They forgot the Catherine Wheel, the strappado, and the whirligig, but Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado took turns torturing each other in medieval ways on Saturday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. Rios emerged as the winner via 7th-round TKO after more than twenty minutes of GBH.
There was a time when the only way to make good living as a prizefighter was to stir the passions of the crowd. If you failed to do that often enough, promoters (who, for the most part, did not have long-term contracts with fighters prior to the late 1970s) would avoid your phone calls or dash across the street if they saw you sauntering down the block. Fighters were legitimate independent contractors back then, freelancers, whose pay was based on tangible results: delirious crowds, worn out turnstiles, ticket stubs stamped “SRO.”
Neither Rios nor Alvarado has any problem causing mass hysteria. And on Saturday night they proved it to a feverish audience of over 7,000. They whipsawed punches in close, lashed out with uppercuts, scored with crosses, hooks, and haymakers, and bared the dark allure behind all legitimate blood sports: the revelation of character and style in the face of adversity.
Although Alvarado, now 33-1 (23), is not the footloose kind, he was nimble enough to dominate on the outside, where he peppered Rios with jabs and flurries. In close, however, things were equal, and the two men assaulted each other without pause. Unable to keep the charging Rios at a distance, Alvarado, 139 ¾, slugged it out at close quarters, thereby negating his own advantages in range and hand speed.
Still, Alvarado looked like he was taking over in the fifth and early in the sixth, when he nailed Rios repeatedly with jarring blows. But Rios, Oxnard, California, finally began to exploit a leak Alvarado was incapable of shoring up: as a rule, “Mile High” keeps his left hand dangling down low by his thigh. If you lack the speed and reflexes of Floyd Mayweather, Jr., or the incredible physical advantages of Thomas Hearns, then this affectation is little more than an amateur flaw allowed to thrive like crabgrass in Versailles. And Rios, 140, finally took advantage of it late in the sixth, dropping a hard right over the top that shook Alvarado to his boots.
After recuperating between rounds, Alvarado, Thornton, Colorado, came out looking to reestablish himself with a torrent of punches. About halfway through the seventh round, however, Rios rattled Alvarado with an overhand right over the low guard. Another right drove Alvarado to the ropes, where Rios unleashed a fusillade of vicious blows. Referee Pat Russell intervened with Alvarado, glassy-eyed against the ropes, in distress. It was the right call. Rios has a legitimate killer instinct to go with his power, and Alvarado, with a serious case of the staggers, was only a punch or two away from possible harm. After what both fighters gave of themselves through six grueling rounds, a gloomy coda was unnecessary. No matter how much damage these two men were willing to inflict on each other, it must never go any further than what can be termed, almost paradoxically, “sporting hurt.”
Since Rios and Alvarado were never spoken of with the Cloister-like reverence given to those who have the misapplied imprimatur of HBO, this fight did not have the usual caterwauling from Fantasy League Pontiffs, whose heavenly standards go far beyond mere notions of competition and fighting spirit. But the rest of us, forced to live in the ordinary world of simple wants, will settle for what is possible. In that case, the traditional mores of prizefighting—rewarding boxers who put the-larger-than-life into what is, after all, a larger-than-life pursuit—are what matter most. It may be hard to keep that in mind when the ritual system of meritocracy has been capsized over the years by a strange premium cable network junta, where caprice and demographics rule with an ironic hand. Celebrating the bland in boxing is like getting the bends in a wading pool: it makes no damn sense whatsoever. For one night, Rios and Alvarado demonstrated everything that makes boxing worth being mesmerized by.
With the dramatic victory, Rios, who improves to 31-0-1 (23), is now set to face the winner of the upcoming Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez bout. Except for his humdrum waltz against Richard Abril a few months ago, “Bam Bam” has built the kind of in-the-ring reputation that deserves rewarding. And how can you tell such a thing? Well, think about that quick pulse again, the sweaty palms, that thick and thickening knot in your heart, now tight as a padlock, that oh so brief aching for havoc.