sensational fight that saw both men badly hurt but never on the floor, every bit the instant classic their first fight was last October.
Alvarado captures an interim WBO Jr. Welterweight belt.
Both men came into the bout spot on the Jr. Welterweight limit of 140 lbs. The referee was Tony Weeks.
Rios began the fight on the front foot while Alvarado attempted to move, establish the jab, and create some distance. Rios landed fierce body shots and some stiff stuff upstairs and Alvarado slowed down. Into the second half of round one, Alvarado answered with some thundering power shots near mid-ring. Rios took them well and stayed on his game, hustling to get close.
The second round was less than a minute old when both men went for phone booth warfare, trading nasty body shots and looking for knockout bombs. Rios had the better of it, raking in left hooks. In the last minute of the round, it was a jab of all things that had Alvarado in all sorts of trouble. Badly rocked, he survived and kept his feet as Rios let loose. Down the stretch, they were exchanging as the crowd roared their approval.
After a second round that saw him in desperate trouble, Alvarado rallied in the third. The right hand told the tale, Alvarado finding an opening and whipping the shot over the top repeatedly. In the last minute of the round, Alvarado wobbled Rios and the Californian looked ready to fall. Rios didn’t, leaning forward and punching back to keep himself afoot.
The heated battle was contested at nearly even terms in the fourth and was heading that way a minute into the fifth when Alvarado suffered the affects of a low blow. A short break in the action allowed Alvarado to get his bearings and then it was back to the trenches. Both men were digging to the body, Alvarado still finding the right hand and mixing in a thudding uppercut.
With his left eye beginning to purple underneath, Rios was forced to take even more right hands in exchange for being close enough to have a hope for his left hook. In the closing moments of round six, Rios was blistered with a series of power shots. Alvarado appeared to have taken firm control.
He didn’t keep it in round seven, though Rios didn’t quite seize it either. It was enough to land the sort of left hooks he needed for victory to stem the tide of offense Alvarado had poured on the previous round.
In a savage round eight, both men had their moments and each had their knees buckled. The action was mesmerizing, a stream of fistic consciousness flowing from two warriors willing to find the deepest places inside themselves. Rios seemed to be a smidge ahead for a lot of the round but it was Alvarado landing the last best notable shot of the frame.
Alvarado, a cut over his left eye from earlier in the fight only slightly more red than the rest of his face, stared across the ring at Rios as the ninth round got underway. His face was a mask of reservation, of focus on a violent task. Rios met the gaze with a similar look, and endured another sensational assault late in a round full of steady violence.
Alvarado used his legs down the stretch of the tenth round, a wise choice that conveyed a growing confidence earned in the previous few rounds. Boxing and forcing Rios to come to him, Alvarado set the stage for a possible six-minute rumble to redemption.
Six minutes was, in this fight, a long way to go.
Rios, digging into the well, found his best round since at least the seventh, pressing an Alvarado who wanted to box smart. Taking a page from his foe, it was Rios closing strong, a final right hand sending a shiver through the legs of Alvarado just before the bell.
Rios didn’t have enough to do it again in the twelfth. Unwilling to let the fight get away, Alvarado moved and landed the better stuff for most of the final three minutes, rocking Rios one last time before the bell. It was enough to seal the deal, Alvarado rewarded scores of 114-113 and 115-113 twice to create the landscape for a rubber match.
Rios reacted to the scores first with a physical shudder of disappointment and then the lifting of three fingers as if to say ‘let’s do it one more time.’
Before Alvarado could be asked the obvious questions in the post-fight interview, he addressed the changes he’d made in his game since the first fight. “It was that movement…that focus to stay on my movement, the game plan; the strategic ways that I did all camp. I capitalized on it and I did what I had to do to win this fight.”
That was about as far as a normal interview got. Rios immediately, colorfully, got involved, pointing out he’d given Alvarado an immediate rematch and deserved one now. Alvarado, just as colorfully, said he had no problems with a rematch. “I’m down for whatever,” the victor replied. Rios suggested a willingness to travel to Alvarado’s home turf in Colorado if need be.
A third fight will be no surprise. That the second fight turned out to be even better than the first was, and the most pleasant kind boxing has to offer.
In the televised Jr. Welterweight opener, 25-year old Terrence Crawford (20-0, 15 KO), 139 ½, of Omaha, Nebraska, came on strong in the second half to command a unanimous decision over 29-year old Colombian veteran Breidis Prescott (26-5, 20 KO), 140, of Miami, Florida. It was Prescott’s third loss in five starts. The referee was Vic Drakulich.
Crawford, a late replacement who stepped up from Lightweight to take the bout, appeared the much smaller man in the ring at the outset and boxed with exceeding caution. As he warmed to the task, Crawford settled down and turned what was a turgid affair for five rounds into a more impressive second half. Settling down, working the body, and working more from a southpaw than an orthodox stance, Crawford rocked Prescott late and earned a critical decision in his young professional development. Final scores came in at a far too wide 100-90 and 99-91 along with a reasonable 97-93.
The card was televised in the U.S. on HBO as part of its “Boxing After Dark” series, promoted by Top Rank.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]