For all the spine-tingling, skull-rattling moments Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado provided while standing inches apart last October for seven insta-classic rounds, arguably the most memorable moment of all came with them positioned some 28 feet apart, seated on stools in their respective corners. After the first round of their junior welterweight brawl, Rios said something in Spanish that was hard to make out but, based on context clues, translated along the lines of "I [bleeping] love this." And his trainer Robert Garcia responded clearly in English, "I know you [bleeping] love this."
People who choose to trade punches for a living are wired a little differently than most of us. But even among professional boxers, Rios and Alvarado stand out as having a different kind of blood pumping through their brains. Like Rocky Graziano, Matthew Saad Muhammad, Arturo Gatti, Erik Morales, and the rest of boxing's all-time elite action fighters, Rios and Alvarado have not just a crazy willingness to get hit, but a sick sense of emptiness if they aren't taking one to give one.
So as the March 30 date for Rios vs. Alvarado II closes in, let's sum up the outlook for this highly anticipated rematch in seven words: These guys can't make a bad fight.
There's a sense among many that Alvarado, who got out to an early lead in the first fight by "boxing" (at least relative to Rios) before getting hurt by a right hand in the sixth and stopped by a barrage in the seventh, will look to keep the fight at distance and avoid a bomb-for-bomb swap. There's also a sense among many that, eventually, Alvarado's instinct to go to war will take over again, perhaps with some friendly prodding from Rios.
"I know he's going to try to keep me on the outside with his reach, but my game plan that Robert's been working on is to use a little more head movement, get inside his long reach, and work him like I did the first fight," Rios told HBO.com. "I'm pretty sure that he's going to try to box me, keep me at bay, hug me a little more, tie me up a little more. But after a while, I'm going to be putting so much pressure on him, I'm going to be on his ass and I'm not going to let go. So it's going to be one of those fight-of-the-year-type fights again."
HBO analyst Max Kellerman agreed on the March 9 edition of The Fight Game: "I don't care how disciplined Alvarado tries to come out for the rematch. When you hit him once, he wants to hit you back harder, twice, and Rios is exactly the same way."
A review of the first fight - never a bad way to spend a half-hour, no matter how many times you've already seen it - serves to remind viewers of just how little defense was on display. Rios-Alvarado I featured two warriors with a punch-pause-punch approach. One guy would let his hands go, then the other would, and then they both would simultaneously for the sort of exchanges that make fans forget to breathe. Rare were the moments with nobody punching. Nonexistent were the moments with somebody moving or dancing.
The up-close-and-personal nature of the warfare was particularly remarkable. From the outset, Rios tried to become Alvarado's Siamese twin, attached at the forehead. "Bam Bam" repeatedly unleashed eight-inch uppercuts, and Alvarado took advantage of the geometry with hooks and crosses detonating from Rios' blind spots.
Not that Rios minded; the comic-book-villain smile he flashed after every flush punch he took served as evidence of that. There was one particularly violent mano-a-mano exchange in round five that seemed to last an inhumane amount of time, and both men's faces bore the lumpy, reddened aftereffects, but there was that demonic smile still spreading across Rios' face. Perhaps he knew something the rest of us didn't, that even though he was falling behind on points, he had Alvarado right where he wanted him. The next round, he wobbled the previously unbeaten warrior from Denver, and the round after that, he forced a stoppage from ref Pat Russell.
But it was a stoppage that, in the opinion of many, was a punch or two premature. That opens the door for debate, inconclusiveness, and, most importantly, a rematch.
This rematch wasn't Rios' first choice for a spring fight; he wanted Manny Pacquiao or Juan Manuel Marquez. But he insists he's having no problems getting up for this fight.
"Alvarado is a dangerous opponent, he's still got that puncher's chance, he's very dangerous, so I can't let anything interfere with my focus. He could win by knockout, so I always got to be motivated and ready," Rios (31-0-1, 23 KOs) said.
It's fair to assume, though, that Alvarado (33-1, 23 KOs), in seeking revenge, will be the more motivated of the two. It's also fair to assume he has the more intense tunnel vision. "Mile High Mike" seems reluctant to break his concentration and talk to the media - hence the imbalance of quotes in this article.
Meanwhile, the sound bites that Rios has to offer about Alvarado are not his usual expletive-laden gutter talk. Instead he's gotten into a well-publicized war of words with lightweight phenom Adrien Broner because Alvarado doesn't offer him a proper outlet for his trash-talking urges.
"I know Alvarado personally. He's a good guy," Rios said. "He hasn't bad-mouthed me, so I'm not going to do it back. Of course, he thinks he's going to knock me out and I think I'm going to knock him out. That's boxing. But other than that, he hasn't said any crap about me, so I'm not going to say any crap about him until he does."
That's just fine; this is one fight that doesn't need any bad blood, real or fabricated, to pique fans' interest.
If Alvarado should prevail at the Home Depot Center on March 30, it's a near certainty that they'll do it a third time. If Rios wins, he says his first choice is a showdown with Danny Garcia, which is a sensational matchup-yet might not even be among the three or four most intriguing for Rios at 140 pounds, a division absolutely loaded with talent.
The fact is that Rios in with just about anyone is likely to deliver thrills. Put him in with Alvarado, and "likely" becomes "guaranteed."
Rios bleeping loves this. So does Alvarado. But nobody could possibly bleeping love it more than sports fans who crave a bit of sanctioned violence on a Saturday night.