Friday, October 12, 2012

Rios-Alvarado: Keys to the Fight

One of the most anticipated action fights of 2012 takes place this weekend between former lightweight titlist Brandon Rios (30-0-1, 22 KOs) and undefeated junior welterweight Mike Alvarado (33-0, 23 KOs). Both fighters look to win by applying pressure and landing power shots, but which one will wind up victorious? Read here for the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.
1. Weight.
Much has been made of Brandon Rios' trouble in making the lightweight limit over the last 12 months, with Rios losing his title on the scales prior to facing John Murray and coming in overweight against Richard Abril. Now, officially moving up to junior welterweight, will Rios be the same destructive force at the new weight in which he was at lightweight?
There are opposing viewpoints as to how Rios will perform at 140 lbs. One perspective posits that Rios has had an advantage in his last fights in that he was bigger than were his opponents; thus, his punches had more force than his foes were used to facing. The antithetical view advocates that Rios was killing himself to such an extent just to make the lightweight limit that he was weight-drained and zapped of energy. In this scenario, the best Brandon Rios failed to emerge during these fights. This second opinion is the one which I espouse. In his last few fights, Rios' legs looked terrible and his agility was far from his best. I believe that at 140 he will be a more dynamic fighter.
Nevertheless, it's one thing to face a generic 140-pound fighter for a first major foray in the division, it's an entirely different proposition to square off against someone like Alvarado, who is a large junior welterweight and is very physical. Can Rios' special chin handle Alvarado's power punches? Will Rios' sharp body attack lead to the same winning formula that he had at lightweight? Will his power be diminished or enhanced at junior welterweight? I'm of the belief that the extra weight will help Rios but is that still enough to beat Alvarado?
2. Combat Experience.
To me, it's clear that Rios has the more impressive names on his resume. I believe that Anthony Peterson and Miguel Acosta are better fighters than anyone whom Alvarado has faced. Alvarado's best victories were against Mauricio Herrera, a crafty and aggressive fighter with only average power, and Breidis Prescott, an accurate puncher who fades as fights progress. These were perfectly suitable opponents and good names, but Rios has defeated a tougher slate of foes.
This edge in experience is particularly important in this fight because the match will most likely devolve into a bloody ring war. Despite Alvarado's claim that he will try and box Rios, both fighters are much more comfortable in close quarters, trading power shots. Alvarado is not an effective fighter when he backs up. He might box for a few rounds, but ultimately he will hold his ground against Rios; standing and trading is his best opportunity to impose his will on the fight.
Here is where the unknown comes into play. Rios has been in ring wars with top prospects, champions and challengers. Alvarado has persevered against lesser guys. Most notably, he needed a last-round knockout to earn a win over Prescott. His comeback against Prescott was impressive, but again, it's Breidis Prescott! For a fighter with designs on reaching the top of the junior welterweight division, Alvarado shouldn't be going life-and-death with a fighter like Breidis Prescott. Of course, Rios had his own struggles with Richard Abril; however, I attribute that performance to Rios' inability to fight at lightweight anymore. Perhaps I am being too charitable to Rios, but that's how I see it. Rios has thrived at a  high level and it's unclear whether Alvarado can win a war against a top fighter.
3. What happens in the first three rounds?
Rios, like many pressure fighters, is a notorious slow starter. Alvarado begins fights energetically but not necessarily effectively. I don't expect the fight to be won in the first three rounds, but it can definitely be lost there. Although both fighters will be gunning for the knockout, it's certainly possible that the bout will go to the scorecards. I'm not sure that Rios can afford to give up more than a few early rounds.
Alvarado can sometimes personify ineffective aggression. He looks active, he throws hard shots but he often misses. Rios should be there to hit but even slight head movement can give Alvarado problems. It's imperative for Alvarado to put rounds in the bank early in the fight. If that means shortening up his shots to land, then that's the direction he needs to take.
4. Precision.
I think the biggest difference between the two fighters is that Rios' accuracy is superior. Although both boxers excel at inside fighting, Rios' shots are shorter and, I believe, cause more damage. Alvarado's punches from the outside, specifically his straight right hand and left hook, often miss their mark. His best punches are his left and right uppercuts on the inside. Rios is much more economical with his punches. He doesn't flail as much as Alvarado does and he waits until he is in range to throw. In addition, he is a committed body puncher while Alvarado can resort to head hunting.
Accuracy, I believe, will be the biggest determinant of the fight. Both fighters will stand in front of each other and trade. Rios' shots are just a little bit better, they hit their mark more often and they will get there faster.
5. Skin
Both fighters can get marked up but Alvarado has gotten cut badly in prior fights. Although this isn't the most tactically challenging/interesting aspect to discuss in this fight, it could prove to be crucial. Both fighters have such a healthy disdain for defense; they will get hit repeatedly with hard bombs throughout the fight. Obviously, they are both tough guys who pride themselves on their respective ring styles. However, all the machismo in the world can't save skin from opening up. It's a very real possibility that this fight ends on cuts.
I think Alvarado wins the first few rounds on activity as he uses his jab and some rudimentary movement to temporary flummox Rios. By the middle rounds, Rios closes the distance and the two trade punches as the fight progresses. There will be several round-of-the year candidates with both fighters unloading their power shots in a vicious display of boxing at its most beautifully savage. Ultimately, I think that the shorter and quicker shots of Rios will get the better of Alvarado. I don't see Alvarado's skin holding up throughout the fight. His face will cut up from Rios's offensive assault and I think he won't make it to the final bell; the referee will prohibit Alvarado from continuing.
Brandon Rios defeats Mike Alvarado by TKO 9.

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