CARSON, Calif. – A pack of reporters pursued Brandon Rios into the bowels of the Home Depot Center. Moments earlier, Rios ended one of the great fights of the century by pummeling Mike Alvarado along the ropes and forcing referee Pat Russell to stop it at 1:57 of the seventh round.
Rios spied the reporters, many of whom had blasted him in December and then again in April for missing weight in a pair of lightweight title fights, and the broad smile across his face instantly turned into a sneer.
"Did I prove a point to you [expletives]?" Rios said, poking his finger at one reporter.
He'd won what most certainly will become the 2012 Fight of the Year in dramatic fashion, and likely earned a shot at the winner of the Dec. 8 fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez.
Yet, Rios wasn't content. He hadn't forgotten the slights directed his way and wouldn’t let them pass, even in the shining moment of his professional career.
His desire, his love of the battle and, most of all, his sheer will to prove his doubters wrong, is what makes him great. He's as motivated to perform as any athlete in the sport and is willing to do just about anything to win.
"That," Russell said in the quiet of the locker room a half hour later, "was one unbelievable fight."
Bob Arum, who has promoted fights for 46 years, said it stands alongside the great matches he's ever seen.
"I put it right up there with [Muhammad]Ali-[Joe]Frazier, their third fight, the one in Manila, with [Marvelous Marvin]Hagler-[Thomas] Hearns, right up there with those fights," Arum said. "It's definitely the Fight of the Year. How could it not be?"
[Related: After winning, Brandon Rios says he could KO Pacquiao or Marquez]
The bout was reminiscent of the classic 2005 scrap between Jose Luis Castillo and the late Diego Corrales, a match which ended in an almost identical manner. After a back-and-forth battle, Corrales pinned Castillo on the ropes and fired away until the bout was stopped.
That stood as the greatest fight of the 21st century until Saturday, when Rios and Alvarado put on a brutal brawl that may edge it from its perch.
Alvarado threw 779 punches in less than seven full rounds, landing 175, yet he still came out on the short end. He was ripping Rios with right hands and uppercuts, but Rios would smile and keep coming forward.
"I've got a great chin and I proved that tonight," Rios said. "I love getting hit."
If so, Alvarado made him plenty happy. From the opening moments of the bout until the savage, unexpected finish, Alvarado was going toe-to-toe with Rios and giving as good as he got.
At the time of the stoppage, judges Max Deluca and Zach Young had it even, 57-57, the same score as Yahoo! Sports. Judge James Jen Kin had it 58-56 for Rios.
Alvarado's right hand seemed to be finding a home until Rios landed a crushing right that changed the fight, and presumably the course of his career.
But it was the punch that preceded the right that did the real damage. He grew up a huge fan of Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. and watched how Chavez would brutalize opponents to the body.
Rios was an apt student. He went after Alvarado's body, and hard.
"Julio Cesar Chavez taught me, if you break the body, the head will fall," Rios said. "[In the sixth round] I hit him to the body and I saw he was hurt. I hit him with the right overhand and I felt I stunned him. But it was the last 30 seconds of that round. I knew I couldn't get him then, but I did it in the next round and I hurt him pretty good. If the referee hadn't stopped it, I think I would have hurt him pretty bad."
[Also: Nonito Donaire stops Toshiaki Nishioka in ninth round, retains title]
Alvarado's failing was not keeping the fight at distance. Rios closed the gap early and the two traded inside much of the night, with less than two feet separating them. They would just put their hands down and punch.
By about the fourth round, though, Alvarado began to create the space he needed. He was pumping his jab and following it with a vicious right that was consistently finding its home.
"I figured it would be a tremendous, tremendous fight because of the styles of the two guys," Arum said. “… This exceeded what I thought. These two guys stood in the center of the ring and they didn't clinch once. They threw every punch they had until one guy went down and the referee stopped the fight. You just didn't know who was going to win. I thought Alvarado was coming on strong at one point there, but then Rios would come back. The back-and-forth was amazing."
It wasn't exactly the greatest show of defense ever, as their faces attested afterward. But it was a fight fan's dream, action from bell to bell in round after round.
"God, that was a great fight, and I don't think any of those punches missed," Russell said.
The fight will launch Rios into stardom with a mega-fight in early 2013. Alvarado, too, will get a big fight, but he lamented what might have been.
Holding an ice pack to his face, both of his eyes swollen grotesquely, Alvarado grinned when asked if being part of such an epic bout was of any consolation.
"It's still exciting to know [people think] that, but losing, man it sucks," Alvarado said, grinning wanly. "I hate losing, but it's only going to make me stronger. I'm going to come back twice as strong. Maybe it's just what I needed to be a better fighter."
It's scary to think either of them could come back any better than they were on Saturday.
If Rios is any better, the Pacquiao-Marquez winner is going to have a major problem on his hands next year.
"If Pacquiao beats Marquez, Pacquiao with Rios next year would be an unbelievably huge draw, because people would know they'd see crazy wild action," Arum said.
True. But if they don't know they'll see crazy wild action in a Brandon Rios fight by this point, they're just not boxing fans.
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