LAS VEGAS – There was no question that the rematch between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado would be a good fight. The two junior welterweight sluggers combined for one of the best action bouts of last year.
The only question coming into their anticipated rematch on Saturday was if the return bout could live up to impossibly high expectations. Stupid question.
Even with Alvarado boxing more by working his jab, using lateral movement and even switching to southpaw in spots, these two warriors couldn’t help but put on another fight-of-the-year candidate.
In the end, Alvarado’s discipline to mix the right amount of jabs, counterpunches and footwork in with his power shots gave him a deserved edge with the judges, who awarded him the fight by scores of 115-113, 115-113 and 114-113.
Coming into the rematch, Rios, who won their first fight by seventh-round TKO last October, told the boxing media that he expected Alvarado to try to box more in the rematch. Rios said Alvarado would box for a few rounds before being pulled into a slugfest, which he would ultimately lose. Most of the media agreed with this assessment.
Rios and the media were wrong.
Alvarado fought most of the fight at arms’ distance and although he was rocked a few times, most notably by a stiff jab in the second round, and he suffered bad swelling around his eyes, he stuck to his aggressive stick-and-move game plan.
In doing so, Alvarado (34-1, 23 knockouts) gave himself room to land numerous flush power shots – mainly right hands – that stunned, shook or rocked Rios, who somehow took them without falling (often smiling or winking in return) before continuing his seek-and-destroy stalking.
Rios’ relentless forward-marching attack earned some of the late rounds, but most of the rounds between the ninth and the 12th were scored for Alvarado, who had the stamina to continue to punch and move.
“I moved around a lot, that was the game plan, and my ‘mile high’ training helped,” said Alvarado, who trained near his hometown of Denver, Colorado for Saturday’s fight.
“This difference in this fight was high altitude training every day for two months,” said Alvarado’s co-trainer and manager Henry Delgado. “We knew he needed better legs this time.”
Rios (31-1-1, 22 KOs), who jumped on the ring ropes and held up three fingers to the frenzied crowd immediately after the fight, seemed to know that he lost to the slightly better man.
However, the 26-year-old former lightweight titleholder wants the opportunity to make the same improvements Alvarado did in the rematch.
“I gave you a rematch,” Rios told Alvarado during the post-fight interview on HBO, which televised the live in the U.S. “I deserve a third fight.”
He does. And hardcore fight fans around the world want to see it. However, it won’t happen right away if the promoter of both fighters, Bob Arum, has his way.
“I’d like to see these guys in against other people first, and then a little later we can do a (return) match,” Arum told the ringside media.
“I really don’t like doing immediate rematches. I did it with these guys because they’re young and crazy and they wanted it right away, but I usually like fighters to have interim bouts.”
Arum, a hall-of-fame promoter who has been in the fight game since the late 1960s, says multi-fight series don’t need to happen in succession in order to captivate the public.
“(Manny) Pacquiao and (Juan Manuel) Marquez didn’t have immediate rematches,” he said.
And those two future hall-of-famers made millions of dollars and did 1 million-plus pay-per-view buys with their third and fourth bouts.
Alvarado and Rios won’t likely make as much money as Pacquiao and Marquez, and they probably won’t get into the hall of fame, but if they do fight three times, their series could go down as an all-time classic.
It was fitting their rematch was at the Mandalay Bay’s Event Center, where many modern classics – such as Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales I, Oscar De La Hoya-Fernando Vargas and Vargas-Felix Trinidad – took place.
The fight that took place in this arena (and was also refereed by Tony Weeks) that most fans will compare Alvarado-Rios II to is Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo I, which some believe is the best fight ever.
Their brutal 12-round battle wasn’t quite as dramatic as that 2005 blood bath, but it came close. And in doing so, both fighters absorbed a lot of punishment.
“They both fought their hearts out,” Rios’ trainer Robert Garcia said.
And although their hearts are willing to do it one more time as soon as a rubbermatch can be made, their bodies and their brains need time to rest.
Arum is right. There should not be an immediate return bout between Alvarado and Rios, both of whom missed the post-fight press conference because they were taken to UMC trauma center for precautionary CT scans.
In the co-featured bout of the Top Rank-promoted, HBO-televised show, lightweight prospect Terence Crawford remained unbeaten by out-boxing and out-pointing veteran gatekeeper Breidis Prescott over 10 rounds.
Crawford (20-0, 15 KOs), who won by scores of 99-91, 97-93, and 100-90, overcame a shaky start to the bout, perhaps leery of the size of Prescott, a large junior welterweight who has heavy hands.
However, once the 24-year-old former amateur standout from Omaha, Nebraska settled down and became accustomed to Prescott’s style and rhythm he took over the bout with his jab, lateral movement, defense and counter punching.
Crawford, who was a late replacement for undefeated 140-pound standout Khabib Allakhverdiev, constantly switched from orthodox to southpaw during the fight and felt comfortable enough to stay in the pocket and exchange punches with Prescott in the late rounds.
Taking the fight to Prescott was a bold move considering the Colombian owns a first-round TKO of Amir Khan and gave Alvarado hell before being stopped in the final round of their barnburner a few years ago.
Many ringside observers thought the fight was closer than the official scorecards indicated.
Crawford thought he was clearly the better boxer and deserved to win the rounds the judges awarded him.
“I studied two video tapes of him – one was the Alvarado fight – and knew I could outbox him,” Crawford said afterward. “I knew he couldn’t handle my speed, my power or my boxing ability. He’s not really a smart fighter. I knew I was winning all the rounds.”
For a photo gallery of Rios-Alvarado, click here.
For a photo gallery of Crawford-Prescott, click here.
Photos: Chris Farina-Top Rank (top); Josh Hedges-Getty (middle); Naoki Fukuda (bottom)
Email Fischer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @dougiefischer