Will another action sequel fall flat?

Rios-Alvarado II has potential, but many rematches of all-time brawls disappoint

Updated: April 10, 2013, 12:29 AM ET
By Brian Campbell | ESPN.com

In boxing, there's nothing more revered than an all-time great action fight and the immortalized gladiators who bravely accept starring roles in them.

These fights are collected and glamorized in much the same way their cinematic counterparts on the big screen are. And just as with movies, memorable brawls can encounter a problem: When compared to the first installment, the sequel almost always measures up as a flop.

There have been occasional exceptions in the past 20 years -- the second Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez and Rafael Marquez-Israel Vazquez fights stand out as ring equivalents to "The Godfather II" among masterful second acts. But traditionally in most trilogies or big-name rivalries, the first sequel has failed to produce the same combination of suspense, violence and human drama as those before or after it.

Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado combined for a spectacular toe-to-toe battle last October -- won by Rios via seventh-round TKO -- that was immediately hailed as historically great. Their rematch on Saturday offers both fighters an opportunity to reach a level of collective glory that is likely beyond their reach independently.

But whether the hyphenated pairing of Rios-Alvarado can ultimately roll off the tongue as involuntarily as Corrales-Castillo or Gatti-Ward, along with the other greatest action duos in boxing lore, is contingent on their rematch living up to the standard set by their first fight.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Rios, Mike Alvarado
Harry How/Getty ImagesMike Alvarado and Brandon Rios gave fight fans an epic action brawl last October in Carson, Calif., but a similarly styled rematch isn't assured.

Alvarado, co-author of three consecutive fight-of-the-year candidates, described his ability to "entertain crowds of people with my talent" as something he has been blessed with. Rios, meanwhile, outright prefers a war: "I love it. That's why I'm always smiling when I go back to the corner. People that never been in it, they get to go naturally from a man to a real man in the fight because everybody likes to see those type of fights, but they don't want to be in them."

But it takes more than a mutual interest in trading punches at close range for a rematch to live up to the hype. Not only can certain dynamics change within the rivalry between fights -- see Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito, for example -- the ingredients that went into making the first fight great also have a lot to say about whether the second one can ever be as good.

Not all action classics are arranged marriages of the Rios-Alvarado or Gatti-Ward variety, for which promoters aimed to match exciting fighters with a propensity to brawl. Some, such as Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz, became memorable in a more spontaneous manner, making it hard to reproduce a second time when the fighters weren't as willing to trade at the same breakneck pace.

The major reason, however, that rematches haven't lived up to the hype -- especially in matchups involving contrasting styles -- is that the technically proficient fighter often makes the minor adjustments between fights to avoid playing into his opponent's strengths and going to war a second time.

"There is no pressure entering a rematch if you're a smart fighter who learns to adjust," junior middleweight contender and ESPN Deportes analyst Delvin Rodriguez said. "Other fighters are just pressure fighters and can't change that style sometimes. If you can't adjust in the gym, you can't do it in a fight."

Rodriguez was involved in a memorable slugfest of his own against Pawel Wolak in 2011, which ended in a majority draw. And although their rematch five months later featured tiny pockets of action, Rodriguez -- who considers himself a boxer-puncher -- won a wide decision on all three scorecards by controlling from the outside in a more measured fight.

"I was making it easier for [Wolak] in the first fight by letting him come in too much and not punishing him for getting on top of me," Rodriguez said. "The reason why the second fight looked very easy for me and never lived up to the first one was because I adjusted and caught him on the way in with combinations at low angles. Once I was hitting him with that, he didn't want to come in anymore."

Trainer Buddy McGirt concocted a similar strategy for the late Arturo Gatti heading into the second of three legendary meetings with Micky Ward. After Ward won a majority decision in the first fight by luring a happy-to-oblige Gatti into a cult-classic war, McGirt convinced his fighter to rely on his superior boxing skills in the rematch, which Gatti won in dominant but unexciting fashion.

"[The advantage] in a second fight depends on what kind of adjustments the so-called slugger has made in training camp," McGirt said. "Our plan was to attack Micky Ward's body because most guys that throw body punches don't like body punches. As soon as Ward got close, we made the adjustments to drop low because you know where he is going, which is to the body. We wanted to box him and keep him turning and not let him get set. But the key is that it depends on what adjustments both camps are making. They can make adjustments to make it a boring fight or they can make adjustments to make it more exciting."

The kind of adjustments made by Alvarado -- whom both fighters agree is the better boxer -- will be the major factor in deciding whether his rematch with Rios is a repeat of the first fight. Alvarado realizes the mistakes he made in the first fight by being too willing to trade at close range. He also realizes his strengths as a brawler are both a blessing and a curse because of how easily the lure of battle derails him from his game plan.

"During the fight, it's on me to make adjustments and instead I [often] rather just fight than make the fight easier," Alvarado said. "I don't like the wars that I end up getting into. I'm a better fighter than that. I have more talent. I will do my best to win these fights convincingly without having to go to war."

[+] EnlargeArturo Gatti
AP Photo/Steve MillerAfter Arturo Gatti engaged in an epic brawl in his first meeting with Micky Ward, he made adjustments in the rematch and walked away with a clear decision.

Rios not only believes the rematch will live up to expectations -- he says he's 99.9 percent sure of it -- he says it comes down to a simple truth about Alvarado.

"He's a good boxer, but he's not a great boxer and doesn't stick to it because he's known as a warrior," Rios said. "He's going to go back to his normal routine. Everybody's going to see the warrior come out of him and they are going to see the warrior in me in the center of the ring."

Sometimes, as McGirt said, two willing fighters enter a rematch looking to put on a show, but simply end up not "having the steam for the second one. Mentally they do, but physically it's not there."

Rios believes that won't be an issue because he and Alvarado are both young and in their prime, and he says that it's often older fighters who remember the sting of the punishment and are more careful coming in the second time.

If there were ever two fighters with the proper temperament, résumé and style to produce a rare rematch on par with their epic first chapter, it's Rios and Alvarado, whose fighting styles complement each other so well. If they can pull it off, their names will be linked for as long as people still talk about their memories of great fights.

"Rios and Alvarado have a lot of potential to put their names up there," Rodriguez said. "Their first fight was nonstop action, and I believe that it's their style. Styles make fights. They are two brawlers. You can say that Alvarado is a better boxer, but to me they are two brawlers. When you put two styles together like that, it's what makes an exciting fight. That's why there is a lot of potential in this fight to live up to the first one."

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