By Jake Donovan
From the moment it was announced that Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado would once again square off, the first question that came to mind was how they could possibly surpass their first fight. The two waged war for as long as they could absorb, with Rios surging ahead and finally stopping Alvarado in the seventh round of their Oct. ’12 fight many tabbed as the year’s best.
The thinking was that matching or outdoing what they accomplished five months ago would be a surefire way to land Fight of the Year honors in 2013. But two weeks after Tim Bradley survived a knockdown and numerous scares to barely top Ruslan Provodnikov, it’s possible that nothing Rios and Alvarado can offer in their sequel would even land the rematch as the best fight of the month.
“I was watching the fight at home. I was almost jumping on the TV watching that fight. It brought back memories,” admits Rios (31-0, 22KO), as good an authority as any on the art of savage wars. “I was like ‘Damn, they are showing the warrior spirit.’ They were going at it. Like they said, Bradley came out with a different game plan and he proved that he’s a warrior and a fighter.”
There isn’t a soul alive who can’t say the same of the herculean effort offered by Rios and Alvarado last October. There are those who would’ve like to have seen both fighters head in separate directions, perhaps gain a greater reward than to have to beat the hell out of each other once again.
But the truth is that there is no place that Rios and Alvarado would rather be this weekend than at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, anxious once again to inflict as much pain as possible upon the other.
“Why will I fight him again?” Alvarado (33-1, 23KO) rhetorically asks. “It is a fight that the fans want. Having the rematch gives me an opportunity to redeem myself after the first fight. That was a good fight. I like fights like that. We are both warriors. We want fights like that.”
Bear in mind, such a seal of approval comes from the guy who lost that night. Alvarado believes to this day that the fight was stopped a bit too soon, an opinion shared by plenty of observers both live at ringside in Carson, Calif. and among those watching at home on HBO.
The same network – who also aired Bradley-Provodnikov two Saturdays ago – will proudly present this weekend’s sequel. The expectation is for HBO to wind up with two Fight of the Year contenders.
The expectation for both fighters is to live up to those standards – but also to make fans remember what made the first fight so special, while forgetting about all other fights by the time this one is in the books.
“It’s never too soon to do it again,” insists Rios in defending the decision to proceed with the rematch. “Like I said, we are warriors and if you are a warrior, you want to fight again and again and again. It is never too soon. The first fight was great. I feel great and I’m ready for another battle. I am just ready to do it again. I am ready for another battle. Why wait? It is never too soon.”
Alvarado is in full agreement with his partner in pain, as he comes in with even greater incentive.
“I agree with Brandon. I can’t wait for the chance to redeem myself from the first fight,” Alvarado says, five months removed from the lone loss of his pro career. “[I]t is a fight that everyone wants to see, so it’s fight on. And we’re ready to do it.”
Up until two weeks ago, fight fan thirsted for the violence that they know will come with the rematch but didn’t fully understand why it was happening so soon. Rios proved his worth as a top fighter in a loaded 140 lb. division, while Alvarado was brave enough to where HBO – or any willing network – could have just as easily offered its blessing for a doubleheader building to a future rematch.
It’s not as if the events handlers are oblivious to such line of thinking. But while a Plan B was considered, it was ultimately decided that there was no time like the present to stage the rematch. The fact that the bar for unadulterated violence has been raised by the 12 rounds offered in the March 16 welterweight war only adds to this weekend’s promotion, a blessing considering the tough sell that usually comes with boxing events on Easter weekend.
“I don’t usually like to do immediate rematches but this first fight was really so great,” explains Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum, whose Top Rank organization also hosted Bradley-Provodnikov. “There was a demand for it to get done and the people at HBO came up with a financial package that was very appealing. Both fighters are getting considerable more than they got the first time. It’s the exception that proves the rule.”
The good news is that both fighters are up to the challenge. There comes the suggestion that boxing will be experimented with, but that at some point the fight will reach a point where it will become all about who can dish out the most punishment.
“Once we get in the ring – we can train any way we want – but once we get in that ring it’s on us to make adjustments and not get hit like we did, but you never know,” admits Alvarado, who has repeatedly insisted he will be better prepared this time around. “There is only one way to find out and that’s when we get in the ring on the 30th, we’ll see what happens.”
Such a fight can only be a good thing for the fans. It might not be great for the health of either fighter, but both have a firm understanding of their role in the sport. More important, they embrace that role and use it as the standard for which they try to surpass every time out.
Case in point, the number of times they’ve both watched themselves beat the hell out of – and absorb pain from – each other. Even with a new “did you see that” benchmark, they remain keen on giving their fans something to remember other than the memories of a great first fight.
“I have watched our fight a few times. I remember it like the back of my hand so I don’t have to go over it too much. It is going to be the same kind of fight with a few adjustments. We are just going to go out there and do it again,” Alvarado believes.
For Rios, it’s motivation to start his day and the type of bedtime story that makes him anxious to wake up again the next morning.
“Even today I watched our match,” Rios admits. “I wake up in the morning and when I get back from my run I watch our fight. After I go to the gym, I watch it. Before I go to bed, I watch it. I am a fan of our fight and I am a fan of that (Bradley-Provodnikov) fight.”
That very mentality is why Top Rank has always stood behind the two fighters once again squaring off this weekend. Rios has run into his share of trouble at the scales, while Alvarado’s troubles extend beyond the ring. Both are in a happier place these days, fully aware of what pays the bills.
As long as the fighters are able to show up and hold up their end of the bargain, the ones paying the bills are content. Top Rank knows the product it wants to present to its audience. The company knows what they get with Rios and Alvarado, whether against each other or in separate fights. More important, they know that their fighters get what the fans want.
“Fans aren’t stupid. They want to see action,” Arum states. “Mike Alvarado and Brandon Rios are action fighters. Timothy Bradley showed that he is an action fighter. Juan Manuel Marquez is an action fighter. Many Pacquiao is an action fighter. Ruslan Provodnikov is an action fighter. They don’t play around. They don’t dance around. They fight.
“That’s what the public wants to see, so we’ll mix and match as we go along because they are the big fights that people want to see. That is the way the fighters can be rewarded monetarily.”
With both fighters reportedly receiving career-high paydays for this weekend’s rematch, they are ready to once again prove their manhood. Up until March 16, there only existed the challenge of outdoing their first fight. Now comes the test to see if they can make the current leading Fight of the Year candidate no better than a runner up by the time Easter Sunday rolls around.
The biggest difference between March 16 and this weekend is that Rios and Alvarado are well aware of the incoming, yet are fully prepared to still run towards the sounds of gun fire.
“He is a warrior and he came and brought all he had. He’s strong. He knows what he has,” Alvarado says of his friendly rival. “I was in there with him before and I know what to expect this next time around. I have a game plan and I’ll come back with something a little different this time. We still have to get in with each other again and we know what we are bringing into the ring. And we are going to do it again.”
Rios isn’t just content with doing it again, but – in the spirit of the gambling capital of the world that is Las Vegas – anxious to see ‘em and raise ‘em.
“It is going to be a better show than the first one,” Rios says of Saturday’s main event. “Mike Alvarado is trying to get his revenge so he is training harder so I am ready and very excited. It’s going to be one exciting fight again.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox