Mike Alvarado, Brandon Rios get shot at big time

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

Mike Alvarado is 33-0 with 23 knockouts and is easily one of the 10 most exciting boxers in the world.

But when he sets foot in the ring Saturday to meet Brandon Rios at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., in a 12-round super lightweight fight, it will mark the first time he has ever appeared on either HBO or Showtime.

It's almost incomprehensible. Alvarado has appeared on the undercards of a few pay-per-view shows and has competed on some Spanish-language networks, but Saturday's bout will be his first in the so-called big-time.

Television ratings at HBO are up, which is a good sign. Boxing has had a solid year by its standards, but all of that is relative. The ratings, even the good ones, that boxing draws now on HBO and Showtime are only a fraction of what it used to be just two decades ago.

When George Foreman was fighting on HBO in his comeback, his ratings would dwarf anything being done now.

"George and those guys had been on network television and people knew them," promoter Bob Arum said. "Now, if a fight does a 4 rating, the networks are giddy. But when George was fighting, he was doing ratings in the 20s."

The executives who run the boxing platforms at HBO and Showtime simply have to make better choices. It's almost mind-boggling to believe that Winky Wright was on premium cable earlier this year after ending a three-year retirement, but Alvarado had to wait eight years into his career to finally land a spot.

Wright has never been a television-friendly fighter, yet he immediately got a date.

[Related: Brandon Rios sees opportunity for all-time classic vs. Mike Alvarado]

Both networks have made those kinds of abominable decisions over the last few years. In fairness, though, HBO would have televised Alvarado's April bout with Mauricio Herrera had the Rios-Yuriorkis Gamboa bout not fallen apart.

The reasons are myriad for the decline in the ratings on HBO and Showtime, but the plethora of one-sided matches and the decision to put a fighter on a date without first having a quality opponent are major contributors.

Expectations, though, are soaring for Alvarado and Rios. The winner will likely fight the Dec. 8 winner between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez and could wind up headlining a Dec. 15 card that had been reserved for Timothy Bradley.

In any event, the showcase on Saturday should lead to Alvarado and Rios becoming regulars on HBO, which is a good thing for them, the networks and, most of all, boxing fans.

"The TV people are seeing the reaction to this fight and how excited everyone is about it, and if it comes close to the kind of fight people are saying, absolutely, you're going to be seeing a lot of both of them," Arum said.

No matter how great their fight is on Saturday, though, the ratings won't be particularly high because their names are not widely known.

For every one person who says he watched the epic 2005 match between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo live, there are probably 1,000 who now claim to have been there or watched it on Showtime. The ratings that night were horrid and the building was virtually empty for what turned out to be one of the greatest fights in the sport's history.

Alvarado and Rios can't do anything about their name recognition now, but they can make a statement that they should be regulars going forward by the way they perform.

Alvarado insists he'll be up to the task.

"I don't think I've ever been in a boring fight and I don't ever plan to be in one," he said. "If you've seen me fight, you know I bring it."

Alvarado-Rios figures to be a wild brawl. Neither guy is great at defense, so the bout looks like a shootout with the winner probably determined by who can take it better.

[Also from Kevin Iole: Anderson Silva still has staying power]

When buying the fights to put on their networks, there are plenty variables executives must consider. And they can't just put on a series of fighters who are no more skilled than the guys who will brawl in the neighborhood bar on Friday night. Skill has to be part of the equation.

But aggressive, offensively minded fighters should always – always – be favored over those who fight a safety-first type of style.

Alvarado's flaws have been plenty evident in his last two fights. In November, he was being routed by Breidis Prescott and was hopelessly out of the bout when it entered the final round.

Alvarado, much like the legendary Arturo Gatti did against Wilson Rodriguez in 1996, roared back to score the dramatic knockout win.

Arum was so giddy when the match was over that, heading to the post-fight news conference at the MGM Grand, he turned to Yahoo! Sports and said, "That was like a [expletive] Rocky movie."

Alvarado's fight with Herrera in April was equally exciting, though far less dramatic.

On Saturday, he'll have the opportunity for the first time in a career that began in 2004 to compete on the sport's biggest stage.

"This is what you fight for and why you get up early and go through all this [expletive] we go through," Alvarado said. "This is a big fight. This is my time and believe me, I'm going to take advantage of it."

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