MMA fans find themselves with an uncharacteristically slow weekend. No UFC, no particularly notable smaller show. But that doesn't mean there isn't an absolute must watch fight going down Saturday night.
Tonight, on HBO, boxers Brandon Rios (31-0-1; 23 KOs) and Mike Alvarado (33-1; 23 KOs) meet in a rematch of their October 2012 classic. That first fight was an incredible war - this one will very likely be the same. Brandon Rios now leads the series 1-0 after scoring a 7th round KO win and handing Alvarado the first loss of his career. Now, Alvarado wants revenge. It's the kind of fight that needs no further backstory - that should appeal to any fan of combat sports. Trust me UFC fans - you don't want to miss this one.
So for those tuning in Saturday night - what can we expect from Rios vs. Alvarado 2? Will Rios pick up where he left off and end Alvarado's night once again? Or will Alvarado even the score, setting up a rubber match? In short - who's winning Saturday night? That answer depends almost entirely on one key technical question:
Who will control the range?
This is the question that largely decided the first fight. During much of that fight, Alvarado had success. That success came from outboxing Rios - from staying outside, fighting behind his jab, and putting together nice combinations that had Rios's head pinballing around on his shoulders. When Alvarado played the technical outside fighter, he was winning, and for much of that fight, that's how things played out.
For Alvarado, the trouble is, that's not how all of the fight played out. Because while Alvarado succeeded boxing from the outside, Rios succeeded when he got inside. From there, he punished Alvarado, working the body, using uppercuts, and generally making it a rough and tumble fight that played to Rios's strengths and eventually gave him the win.
So, for the rematch, the formula seems simple - if Alvarado stays outside, he wins. If Rios gets inside, he wins. And in a way, it really may end up being that simple. But there are three factors that muddy the waters a bit.
- Alvarado's gameplan. Staying outside is a sound strategy that provides Alvarado his best opportunity for victory. But it's also not Mike Alvarado. There's no doubt that Rios is going to hit him in this fight - hard. When he does, Alvarado is going to fire back, because that's who he is. He'll stop boxing, and get drawn back into the inside war. That's what happened in the first fight, and given the kind of fighter Alvarado is, it's likely to happen again here. The interesting this is, Mike Alvarado knows this. In the pre-fight talk, he's been clear that he should fight this on the outside with his jab and movement, but that he knows deep down it's going to end up as another war. Maybe that's just bluster, but I don't think so - I think Alvarado knows he can outbox Rios, but wants to out fight Rios too. That was his undoing before, and it may be again.
- Rios's overhand right. For all the emphasis on his inside game, the punch that set up the finish last time was an overhand right counter to an Alvarado jab. If Alvarado wants to work the outside jab game again, Rios will look for that right to connect and turn the tide. It worked before, and it can work again. And that leads us to the final factor.
- Adjustments. Both men had moments of success and moments of failure last fight, so for this one, it may be determined by who can learn the most from the previous encounter. As the loser of the previous fight, the onus is on Alvarado to make the bigger adjustments - Rios can fight the same fight he did and win again. But I don't expect the exact same fight from Rios. That's because he is trained by Robert Garcia, arguably the best trainer in all of boxing today. Garcia is going to make the needed adjustments and fine tune Rios's game to close the holes Alvarado exploited last time. He's been very vocal that this is Rios's fight to lose, and that this time, they'll score the KO within 5 rounds. That's a bold prediction, but when you look at Garcia's track record, it's not unjustified.
So who will control the range? In my estimation, Brandon Rios will. Look for him to once again pull Alvarado into a dogfight, while at the same time using his right hand and other weapons to better deal with Alvarado's jab and range fighting. I'm not sure he'll get in done within 5, but I think he does indeed close the show for a second time.
Prediction: Brandon Rios by KO
HBO Boxing After Dark Rios vs. Alvarado II airs this Saturday night, March 30 at 10:15 p.m. ET. Opening the HBO broadcast will be Khabib Allakhverdiev (18-0; 8 KOs) vs. Breidis Prescott (26-4; 20 KOs).
Join us here at Bloody Elbow for Rios vs. Alvarado results, discussion, and live fight coverage this Saturday, March 30.