by Kieran Mulvaney
The headline act for this Saturday’s HBO Boxing After Dark from Carson, CA is the junior featherweight title tilt between Nonito Donaire and Toshiaki Nishioka. It’s a high-quality matchup between two world-class pugilists, and by itself is worth staying in on a Saturday night.
But the co-main event is the kind of battle that has hardcore fans salivating, has them telling their friends, “Dude, whatever you do, do not miss this,” has them looking at the calendars on their walls and the watches on their wrists and counting down the hours and days.
Even the fighters involved recognize that, before a single hand has been wrapped, let alone a solitary punch thrown, many fans are dubbing it the potential ‘Fight of the Year’:
“It’s pretty cool that people are saying that,” said Brandon Rios, the lightweight titlist who is moving up to 140 pounds for this contest. “That it could hit the ‘Gatti list’ -- that would be awesome.”
His opponent, junior welterweight contender Mike Alvarado, is more circumspect. “I don’t really hear or pay attention to what the other people say,” he says. But he too recognizes the likelihood that it’s “going to be an explosive, entertaining fight.”
What is responsible for the heightened anticipation? It isn’t that both combatants are undefeated, with similar records (Alvarado is 33-0 with 23 KOs; Rios is 30-0-1 with 22 stoppages), although the fact that they have yet to taste defeat, even though both have fought quality opposition, is a testament to what the two men bring to the ring.
To truly understand the enthusiasm, watch the way Rios beat up Anthony Peterson so comprehensively that the then-unbeaten fighter resorted to fouling him repeatedly to secure disqualification as an escape from further punishment. Or the way, behind on points after five rounds, he rallied to drop the highly-fancied Miguel Acosta three times and stop him in the tenth; or the way he flattened Urbano Antillon in three rounds in his first defense of the title he ripped from Acosta.
Or cast your mind back to the undercard of last year’s third Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez clash, when for seven rounds Alvarado was being outboxed by Amir-Khan-conqueror Breidis Prescott, until suddenly a light appeared to go on and Alvarado began attacking Prescott with requisite urgency. First Prescott looked uncomfortable. Then he looked weary. Then he looked badly hurt. Then, in the tenth, he was down on the canvas, and although he got up, a few more hellacious punches sent him halfway out of the ropes until referee Jay Nady stepped in to save him. The subsequent description of Alvarado heard in the media room postfight was of the two-word variety: the first word was ‘bad’ and the second word rhymed with ‘grass.’
There is nothing fancy about Rios: He is a straight-ahead, face-first pressurizing slugger. If Alvarado has a few more tools in his toolbox, he’s unlikely to reach for them. There will be no matador in this ring, just two bulls charging at each other with heads down.
So grab the beer and the soda, the chips and the pizza. Don’t wait until Bob Papa has finished his set-up before you sit down. This bout is going to start fast, and it’s likely to stay that way, for as long as it lasts.
Dudes, do not miss this.