Even before the opening bell, it just never seemed like it was going to be Rene Alvarado's night.
The featherweight contender was thought to have been in a showcase appearance versus faded veteran Rocky Juarez. A win would have put the Nicaraguan on a direct path towards a title shot versus featherweight champ Jhonny Gonzalez, who looked vulnerable in a title defense over the weekend.
Alvarado picked a horrrible time to look vulnerable himself, as his workrate was no match for the sheer determination of his opponent. Juarez fought as if his career depeneded on a win - and it did - as he landed the far more telling blows in the majority of exchanges en route to a unanimous decision win Monday evening at Fort Bliss Arena in El Paso, Texas.
A special edition of "Golden Boy Live" was made available to the men and women who proudly serve the United States as soldiers stationed at Fort Bliss, making for a rabid crowd throughout most of the evening.
Both fighters gave the crowd plenty of reason to cheer, even if it took a while for Alvarado to actually get himself in fighting mode. The featherweight was forced to retape his gloves after trainer Ronnie Shields - a key member of Juarez' team - called him out for "skinning his gloves", which is when the gloves are taped outside of regulation and used to adjust the internal padding to give said boxer an edge.
The bout was delayed by nearly 10 minutes due to the issue, which wasn't noticed until Alvarado left the dressing room and was on his way to the ring.
Once the bout began, Juarez was determined to prove there was plenty of fight left in a career most of the industry had long written off. A silver medalist while serving on the 2000 U.S. Olympic boxing squad, Juarez has long ago dropped from contention and has been used as a well-known name serving as cannon fodder for contenders, both rising and rebounding.
Alvarado thought he was catching that version, and not necessarily the one who turned back the clock with an 8th round stoppage of Antonio Escalante in his last fight. Even that shocking result came more than 18 months ago, with Juarez having sat out all of 2013.
By the time he figured out he was in a fight, Alvarado did his best to adjust. Once he settled into a groove, the streaking contender was able to beat Juarez to the punch.
What he was never quite able to do was hurt the 34-year old at any point in the fight, which came back to haunt him big time. Juarez rallied midway through the fight, right around the time the tape on Alvarado's gloves - which were just reset less than 30 minutes prior became loose.
Another delay came early in the second half of the contest, when Alvarado was called upon by referee Steve Smoger to have his protective cup adjusted within regulations.
Each passing round saw momentum shift towards the local favorite, who was the significant betting underdog heading in. Alvarado was the busier fighter, but never landing anything of consequence even when he was able to land.
Juarez threw fewer punches, but managed to go blow-for-blow in terms of punches landed. His left hook, slow and deliberate early in the fight, landed with alarming regularity as the fight progressed, the evidence showing in bruising and swelling around Alvarado's right eye. Juarez drew the crowd to its feet in rounds eight and ten, scoring big with left hooks in both rounds and putting Alvarado on the defensive.
Alvarado enjoyed a huge bounceback round in the 11th, but was unaware at the time that the fight was already out of reach. Juarez fought in round 12 as if the fight was in the balance, never allowing Alvarado a moment to believe he could swing the action back in his favor.
The scoring in the end - 116-112 (twice) and 117-111 - was perhaps a bit too wide, but there was no denying that Juarez was well-deserving of the victory. The win is his second straight as he advances to 30-10-1 (21KO).
Alvarado falls to 20-3 (14KO), ending a three-fight win streak. Included among that stretch was a 9th round stoppage of Robinson Castellanos earlier this year, which put him in contention for a shot at the featherweight title.
That opportunity is flushed away, as Juarez - forever a bridesmaid throughout his 14-year career - will get one more shot at winning a long-elusive major title. It's not bad at all for a fighter who at one point was winless through seven fights and nearly four years.
What matters is what he's done lately. Back-to-back wins come for the first time since 2007 - just in time for one more shot at full career redemption.