The comeback trail stops at the Forum in Inglewood, California, on Saturday night, where Mike Alvarado and Juan Manuel Marquez will look to refashion each other’s features and futures. The winner gets a crack at Manny Pacquiao, and the loser is promised little more than a warm seat on the train to who knows where.
If there is a desperate fighter here, it is Alvarado, who has shown a disturbing familiarity with self-destruction both in and out of the ring. Real desperation in boxing is never given forums like Face/Off, it never headlines in its hometown; in boxing, real desperation is most often passed over in silence. Still, there is a desperate air about Alvarado, 34-2 (23), who always seems one false move from the front page of the Denver Post.
Change is the operative word for troubled men—as though a perpetual tinkering will somehow make the piling evidence moot. For Alvarado, 33, that change may require little more than an escape from Denver, where trouble finds him with the accuracy of a GPS. There are concerns in the ring as well. Despite turning professional at the advanced age of 23, Alvarado has warred with the likes of Breidis Prescott, Brandon Rios, and Ruslan Provodnikov. These fights may have mitigated Alvarado’s late start in boxing. Physically speaking, his professional ledger is more revealing of his age than his driver’s license. A break from the butchery would do Alvarado wonders, especially if the antics in his personal life—including two prison stints since turning pro—foreshadow what awaits him when the ring does not. Alvarado’s career may be his best weapon against the wolves at the door.
If Alvarado needs change, he is getting it with Marquez. By training in Los Angeles, Alvarado avoided the barroom drama that left him with a shredded cheek before the Rios rematch. Marquez, 55-7-1 (40), does not pitilessly maul like Provodnikov, whose October stoppage of Alvarado exhausted the lexicon of torture. There is also the fight’s 143-pound catch weight to consider. Alvarado looked like a man on a hunger strike before the Provodnikov fight, and with a frame well-suited for shoots and suplexes, the three extra pounds should serve him well.
None of these changes, however, are sure to save Alvarado from Marquez, who is in many ways the opposite of Alvarado: his life and career seem organized to run as smoothly as his combinations, as he prepares in the same gym under the same trainer and manager, Nacho Beristain, who has guided his entire career. There have been puzzling moves from Team Marquez—like passing on a Pacquiao rematch to fight Chris John in Indonesia, for example—but Marquez has done plenty right. He has the rare distinction of having shared the ring with both Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and Manny Pacquiao (facing the latter four times), and despite being 40, Marquez remains if not at the height of his own powers, above those of much of the competition.
The question going into Saturday night is whether Marquez has made another blunder. The first hint of an answer comes from the fight itself. Despite stating that he only wants legacy enhancing fights, Marquez passed on Provodnikov for Alvarado, for a fight that cannot do for Marquez’ legacy what unmaking Provodnikov would. Apparently, legacy can wait while Marquez rebounds from an October loss to Timothy Bradley.
But while Alvarado is not as savage as Provodnikov, he is a roughneck in his own right. “Mile High” is massive for the weight, and if the relentless feather-dusting of Juan Diaz could give Marquez a scare, Alvarado’s brawling should produce a harrowing moment or two. Mutually assured destruction, however, is not Alvarado’s only play. Despite his reputation as a brawler, Alvarado has also shown the ability to stick and move if necessary, as he did in winning the Rios rematch. He cannot and should not try to outbox a master technician like Marquez; but since a headlong assault on “Dinamita” is a suicide mission, Alvarado’s boxing ability could prove, if nothing else, a valuable survival strategy. Alvarado might be best served alternating between the savage and the serene: using both pressure to wear on Marquez, and boxing to spare himself the penalty of aggression. Whatever his game plan, it will take at least his best to conquer Marquez.
And there are plenty of reasons to think even Alvarado’s best—whatever remains of it—will be found wanting. He is not cast in the mold of the fleet fighters who have confounded Marquez, he takes too many punches, and he lacks a certain intuition that belies his late start in boxing. Alvarado is, in many ways, the type of fighter Marquez has carved up his entire career. Marquez will find an irresistible invitation to counter in Alvarado’s wider punches; when Alvarado advances, Marquez’ patented left uppercut-right cross combination should find the mark, and while he takes more punishment than he did as a featherweight, this older Marquez is also far more liberal in meting it out.
Still, Marquez has erred in matchmaking before, and like any aging fighter, he could crumble at any moment. Because things change—or so Alvarado must hope.