LAS VEGAS – Mike Alvarado and Brandon Rios engaged in yet another epic match, filled with passion, fury and plenty of clean right hands.
Alvarado claimed the interim WBO super lightweight belt with a sensational unanimous decision victory over Rios on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center that was at least the equal of their 2012 classic.
Rios won that bout by seventh-round stoppage, so Saturday's win for Alvarado lined up what will unquestionably be a hotly anticipated rubber match.
"One thing that you know, as much as you know that the sun is coming up tomorrow morning, is that they will fight again," promoter Bob Arum said.
The battle was so fierce, each man wound up in a local hospital to receive precautionary examinations. Neither had any serious injuries.
The second round was a toe-to-toe exchange in which each landed crushing shots. It was stunning that neither went down, though Alvarado seemed to be hurt and staggered backward twice.
Arum, who promoted classic bouts such as Marvelous Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns, Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier III, Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo I, the Erik Morales-Marco Antonio Barrera trilogy and Manny-Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez IV, was left with his jaw agape after seeing the second.
"The second round, in truth, was the best round that I have seen since Round 1 in Hagler-Hearns [in 1985]," Arum said.
[Also: Alvarado-Rios II demonstrates what's right about boxing]
Though Arum is a master of hyperbole, few folks were willing to argue with him this time.
Two weeks earlier, welterweight champion Timothy Bradley Jr. won a 12-round decision over Ruslan Provodnikov in a bout that appeared would be a lock to win 2013 Fight of the Year.
After Saturday's furious battle, it may be relegated to runner-up.
"I think this one by far topped my performance against Provodnikov," Bradley said. "It was a war, a bloody war, and both fighters put their lives on the line."
Rios wasn't content with 12 brutal rounds, though. When the bout ended and Alvarado was being interviewed in the ring by HBO's Max Kellerman, Rios got into his face and demanded a rematch.
Their first bout was fought in Carson, Calif., in Rios' backyard. Saturday's bout was neutral, but Rios told Alvarado he'd go to Denver, Alvarado's hometown, for the rubber match.
"He went to my backyard, [so] I'll go to his back yard," Rios said. "Denver? [Expletive] it."
Then, speaking directly to Alvarado, he said, "I'll go to your city. I'm not scared. You know how I roll."
He's a fearless, fearsome fighter, but Alvarado made a slight adjustment that made a major difference. As he said he would, he used his legs more and created difference.
Particularly in the second half of the fight, it paid off, as he raked Rios was blistering shots. Rios clearly has one of the best chins in the game, as he walked through them as if they were just taps on the nose.
Alvarado credited his training in Denver for making him better able to use his legs. The strategy, though, was sound, as it allowed him to fire his punches and then move away from danger.
Rios did great work to the body in the first fight and believes that a crushing shot to the body in the sixth round of that match led to the finish.
This time around, Alvarado managed to avoid taking that final shot.
It took a while, though, for Alvarado to get comfortable fighting the new style.
"He started out pretty shaky," manager Henry Delgado said of Alvarado, speaking to Yahoo! Sports by telephone from University Medical Center. "He was trying to implement what we had worked on in camp and I think he was thinking about it too much. It took a while to get comfortable with it. When he got comfortable, I think he did a great job with it."
Alvarado was simply thrilled to have put the nagging memory of his only career loss behind him. He'd insisted all along that he could have continued in their first fight, even though he appeared to be out on his feet.
It was no less a slugfest than the first time, but Alvarado proved to be a man of his word.
"The first fight was prematurely stopped," he said. "I'm always smarter the second time around. My camp and my team are the best in the world; I proved it tonight."
Both men proved something. If every fight was like that, boxing would quickly return to prominence as one of the most popular sports in the world.
Arum is flying high after promoting a series of similarly vicious bouts in the last several months. The first Rios-Alvarado fight was magnificent, only to be topped two months later by Pacquiao-Marquez.
Bradley-Provodnikov was a wildly entertaining brawl, but it was overshadowed by Saturday's donnybrook.
A continent away on Saturday, middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin did his thing, crushing Nobuhiro Ishida with a blistering knockout.
All of a sudden, boxing is delivering the kinds of fights that a lifetime ago made it one of the country's top sports.
Arum pointed that out, but also used it as an opportunity to taunt his rivals at Golden Boy Promotions and Showtime.
"Fans want to see action and they want to see exciting fights," Arum said. "That's what the fans want to see. Now some people who are involved in boxing want to sign fighters and have them fight tomato cans and have networks pay to show those fights. It goes on and on and on. That's not what the fans want.
"The fans want Bradley and Provodnikov. ... It's not only us at Top Rank; it's other promoters who don't have a sinecure from a particular network also have that type of mentality. It's great, great news for boxing fans, because we're going to give them competition."
No matter how evenly the fighters are matched or how hard they compete, though, it's rare for any two boxers to put on a bout like the two that Rios and Alvarado have put on.
The best news is that there is no way they will unquestionably see each other again.
"Mike is a warrior, man," Delgado said. "Of course we will [give him a rematch]. Let us heal up a bit and we'll be back to do it again. That's what he does."
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