by Kieran Mulvaney
It is the job of a boxing writer to convey the sense of the action that takes place in the ring, to document the exchange of blows and the ebb and flow of a contest. But there are times when the action is so intense, the punches thrown so heavy and so numerous, the shifts in momentum so rapid and the violence so intense, when the crowd is screaming so loudly it sounds as if a jet engine is in full throttle nearby, that all an observer can do is put his hands to his head as his jaw drops open in wordless disbelief.
That was how it was to be ringside as Mike "Mile High" Alvarado and Brandon "Bam Bam" Rios took turns to bludgeon each other to the precipice of unconsciousness, each man administering to the other a savage beating and yet both combatants somehow surviving to remain standing at the end of twelve rounds that left only one question hanging in the air:
When will there be a Rios-Alvarado III?
Their first fight, last October, was a late candidate and likely close runner-up for the 2012 Fight of the Year; the second bout may have already displaced this month's Timothy Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov battle as the clubhouse leader for this year's award. It didn't take long to catch fire. Rios opened the first round pursuing Alvarado, who moved and looked to counter as Rios came forward; a solid right hand at the end of the frame was enough to give Rios the early advantage.
In the second, Rios attacked with left hooks, and Alvarado countered with a right. Rios swarmed forward and Alvarado dug to his body. Alvarado landed a sharp hook as Rios plowed forward again, but then suddenly a right hand hurt him. His legs did a little dance as he backed off, and then Rios landed another booming right and Alvarado was hurt badly. Rios jumped on him, hurling punches in close, and yet somehow Alvarado found the energy and ability to back him off until Rios landed again with a left and a right and an uppercut that snapped back Alvarado's head as the bell rang and the crowd roared.
Rios began the third on the attack, sniffing an early finish, ripping hooks to Alvarado's body. But Alvarado responded in kind, with a digging left to the body bending Rios over and stiffening him, and a powerful right hand sending him backward and deep into trouble. Rios defended himself the only way he knows, by firing yet more punches of his own, and the two men launched bombs back and forth, as the third round ended and the fourth unfolded, Alvarado now in the ascendant as his punches boasted a sharpness, shortness and snap that Rios' were comparatively lacking.
Then, in the fifth, Rios once more was all over his foe, smothering him, using a jab to work his way inside and then leaning on Alvarado, digging to his body as his opponent sought to respond with uppercuts. When Rios was able to smother Alvarado, he was in command; when Alvarado was able to gain just a little distance, he had the room and leverage to land the more compelling blows.
That was what Alvarado was able to do in the sixth, snapping back Rios' head with a jab, showing enough lateral movement to prevent his foe from getting set, throwing bunches of punches to keep him at the right distance and then closing the round with a left/right combination that stunned Rios again. It was Rios' turn to land the telling blows in the seventh, backing Alvarado to the ropes and then, when action returned to ring center, landing a booming left and follow-up right.
Back and forth it went: in the eighth, a huge right hand from Alvarado, and in the ninth several more. By the tenth, though, the right side of his face was a swollen mess, and for a brief instant, it appeared as if both combatants were so tired they could barely throw any punches-that is, until they disabused onlookers of that notion with a succession of blows that once more brought the crowd to its feet, the whole contest ending with Alvarado landing a hook and then a right hand and then another hook, enough to take the twelfth and seal the victory by scores of 115-113, 115-113 and 114-113.
Ironically, that victory was sealed in the end not just by the vicious blows that Alvarado landed (and he connected with an incredible 261 out of 860 punches according to CompuBox, with Rios not far behind on 241 out of 823), but by the footwork he displayed in the final rounds, the way in which he was able to prevent Rios from closing him down and getting set and thus limit the damage that he received down the stretch.
As the scores were read out, Rios held up three fingers to signify the desire for a rubber match; when he spotted Alvarado being interviewed by Max Kellerman, he interrupted the conversation to scream that, having granted the rematch, he deserved the same.
But there was no need to insist. Alvarado had already agreed to it. It may be the only contest this year that could top this one.
In the co-main event, undefeated lightweight Terence Crawford moved up to junior welterweight and dominated the bigger, more experienced Breidis Prescott, who himself once went life-and-death in a losing effort against Alvarado and who also knocked out Amir Khan inside a round. Prescott seemed uncertain what to do with Crawford's speed and movement, and could not prevent the young prospect from taking a deserved and impressive win.
The crowd didn't much care for it; there wasn't enough action to keep the spectators happy. But then out come Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado and enough punches to satisfy even the most demanding fan.