On Saturday, March 31, Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado will meet for the WBO junior welterweight title in a rematch of their thrilling, Fight of the Year-caliber clash from last October. The bout will be broadcast live on HBO from the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada.
There are very few weeks in a given year where I do not have some fight, somewhere, that I am planning to watch and write about. I'm a fight writer. I can get excited about a four-round prospect fight, an amateur MMA card.
But there are certain fights in a given calender year that demand an elevated level of excitement and enthusiasm. Sometimes those fights catch you by surprise, the way Timothy Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov did.
But a lot of times, a knowledgeable fan knows from the moment the fight is signed, this one is going to be a war—this one has the potential to be a fight I talk about some day when I'm an old man.
Promoter Bob Arum dubbed the legendary Thomas Hearns-Marvin Hagler fight "The War" in the press conference to announce the fight. The action in the ring ended up surpassing any possible promoter hype.
Prior to their first fight, Diego Corrales embraced Jose Luis Castillo at their last public appearance together, telling his opponent, "We're going to make history." In the ring, the two did precisely that.
And from the moment last October's junior welterweight showdown between Brandon Rios (31-0-1, 23 KOs) and Mike Alvarado (33-1, 23 KOs) was signed, boxing fans began to chatter in anticipation. This one, we all knew, was destined to be a good one.
Boxing fans were throwing around names like "Gatti-Ward" to describe their anticipation. And once more, it was a case of the fight living up to the hype.
Rios and Alvarado fought a take-no-prisoners war from the opening round on. When referee Pat Russell waved off the action as Alvarado absorbed a last barrage of punishment against the ropes in Round 7, the crowd had barely sat down for the entire fight.
Neither man had left the ring that night before the talk of a rematch had already begun.
But rematches, in the fight game, are a funny thing, and especially in this era of fighters fighting less often and records getting an extra bit of protection as a result. Once a fighter has notched a hard-fought victory over another tough opponent, that fighter's management and promotional team are not usually going to be anxious to throw him right back in there with the same guy.
Sure, Rios ended up with a shortened night of work last October against Alvarado. But he ate plenty of leather along the way, and it was touch-and-go the entire time, up to the final exchange that put him in command.
Rios was dead even at 57-57 on two cards and up by a mere point on the third. The fight was the clubhouse leader for Fight of the Year until Pacquiao-Marquez in December.
For a while there were rumors floating that Rios was supposed to be next in line for Pacquiao. Then, when Marquez won instead, some fans asked, why not the all-action Rios versus the counterpunching professor, Marquez?
Rios-Pacquiao and Rios-Marquez are both fights that fans would ultimately be interested in watching. Pretty much any fight Brandon Rios is in is the kind of fight fans will want to watch. That's just the sort of fighter he is.
So even though a rematch between Rios and Alvarado is exactly what every boxing fan on the planet has wanted since the moment the last one ended, the fight game being what it is, there was no reason to be optimistic.
Then again, this is Brandon "Bam Bam" Rios we are talking about. This is a world championship-caliber fighter who talks about the sport with the enthusiasm of a diehard fan.
When asked if the rematch was coming "too soon" during a media phone call last week, Rios said:
"It's never too soon...we're warriors. And if you're a warrior, you want to fight again and again. So it's never too soon. This is what I love, so to me, why wouldn't I do it?"
Ever since I saw him fight live in Madison Square Garden on the Cotto-Margarito undercard, my line on Rios has always been: "I've never seen a guy in my life who truly looks so happy in the middle of a fight."
It's a recurring theme in Rios interviews, that he wants to have fights where he is forced to test himself, to put everything he has on the line against somebody trying to take him out. When he found himself in a fight last fall with Mike Alvarado where he was getting pushed to the limit, once again he looked downright cheerful.
For Rios, it was the kind of battle he wants more of. "I honestly do love these kind of fights," he told me when I interviewed him one-on-one by phone last week. "When I smile you can tell I'm enjoying myself...it means I'm where I need to be mentally."
For Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, Rios-Alvarado II was the exception to his normal rule in regard to rematches: "I don't usually like to do rematches right away," he said on last week's media call. But he noted that the fan interest in a rematch had been a true driver for getting this one done again, noting that both fighters would be paid "considerably more" than they were the last time.
For Mike Alvarado, the motivation for a rematch is simple: redemption. In a fight where he was giving as good as he was taking, he ended up on the wrong end of a few too many punches and had the referee take the fight out of his hands.
Even at the time, some questioned Russell's stoppage, though not very loudly. In an era of heightened awareness over head trauma, few people are anxious to criticize a ref for an honest attempt to protect a fighter's well being.
When I talked to him by phone last week, even Mike Alvarado was sportsmanlike when assessing the job Russell did in calling the curtains down on him early last October. "He's got to do what he does for fighter safety," Alvarado said.
"But it was frustrating. Especially after watching him last weekend."
By "last weekend," Alvarado was referring to Timothy Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov's epic clash on March 17, a fight in which Timothy Bradley hung on to win by narrow margins after appearing to be knocked out cold on his feet on more than one occasion.
And the referee who allowed Bradley to keep pushing through? None other than Pat Russell, the same man who called an early end to the hostilities during the first Rios-Alvarado fight.
Like I already said, I never like to criticize a referee for protecting a fighter taking damage. And Russell's stoppage in the Rios-Alavarado fight came at a completely different point than potential stoppages would have come in Bradley-Provodnikov.
And Alvarado himself has made it clear that he ultimately puts nothing on the ref for his loss last time out. "I didn't do everything the way I needed to," he told me.
My own analysis of the last fight is that Alvarado was winning when the fight was taking place at long and middle distance. When Rios managed to force the action into the trenches, Alvarado traded on fairly even terms, but ultimately it was the kind battle of attrition in which Rios excels.
On paper, at least, it makes sense that Alvarado will try to come in for the rematch with a boxing-first game plan. When I spoke to Alvarado, he confirmed: "I'm going to make this a frustrating fight for Brandon."
Alvarado spoke about preparing to use his legs more. "I've had sparring partners who put me in positions I need to be in, to be able to keep the fight where I want it when the time comes."
But when I spoke with Rios, he was adamant that part two of his series with Alvarado would be more of the same:
"I'm like 99 percent sure it will be the same fight...I've been working on things, too. I've been planning to take more angles, to move my head more to make him miss...but you know what? At the end of the day, once you get hit, you go back to do what you do best...I feel it will be the same with Alvarado."
For Alvarado's own part, despite his talk of changing things up and boxing to victory, he admitted himself in the media call: "I think our styles, the way we approach the ring, that's the kind of fight we're going to have."
So no matter what, both fighter expect another war. In the media call last week, Bob Arum put it well: "Brandon and Mike know one thing, they know how to fight, they know how to bring it."
Indeed, after interviewing them on back-to-back days, then listening to them both laugh their way through a shared media call, it was hard for me not to see Alvarado and Rios as very much cut from the same cloth. Even among prize fighters, some men go above and beyond to earn the title of warrior.
Rios and Alvarado are fighters of this kind. And fighters like this don't get together to throw down every day of the week.