Turning Screws: On Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado II


Is it reductionist to say that the delightfully brutal contest waged by Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado was decided when Rios finally threw a straight right hand? Perhaps. But it took Rios six rounds to introduce this punch last October. Up to that point he had been able to fight Alvarado on even terms without using his full arsenal. This is one reason—though not the only one—that there is less intrigue in a second fight between the two. The rematch, scheduled for March 30th at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, is unlikely to disappoint, but it will be hard-pressed to attain the heights of its predecessor.

While Rios-Alvarado I promised carnage, its anticipation was augmented by the unknown. An atypically innocuous performance against Richard Abril in his final fight at lightweight was proof Rios had outgrown the division. But while the added weight figured to reinvigorate Rios, his greatest advantage—an imposing physical superiority—would be mitigated against Alvarado.

Would he endure the worst intentions of bigger men? Would his torrent of blows erode bigger boulders? Rios answered that question over seven savage rounds, proving too strong and durable  for Alvarado. Alvarado was not ineffective—at the time of the stoppage judges Max DeLuca and Zac Young had the fight even, while James Jen Kin had it 58-56 Rios—but he was unquestionably outclassed. While winning rounds, the pain Alvarado managed to inflict was inferior to the punishment Rios doled out; that discrepancy in hurt became insurmountable in the seventh round, when Rios, finally wielding his straight right hand, staggered Alvarado into the merciful embrace of referee Pat Russell. That night, Brandon Rios was superior to Mike Alvarado—and nothing has changed since then. To turn the screw again, these men are stylistically similar, both eager to challenge the Pauli Exclusion Principle. But if Alvarado is to exact revenge he cannot simply improve on his previous performance—a performance predicated on his strengths, no less—he must alter it significantly.

For a brawl will find Alvarado broken again, and probably quicker than before. Does this mean Alvarado should make an effort to outbox his bruising foe? Richard Abril employed a stifling blend of boxing and holding to handcuff Rios en route to losing a disputed decision, and Alvarado had his best moments against Rios when he established some distance. But while Rios can be outboxed, Alvarado isn’t hardwired like Abril: it is hard to see him keeping his fury under wraps when his machismo is disrespected—especially when this machismo compensates for his shortcomings. Besides, while belligerence is Rios’ calling card, he is anything but crude. Alvarado might box more, but that does not mean he is the better boxer.

“First lies, then pressure, then more lies, then more pressure, then the truth. That is how you get the truth.” This is the cruel methodology of Colonel Joll in “Waiting for the Barbarians.” One can see this drama playing out as Alvarado boxes to middling effect; Rios all the while pressuring him, hurting him, and exhorting him to reciprocate until the lies are worn away and this truth is bared: an entertaining loss to Rios may be Alvarado’s ceiling as a fighter.

Should Alvarado choose to box, another ceiling comes into play: that of aesthetics. The sanguinary promise of the first fight was entailed in the styles of the fighters. If Alvarado switches to a less combative approach the drama shifts from which fighter can endure more—a question already answered in October—to whether Alvarado can successfully flirt with his undoing for ten rounds. This narrative is intriguing in its own way, but given Alvarado’s struggles with playing coy between the ropes, that intrigue is seriously diminished.

There is then, reason to be less than wild about Rios-Alvarado 2. Considering the dreary affairs, baffling sycophancy, and uninspired flotsam so often peddled on television, however, a contest between two earnest fighters is a welcome break from the norm. It is a fight that makes sense: Rios, limited in his options at junior welterweight given his ties to Top Rank, needs to remain busy lest he relapse into the unprofessionalism that marked his early career; Alvarado, who may have left part of his prime in the ring in October, deserves his immediate crack at get-back, and the residual enthusiasm of the first fight should crank turnstiles again. But the intoxicating element of the unknown is conspicuously absent from the second installment, and with it much of the intrigue. Or is this being reductionist?


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Tags: Brandon Rios JUNIOR WELTERWEIGHTS Mike Alvarado

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