In a fight for the ages and an unquestionable Fight of the Year candidate, Mike Alvarado battled to a unanimous decision over Brandon Ríos on Saturday night, to set up what will likely go down as one of boxing’s best trilogies in the last decade.
Five months after their initial encounter, Alvarado and Ríos stepped into the ring and laid on a bloody platter of blows. The fight may have been devoid of technique and defense but it was saturated in action that fans and pundits alike willfully gorged on. And with the series now tied at 1-1, a third installment is without question what fans will demand and promoters offer.
"Brandon gave me a shot to redeem myself. I'll give him a shot for the trilogy."
- Mike Alvarado
"I won the first one, now they want to make the third one. Let's make the third one," Ríos loudly offered to Alvarado in the post-fight HBO interview. It was something that Alvarado was all too willing to entertain.
"Brandon gave me a shot to redeem myself," Alvarado said. "I'll give him a shot for the trilogy."
Pundits who speculated that Saturday’s bout could not possibly live up to last year’s scrap must surely have reveled in being wholeheartedly wrong. Alvarado boxed more in this encounter than in their prior engagement, but the action still ensued. From the opening bell, there was little feeling out. Instead both traded relentlessly. In the second round, after a set of stormy exchanges, Ríos staggered Alvarado, the Denver native wobbled, but regained his composure to survive the round.
In the third round it was Alvarado’s turn to stun Ríos, although Ríos did his best to deny it after the fact.
"Your eyes are deceiving," Ríos said when asked if he had been hurt. "I didn't get rocked. If I got rocked, I'd have been wobbling."
The action continued with both fighters hunched over each other for long stretches, scything body punches and overhand rights and uppercuts, with the eighth round being the most notable example. Alvarado stunned Ríos again only for the round to conclude with a relentless toe to toe exchange, stopped only because of the bell.
As the final bell rang out, both fighters raised their arms in victory. Despite looking much the worse for wear it was Alvarado who eked out the unanimous decision with scores of 115-113, 115-113 and 114-113.
As for their promoter, Bob Arum, he knows he’s sat on a gold mine whenever a fight involving these two is announced. He wants to finish the trilogy, but not quite yet as he explained to ESPN:
"I'd like to see one of them against Provodnikov or for [Juan Manuel] Marquez to face one of them. But it doesn't have to be next," Arum said. "I sort of feel I'd like to see these guys against other people, and then we can do a rematch. Certainly, the rubber match will be bigger, but it doesn't have to be next. I really don't like doing immediate rematches. I did it here because these guys are crazy, and they wanted to do it and HBO pressed me into the fight."
Both fighters walked away with career-high purses and will no doubt be rewarded with even more riches when they face each other again. But one intangible prize both claimed on Saturday was the hearts of boxing fans everywhere. They reminded what the best nights of boxing are all about.
Igor Guryashkin is a freelance journalist whose extensive work on combat sports has been featured in ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He splits his time between New York and Louisville. Follow him on Twitter @IGuryashkinESPN.