When faced with a fight that promises to be this honest, this brutal in its approach, I felt the timing was perfect. Arturo Gatti is up for Hall of Fame consideration. Like Rios and Alvarado, no one will ever accuse Gatti of being a stylist. We were amazed later in his career when Gatti, working under Buddy McGirt, began to actually jab and block punches. No, what we loved about him was his heart, ability to absorb intense damage yet come right back and, if not stop the other guy, happily get near death trying to. We love Gatti for this. How do you not get in the Hall when someone can say “Gattiesque” and you know exactly what they mean?
It makes me question what greatness is. What does the “fame” in “Hall of Fame” actually mean? It’s not the “Hall of Skill” or the “Hall of Accomplishments.” It’s definitely not the “Hall of Guys Who Never Got Hit and Always Won.” It’s the Hall of Fame. Fame is defined as such: the condition of being known or talked about by many people, especially on account of notable achievements. Gatti-Ward is actually one word as far as any where boxing is concerned. Color me a boxing writer but I consider adding to the lexicon through courageous violent acts an accomplishment.
“If [Alvarado] fights the way he has been fighting, it is going to be one helluva fight,” Rios said on a recent conference call. “It is going to be one of those fights that is like a Gatti-[Micky] Ward. I am going to go out and fight like I always do. If he changes, it won’t be like that. But if he comes to fight, it’s going to be a great fight.”
Nowadays if you feint, clutch, grab, never risk, kind of jab, rarely knock anyone out and generally fight in a manner devoid of risk, you’re considered “pound-for-pound” and elite. “Hit and not get hit” is the name of the game on every level. Hit the network for a giant site fee against an opponent you are sure to beat. Hit the fans with hype machine websites designed to hide how shaky your business practices are, how the platforms you proclaim you stand on are nothing more than hyperbole. Hit the casinos up for comps, free rooms and “Oh yeah, can you buy a few thousand tickets to cover our losses – again?” All while avoiding getting hit for as long as you can. “I still got my ‘0’.” That’s greatness today.
This brings me back to these two hardworking fighters, Rios and Alvarado, who no one would ever accuse of being network poster boys. Rios once told this writer he wants to see how hard the other guy can hit. I could see in his eyes that he actually wants to meet the guy who pushes him right to the edge just to see if he can take it and come back. It’s a reckless streak that makes him a very important half of this pair.
“I am ready to take a punch from a heavyweight-pounder,” Rios said. “I don’t do it just to do it. I love my job. I love to fight. I love hitting people in the face and I love getting hit. If a heavyweight punches, I will still love it and still have smile on my face. There is no difference from a lightweight to a junior welterweight to a welterweight to a heavyweight. It makes no difference to me.”
Alvarado has a quietly desperate way about him. It’s a focused hunger. The entire team is a confident yet modest bunch, the kind of guys who want the boss to see they did their work the right way even if he says, “No. It’s OK; I trust you” before clocking out. The sense I got from them when we met at the L.A. press conference was that they had some subtle wrinkles planned. Even still, I could tell that Alvarado knew it was going to be a war.
This is your classic crossroads fight. Rios is coming off not one but two fights where he missed the 135-pound limit. It’s why he is fighting now at 140 and arguably why he is in as tough as possible in his junior welterweight debut. After losing his lightweight belt on the scales vs. John Murray and then losing the chance to get it back against Richard Abril, Rios lost the momentum he had built up in his young title run. Now he is on the proving grounds and he’ll have to do it against a less experienced but hard-to-handle opponent.
Alvarado hasn’t been to the mountaintop just yet; however, he has been rising toward it steadily. Against Breidis Prescott last November, he was professionally tested in a manner he likely did not expect. For much of the fight, Alvarado was getting beaten up and outboxed. He was badly cut, blood masking his face, when he began to mount a late comeback. He succeeded in showing us how deep his well runs by stopping Prescott in the 10th. An entertaining fight with Mauricio Herrera this past April showed that Alvarado is improving each time out.
Rios used to be the big lightweight, a physical problem for the men at 135. But at 140, Mike Alvarado is his division’s version of Rios, a junior welter bursting at the seams to get to 147. Both men come forward but do it with craft. Inside jabs, shots to the arms and ribs. It’s the art of breaking down an opponent.
“We all know how Brandon fights. I’ll have to remind him of the little things - like keep your hands up; keep your chin down,” said Rios’ trainer, Robert Garcia. “That’s my job during the minute break and during the fight. During the fight, Brandon is focused on my voice only and he follows instructions. The word is Brandon has won with no defense but his last five or six fights he has won and not been tired at all – so we have to get in there and throw a lot of punches and get on the inside and work – that’s his defense. People think he has no defense but I disagree. In his last five fights, he fought great fighters and his best defense was his offense.”
Greatness in boxing should not be defined by aesthetic beauty. It’s not all slips, feints, ducks and dodges. It’s about something deeper, more primal. It’s about who is willing to take more to give the final punches that take this thing out of the judges’ hands. Art is subjective. Greatness is undeniable.
“This is going to be a tough fight,” Rios said. “Alvarado is a tough junior welterweight. Our styles are similar. He likes to come forward and I like to come forward. I don’t like to play a chess game. I like to go in and handle business and he likes to do that too. It’s going to be one helluva fight. The fans are going to love it and I’m going to come out victorious in this one.”
Let’s hope he’s right.
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