There are plenty of fights where it makes sense to strip away their components, one by one, and then reconstitute them, like a chemistry student studying an upcoming (sweet) science project. Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado III, this Saturday on HBO, isn’t one of them. Everything has chemistry at its core, even a couple of bricks. But you don’t need to do much scientific observation to discern how those work.
Rios vs Alvarado III just is, mainly. It’s a fight that has plain appeal, even as it unnerves slightly. The two welterweights are sluggers right down to their center, no matter how much Alvarado dabbles in stick and move. The first fight, won by Rios, was the best bout of 2012. The second fight, won by Alvarado, was one of the best bouts of 2013. The two men went their separate ways after that, to little success; Alvarado got thumped by Ruslan Provodnikov and Juan Manuel Marquez, while Rios got thumped by Manny Pacquiao and won a bruising, foul-filled fight against Diego Chaves.
Reunited, and it feels so bad. Mainly, it’s going to feel bad for both of them. There’s no way that they don’t end up taking a lot more punishment, something they do routinely anyway and seem to do by multiples when they share the ring. That slight unnerving feeling comes creeping up when one contemplates just how many flush blows these two men, who have absolved defense entirely, are about to take again, and what it means for them once they leave the sport. There will surely be little denying the action it will produce, if that’s any consolation.
So what needs analyzing? We know Rios is the all-offense, no-defense, inside-oriented brawler of the pair. We know Alvarado is at least mildly cognizant of the value of not getting hit, and the advantage he has over Rios when he doesn’t — Alvarado is the taller of the two, the one who benefits most by jabbing from the outside, the one who’s not as sturdy a slab of impossible punch absorption. But we also know that Alvarado can’t resist engaging Rios for 12 rounds, who is irresistible in that regard even against boxers a class above him (not, it must be said, a boxer more than a class above him, as Pacquiao showed), because he bulls his way in eventually against almost everyone. Also, Alvarado won’t be able to resist because he’s not very good himself at not getting hit. He just cares more, which makes a little bit of a difference.
You can’t really analyze the match-up, from a capabilities/technique standpoint, more than that. It probably comes down, then, to state of mind and condition.
Both of these men have taken an astounding amount of damage over their careers. It’s hard to say who’s taken the worse beatings. Rios doesn’t react when he gets punched basically ever, and gets hit more overall. Alvarado gets hit a little less, but is more prone to getting wobbled or dropped when he does.
The state of mind has a parallel in another HBO product. The network recently was re-airing “The Wire,” and there’s a scene in season three (spoiler alert!) where street soldier Avon Barksdale, noticing friend Stringer Bell struggling in the legitimate business world, observes, “I see a man without a country. Not hard enough for this right here and maybe, just maybe, not smart enough for them out there.”
Alvarado came up as a slugger and polished his boxing, which, notably, helped him beat Rios. Eventually, he got confused about what he was — you can see it against Provodnikov and Marquez, as he’s indecisive about how much to box vs. how much to brawl.
Perhaps he’s figured it out for this fight. Perhaps he is less beat up, overall, of the pair. If he’s “right,” he showed he can beat Rios with the right balance; he has the style for it, somewhere inside him. Counting on him finding it is the less wise course. Rios should get his name at the front of the trilogy for all time after this weekend, following another hard-fought, bloody battle that he’ll win.