One would have to try awfully hard to outdo some of the hyperbole already out there about the HBO-televised bout Saturday between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado — “all-time classic,” reads one headline, and “fight of the century,” offers one commenter at this site — but you’d also have to try pretty hard to deny that it has that kind of exaggerated potential. Neither one of these men are likely to soon roll down a car window and ask, “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?” There were surely fights held on the grounds of the Home Depot Center that featured less sophistication, but they were probably 13,000 years ago. Rios-Alvarado is pure, unadultered junior welterweight violence from the first second it starts.
So anticipated is that fight by the hardcore fans that it is overshadowing the main event, itself an excellent match-up between the two top men at junior featherweight. At his finest, Nonito Donaire is a sensation, one of the top talents in the whole sport, but too often in his career he’s not taken on the top challenges, whatever the reason. Toshiaki Nishioka is a worthy challenge, the owner of some pound-for-pound top-20 cachet in some circles himself. The winner will become the new lineal champion at 122 pounds (according to the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board), one of the best divisions in the sport.
Together, these two fights constitute the best doubleheader of 2012, at least on paper. One is probably a toss-up, while the other has a strong favorite in against an opponent who has more than the usual “any shot can end a fight” chance of winning.
BRANDON RIOS-MIKE ALVARADO
That jab about a lack of sophistication in this fight isn’t totally true — it’s more an impressionist approach to the two men. Offensively, both are reasonably sophisticated. It’s their defense that’s lacking. Both have the capacity for defense, but both get hit a ton anyway. Rios is so focused on offense that he’s bound to get hit in the middle of one of his combinations, although he does all right when he keeps his gloves up, and is adept on the inside at making slight upper body movements to dodge 25 percent of what’s coming back at him. Alvarado also relies on keeping his gloves up, but is far more hittable on the inside when he can’t control the distance.
That inside/outside contrast is the main difference between the two. Alvarado can fight on the inside, especially with snappy uppercuts (the left is oddly powerful), but he doesn’t go to the body much and prefers to fight on the outside, where he can toss long, powerful right crosses. Rios, meanwhile, never stops barreling in in in, and really saves most of his volleys for close up. Once there, he throwing every kind of punch with both hands, head and body. His left hook is also quite powerful, but a counter right does serious damage as well.
Rios does more of his damage with volume, while Alvarado appears to have more one-punch power. As this fight signals Rios’ official move to junior welterweight, though, we don’t know yet what kind of power he’ll have and whether he’ll take a punch as well as he did at lightweight, where he would be occasionally shaken by powerful, accurate fighters like Miguel Acosta, but mostly absorbed absurd amounts of punishment. Alvarado can take that kind of punishment from solidly powerful junior welterweights, as he’s shown against Breidis Prescott.
If these two were both lightweights, I’d pick Rios easily. They’re not. Rios was enormous for a lightweight, and it was part of his advantage. It’s not clear whether he’ll be as giant-sized a junior welterweight. Sometimes when a fighter moves up to a more natural weight, he’ll gain power and punch resistance, because he’s not draining himself any longer, and there’s no question Rios was draining himself half to death because he grew by nearly 50 percent in between every fight. That much more to kill, draining-wise.
Rios has faced better opponents, but that experience advantage is erased by what I’m going to presume is Alvarado’s size advantage, because he’s also a bit longer-armed and taller. Rios will barrel in like usual, and he’ll give Alvarado all he can handle, but I think Alvarado’s superior one-punch power and Rios’ inability to impose his size will be the difference. Alvarado by mid-round stoppage in a fight that might rock your television off its axis.
NONITO DONAIRE-TOSHIAKI NISHIOKA
The more I look at this fight, the less convinced I am of Nishioka’s chances. He’s a well-schooled fighter with a sharp jab, good footwork, good timing and good accuracy. He’s also 36, fairly slow and hasn’t fought in a year. More importantly, he struggled with an old Rafael Marquez and was getting beaten for a couple rounds by Jhonny Gonzalez before catching him. Those are both good fighters, as is Nishioka, who has earned the #1 spot at 122 with his resume. None of those three are in Donaire’s league, talent-wise.
In fact, I wouldn’t pick Nishioka over Donaire, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Abner Mares or Anselmo Moreno, which doesn’t say as much about Nishioka as it does the talent that has invaded his division. Nishioka is a southpaw, which leads to a lot of head butts in his fights for some reason, but it also clearly confounds his opponents, when combined with his solid defense. Nishioka likes to land eye-catching single shots, starting with his jab but including his left cross — which he loops from distance to the head and body — and right hook. Mixing it up isn’t exactly his m.o. He picks his spots carefully, too carefully in fact. Nishioka threatens to turn this fight into another of the kinds of fights we’ve seen with Donaire of late, where his opponent tries to turn the temperature down and avoid eating counter lefts.
But eat the counter left they all do anyway, and it’s a literally head-caving shot, as Fernando Montiel discovered. Donaire’s one-shot power ends fights instantly, like against Vic Darchinyan, or cracks teeth, like against his last opponent Jeffrey Mathebula. As he has moved up in weight, that power has subsided somewhat, but it’s still there. So is the speed, which is space/time-bending. He gets sloppy, sure, and he doesn’t know what to do so much with opponents who don’t come straight at him. But his speed and power still beats them all, at least with everyone so far, and it’s really just a matter of how defeat comes.
That’s up to Noshiaka. If he chooses to engage, he goes down. If he chooses to survive, he does. I think he’ll get countered reaching with a left to the body and not get up again. It just might take until late in the fight when that happens. It’ll take a different kind of fighter than Nishioka to beat Donaire.