Sometimes a boxer will smile during the midst of battle. Usually it's false bravado, an ill-fated attempt to convince his opponent, and himself, that a particularly powerful punch didn't really do any harm. Almost always, the smile is a lie, a diversion meant to mask the pain.
The grin that crept onto Brandon Rios' face during the third round of his already legendary slugfest with Mike Alvarado last October was different—and a little bit contagious. There wasn't anything fake about the joy on his face. Rios was part of something special and truly in the moment.
It takes a certain amount of swagger to take another man's best shot and come up smiling—and firing back. Watching at home, you couldn't help feeling a little giddy too as the fight, expected to steal the show, lived up to expectations and then bowled them over.
It was a seven-round slugfest in a proverbial phone booth. Both men stood close enough to whisper sweet nothings as the punches whispered by their head or thudded into the body. It was a performance for the ages.
For Rios, it's more than a memory. It's 25 minutes that have become part of his routine.
"Even today I watched our match. I wake up in the morning and when I get back from my run I watch our fight. After I go to the gym, I watch it. Before I go to bed, I watch it. I am a fan of our fight and I am a fan of that fight," Rios said. "I was very amazed. It was like watching an Arturo Gatti - Micky Ward fight. I couldn’t believe we stood up to the big shots. We were both landing big shots going toe-to-toe in the middle of the ring. Like I said, I am a big fan of mine, and his, so it was awesome."
For Alvarado, it's an experience to remember but not to cherish. Though he's seen the fight since that fateful night last October, it's not something he needs to pull off the DVR to recall.
"I remember it like the back of my hand so I don’t have to go over it too much."
Rios, of course, earned the right to enjoy the night with his seventh-round stoppage. After six closely contested rounds, in three-minute stanzas that saw Rios do his best work with left hooks to the body and head, it was the right hand that rocked Alvarado and changed the course of the bout. Commentator Roy Jones believed it would have buckled a lesser man than Alvarado. He withstood it, but eventually referee Pat Russell stepped in to stop the bout.
The bout almost defies description, as words are inadequate to summarize the courage on display in the ring on October 13 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Typically an action fight of that caliber features two guys who eschew science in order to stand and bang, but Alvarado and Rios combined the best of both worlds. The efficiency and skill on display, and not just the warrior's heart, helped the fight transcend what might have otherwise been just another mindless brawl.
Though Alvarado's name was linked immediately after the fight to Ruslan Provodnikov and Rios was rumored to be a potential candidate to fight Manny Pacquiao, in the end, a rematch just made the most sense. The first fight served as an appetizer before a dreadfully dull fight between Nonito Donaire and Japan's Toshiaki Nishioka.
This time it's "Alvarado vs. Rios" on the marquee at the Mandalay Bay.
"I don’t usually like to do immediate rematches but this first fight was really so great. There was a demand for it to get done and the people at HBO came up with a financial package that was very appealing," promoter Bob Arum said. "Both fighters are getting considerable more than they got the first time. It’s the exception that proves the rule.
"Fans aren’t stupid. They want to see action. Mike Alvarado and Brandon Rios are action fighters. They don’t play around. They don’t dance around. They fight. That’s what the public wants to see."
Both fighters, too, are ready to lace them up and get right back in there—this time as the main event.
"It’s never too soon to do it again," Rios said. "Like I said, we are warriors and if you are a warrior, you want to fight again and again and again. It is never too soon. The first fight was great. I feel great and I’m ready for another battle. I am just ready to do it again. I am ready for another battle. Why wait? It is never too soon."
The question now, for fans at least, is what kind of fight to expect. Comparisons have already been made to Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti, who fought on three memorable occasions in 2002 and 2003. Gatti, after losing the first fight in a back-and-forth action bout, came back with a more tactical game plan for the second fight, relying on superior technique to win that fight and the subsequent rubber match.
Some expect this fight to feature a little more science and a little less fury than the first meeting too. There is certainly precedent for rematches failing to meet the heightened expectations of the first bout. Even in the greatest rivalries, the second fight has often been a letdown. It was that way for Gatti vs. Ward, and the sequel to Diego Corrales vs. Jose Luis Castillo I, the greatest fight of the last decade, was a tremendous disappointment.
The seeds were sown for a more tactical fight this weekend as well. Alvarado, who controlled the fight at distance the first time with a stiff jab, may hope to utilize his technique to keep Rios from getting in close.
But, for his part, Rios isn't buying it. To him, you are who you are. And once the bell rings, no matter how technical they may plan on being, he and Alvarado are not scientists. They are warriors who don't know any way but coming forward and throwing heavy leather.
"We have the same type of style. We both go fight each other. We try to get the job done the only way we know how," Rios said. "We can try to change it up in the gym, but once the bell rings and we get hit we go back to doing what we know how to do. That’s the warrior mentality that comes out of us. Mike Alvarado is Mike Alvarado and Brandon Rios is Brandon Rios. We are going to give the fans what they want, and we are going to give them a good show."
Alvarado vs. Rios II will be televised live on HBO Boxing After Dark, beginning at 10:15 p.m. ET/PT. Jonathan Snowden is the author of Shooters, The MMA Encyclopedia and Total MMA. You can follow him on Twitter at @mmaencyclopedia. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes acquired firsthand by Bleacher Report.