By Ivan G. Goldman
You could tell junior welters Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado were putting on a great show just by reading the astonishment on referee Pat Russell’s face. It was an expression that said, “Man, how long can they keep this up?” As it turned out, they couldn’t get past six and a half-rounds, but what rounds they were.
In a world that positively bursts with false claims, it’s reached the point where we’re staggered when an event lives up to the hope and public relations hype. Yet this great fight was no $70 pay-per-view extravaganza. As a Boxing After Dark attraction, it wasn’t even deemed worthy of the full HBO treatment the network reserves for its bigger bouts. Moreover, it wasn’t even the main event of the evening.
But fans knew. That’s why they filled almost every seat in Carson, California’s 8,000-seat Home Depot Center, which was designed for tennis matches but works at least as well for the sweet science. With its steeply-banked seating layout, the arena has to be the best place there is to watch fights. The fans in the back row aren’t straining to look across a ballroom floor. They seem almost close enough to the action to get blood-splattered.
Alvarado. 33-1 (23KOs), and Rios, 31-0-1 (23KOs), knew what kind of fight this would be. Each had seen tapes of the other and understood what it would take to win — everything they had and then a little more. The winner would be catapulted beyond the turbulent mosh pit where most world-class fighters earn their keep. And that’s exactly the way it worked out. Rios, 26, made it out of the pit onto the world stage. For his next contest he won’t be on anybody else’s undercard. In fact, he may be on pay-per-view with Manny Pacquiao. Bob Arum, who promotes both Rios and Pacquiao, hasn’t looked this delighted since photos of arch-rival promoter Oscar De La Hoya were splashed across the World Wide Web in lipstick and fishnets.
Rios-Alvarado was not only a battle that featured fierce, relentless, action, it was also a mystery contest. Until the last few seconds you couldn’t tell who would win. Each man would fade and come back, fade and come back, until finally one of them couldn’t come back. In my notes I scribbled that by round five Alvarado’s punches were, one the whole, looking crisper than Rios’s. Rios’s big shots were now mixed in with survivable punches. But that didn’t mean Alvarado would necessarily win. Clearly they would keep fighting until one fighter could no longer fight.
The slow-motion footage shows a perfect stoppage by Russell. After the big Rios overhand right, Alvarado was confused, both gloves held out way in front, not inside the envelope, but almost in supplication to the boxing gods, saying: how much more does a fighter have to take? If his mind were working clearly, he’d have taken a knee and gained eight safe seconds to assess his situation. But his will to stay on his feet was too strong, overwhelming good sense. He was done. Russell didn’t act a second early or a second late. He acted perfectly. Alvarado, a fantastic competitor, will now get other chances to prove himself.
In the main event, Nonito Donaire showed why he’s high on all the pound-for-pound lists. The fighter in front of him, Toshiaki Nishioka, learned during the first minute that he was up against too much speed, power, and athleticism, that he’d have to be very crafty to come out on top or even to survive twelve rounds against this dynamo. So he pursued what usually turns out to be a losing strategy, but he figured it was his only hope. He looked for one big punch, one moment of carelessness that would turn the tables for him. He never found it, and he was being gradually weakened. When he finally opened up with combinations in round six he got knocked on his butt. Once it became a real fight, he was doomed. His corner saw it too, and when he got knocked down again in the ninth round, they moved to protect the health of a man who was 36 years old and had endured 47 contests.
Meanwhile, it’s possible that some other fight will eclipse Rios-Alvarado as Fight of the Year, but only if we’re very, very lucky.
Ivan G. Goldman’s critically acclaimed novel The Barfighter is set in the world of boxing. Information HERE