LAS VEGAS – When HBO vice president Kery Davis took the dais at the final press conference at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino for Saturday’s junior welterweight rematch between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado, he opened with the formal announcement that the network would be revitalizing their Legendary Nights documentary series to examine the trilogy between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward.
It’s only fitting. The seven-round slugfest, which Rios won by technical knockout last October, left the most bloodthirsty of boxing fans satiated. As it was with Gatti-Ward, the first Rios-Alvarado fight wasn’t about titles or undefeated records. As Davis put it, it was about putting two guys together that all but guaranteed an exciting fight, however long it may last.
“Everybody has seen these two warriors fight,” said Top Rank CEO Bob Arum at the press conference.
“The fight at the Home Depot Center was an instant classic. Many thought it was a Fight of the Year candidate, and for many it was just edged out by the fourth fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez.”
While it is true that the first fight between Rios and Alvarado didn’t carry the weight of importance of the fourth fight between Pacquiao and Marquez, it carried a higher level of sustained brutality. Rios and Alvarado absorbed an incredible amount of punishment that seemed never endingÔÇöuntil Rios finally broke Alvarado’s spirit in the seventh round. Rios parlayed that into a stoppage as he battered Alvarado against the ropes before referee Pat Russell stepped in and stopped the fight.
The first time these two met, the fight opened the televised portion of an HBO Boxing After Dark card headlined by Nonito Donaire’s 122-pound title bout with Toshiaki Nishioka. Despite Donaire’s bout carrying more consequence, it was the Rios-Alvarado fight that drew considerably more debate and excitement from the boxing fans and media.
Now the fight will headline Saturday’s B.A.D. Broadcast, and HBO put considerable promotion behind the fight as they put together a program called Road to Rios-Alvarado 2 in an effort to drum up more awareness.
“If you’re a boxing fan, how could you not get behind this fight,” Top Rank CEO Todd duBeof told RingTV prior to the press conference. “If you were there or watched it on TV, you know what you saw. I’d have to seriously question anyone who saw that fight and has an issue with doing a rematch.”
The beauty of the fight is that with the additional exposure, it also brings greater reward to the winner than their first encounter did. Both of Saturday night’s fighters, win or lose, will be viable television fighters in their next fight or series of fights. That much is clear.
“I think what you are seeing is the evolution of fighters making fights that are exciting and entertaining,” said duBoef. “If you’re telegenic, you’ll have long futures and it’ll be good for the sport in the long run. It’s not about protecting your ‘0’s’ anymore.”
In the case of the Gatti-Ward trilogy, none of the return fights were able to match the consistent excellence of their first encounter. In their first battle, Gatti got lured into a firefight earlier than he would’ve liked and Ward was able to narrowly edge him on the scorecards.
In the second fight, Gatti adjusted and fought a more intelligent fight, outboxing the limited Ward to the tune of a clear decision victory. Alvarado and his team are confident they can make Saturday’s rematch with Alvarado more of a boxing match.
“Our preparation for this camp was key,” Alvarado told RingTV.com before the press conference. “The whole style, conditioning, and working on not giving him a target to hit. Brandon can only get off when his feet are planted, and if I move around, he’s not going to be able to plant his feet to hit me.”
For this fight, Alvarado trained at home in Denver. In the past, it is rumored that training at home was always dangerous for Alvarado, who had a history of getting tangled in some out of the ring drama. Alvarado was convincing in saying that wasn’t the case this time.
“There were no distractions,” said Alvarado. “I kept out of trouble. If my name is ‘Mile High’ then I should train there, right? The high altitude has always helped me and it always will. In previous fights where I trained there, I felt like I got that second wind much quicker.”
Rios, as well as trainer Robert Garcia, have their doubts that Alvarado will be able to box for any sustained amount of time on Saturday.
“I think it is a mistake for Mike to box because going backwards, he has no power,” Garcia said after the press conference when made aware of Alvarado’s plan to fight “smarter”.
Garcia also made interesting comments in regards to whether Rios-Alvarado’s series of fights could rival Gatti-Ward.
“Mike is nowhere near Gatti and Ward is nowhere near Brandon,” said Garcia. “Mike can’t box like Gatti was able to box. This fight could be two to three rounds, it could be 12. Hagler-Hearns was only three rounds, but that was still memorable.”
“How long can he box?” asked Rios. “I think he might box for one or two rounds, then we’ll go back to slugging.”
If Rios is right, it’ll be a win for the fans. Whether or not Rios and Alvarado can match the level of action from their first encounter, let alone Gatti-Ward, we’ll find out Saturday night.
Perhaps, as Davis said in his statement on the dais, Rios-Alvarado will be the inspiration for a future Legendary Nights episode. The bar has been set extremely high.
Door open for more Legendary Nights
As far as the Legendary Nights series goes, Davis said it was just a coincidence that the formal announcement came just days before Rios-Alvarado wage war a second time.
“I honestly didn’t even think about it until the other day,” said Davis. “It was a perfect time to announce the series, after [Timothy] Bradley’s fight a few weekends ago and before this one.”
The news of HBO returning the fantastic boxing documentary series was met by nothing but positive feedback. Whether or not the Gatti-Ward episode could lead to future editions, Davis didn’t have a hard answer for.
“We’re open to the idea of doing more,” said Davis. “We don’t have any planned as of present. There are many fights that have occurred even since the last run that are worthy. We’ll play it by ear and be opportunistic.”
Rather tries to make impression
One fighter on Saturday’s untelevised undercard looking to make an impression is local Las Vegas heavyweight Brett Rather (2-0), whom this writer mistakenly identified as a relative of newsperson Dan Rather in a previous article.
Though Rather doesn’t have any famous reporter’s blood in him, he’s got some solid boxing credentials. Rather was a two-time collegiate champion and was quickly moved into the amateur scene according to coach Chris Ben.
He immediately won a last chance Olympic qualifier with only fourteen amateur fights to his name prior to. From there, he went to the U.S. Championships reload where he won four straight fights before losing to Dominic Breazeale, who eventually represented the U.S. in London.
Rather has a crowd-pleasing come-forward style and will be fighting fellow unbeaten heavyweight Juan Guajardo, of McAllen, Tex. Rather and his team are hoping an impressive showing could lead interest Top Rank into signing him, particularly after the success they’ve found with Mexican American heavyweight Andy Ruiz Jr., whom Rather is no stranger to.
“I’ve been sparring with Andy for a year,” said Rather, who has also worked with heavyweight contender Bermane Stiverne, as well as burgeoning amateur Hasim Rahman Jr.
Manager Angelo Reyes felt that Breazeale, who is promoted by rival Golden Boy Promotions, was lucky to get the nod in their amateur encounter and would love to make something happen down the road.
“We’d take that fight now and Brett would beat him,” claimed a confident Reyes.
For now, Rather’s team is taking things one step at a time, and they hope to have six or seven fights by the end of the year. For now, their focus is on Saturday and leaving a memorable impression on Top Rank brass.
Photos / Naoki Fukuda, Al Bello-Getty Images
Mark Ortega is the boxing columnist for the Martinez News-Gazette and is a member of the Boxing Writers Assoc. of America and the RING Ratings Advisory Panel. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]as well as followed on Twitter @MarkEOrtega.