By Jake Donovan
You’ll have to pardon Mike Alvarado for feeling like the baddest mother-you-know-what on the planet right now.
After all, his name was the first to come up when Brandon Rios demanded his management bring him “the baddest mother***er at 140 lb.” for his next fight. Rios had long ago outgrown the lightweight division, but prolonged matters by a fight or two. The unbeaten former champion finally came to grips with science and decided to set his sights on the 140 lb. division.
Ready and waiting was Alvarado, who has longed for such an opportunity and didn’t waste any time in accepting the assignment.
“I can’t wait for it,” Alvarado said of his upcoming fight with Rios on October 13 during an interview on ATG Radio (Editor’s note: Jake Donovan is a co-host of the internet radio show). “This is where I should have been a long time ago. I’m ready for it.”
The matchup is mouthwatering to say the least. Fans and media alike have all tabbed the bout – which takes place at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA – as a surefire contender in the making for Fight of the Year, two unbeaten fighters in their prime who always make for thrilling entertainment.
Alvarado (33-0, 23KO) has endured a slower track to stardom than the one afforded to Rios, though he has himself partly to blame. Separate jail stints in 2009 and 2010 (for probation and parole violations) put a promising career on hold, which in effect turned a stud athlete into a seven-year prospect.
The former high school wrestling standout immediately took to boxing, easily handling every test placed in front of him – at least, in the ring. A well-placed showcase bout on the televised pay-per-view undercard of Antonio Margarito’s knockout win of Miguel Cotto in July ’08 suggested a foundation being built for the next face of HBO.
A suggested June ’09 bout with then ex-140 lb. titlist Paul Malignaggi would have elevated Alvarado to that level, providing of course that he win. Instead, an injury and subsequent trip to prison killed the matchup altogether.
One year later, another designed showcase slot fell by the wayside, as an untimely parole violation (though of course never a good time for such an occurrence) forced him off of a June ’10 pay-per-view headlined by then-unbeaten Juan Manuel Lopez.
Alvarado managed to get his career back on track once returning to the ring in late 2010. Six wins have followed, including appearances on two consecutive Manny Pacquaiao-headlined cards. A knockout win over Ray Narh was part of a May ‘11 undercard that well overshadowed Pacquiao’s go-through-the-motions win over Shane Mosley.
The test he endured six months later was the one that convinced the Denver native he could become something special in this sport.
“I was ready for these top fighters anyway,” Alvarado has always believed, but still views one fight in particular as the turning point in his career. “The (Prescott) fight was a good experiment for me. It proved where I belong in the 140 lb. division.”
Alvarado was trailing on all three cards at the time of his 10th round stoppage of Prescott. Most of the damage was done early on, as Alvarado was bloodied in addition to falling deep into the hole before turning things around in the second half of the Nov. ’11 affair in Las Vegas.
The rally came full circle when Alvarado put Prescott on the canvas early in the 10th and final round. Prescott was fading fast and – despite beating the count – was well on his way out. A combination finished off the Colombian brawler, who was just months removed from a disheartening points loss and was well within reach of his biggest win since knocking out Amir Khan two years prior.
The win took Alvarado’s career to new heights, but also put him on the shelf for five months while allowing multiple wounds to heal. The rest did him well, as Alvarado impressed in yet another thriller, outpointing Mauricio Herrera this past April in a bout that – in a year in which not a heck of a lot happened for the first several months – became a leading contender for Fight of the Year.
Several great fights have since come along to supplant the bout as a leading contender, but it doesn’t change the fact that Alvarado brings it, no matter whom against. Even more to his credit, Alvarado doesn’t just save his best for when the stakes are highest; he fights to the finish for the pure love of the game.
You want proof? Take a look at his best and most thrilling fights and see what titles were on the line.
The fact that his next major title shot will be his first tells you the entire story.
“I haven’t been promised (a title shot) but I don’t see why not,” Alvarado said earlier in the week, at a point when the fight was still open for either 10 or 12 rounds. “Who else would I have to beat to get it? I’m sure they’ll see it.”
Top Rank certainly sees it, or perhaps just the potential in the fight itself. The Vegas-based company has since secured sanctioning from two alphabet organizations to bill the fight as a title eliminator, which means the winner will be assured a title shot.
Given what stands in front of him, Alvarado could take the road traveled by so many others. Win today, look good the next time. There’s no need to take major risks against a free-swinger like Rios, who – while not a true one-hitter quitter – is still strong enough to change the course of the fight at the drop of a dime.
But Alvarado knows better.
The bout will mark his HBO debut. Despite the massive amount of buzz surrounding the fight, it’s “just” the co-feature of the evening, serving as the chief support to Nonito Donaire’s 122 lb. title fight with division-best Toshiaki Nishioka. The surroundings alone suggest that everyone bring their best.
Alvarado has every intention of doing that and much more.
“He’s going to be at the best he can,” Alvarado wisely assumes of Rios. “I know I’ll be at the best I can. If we have to go to war, we can. That’s the type of fighter I am. I love to fight. We can sit there and box all day, but that’s boring to me. I want to fight. I want to get in there and step on the gas.”
The mindset is the recipe for an early ending one way or another. It’s not a bad way to think, given the outcome of Rios’ last fight – a disputed split-decision in favor of the unbeaten rising star over Richard Abril in Las Vegas this past April.
Alvarado had an up-close and personal view of the fight, having defeated Herrera on the undercard. While neglecting to comment on the fight itself, the pride of Denver refuses to put himself in a similar predicament.
“It ain’t going 12,” Alvarado promises. “I’m getting in the best strength and conditioning, boxing shape that I can possibly be in. I’m floating through it and then I’m going to start picking up the intensity level in training.
“This is the type of fight that brings boxing back. People want to see fights like this. I’ll fight whoever, I just want to prove that I’m the best. I still make weight just fine. I’m only getting better.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox