By Bryan Armen Graham
October 15, 2012

Brandon Rios (right) outlasted Mike Alvarado (left) on Saturday in a slugfest that's been hailed as the fight of the year to date. (Harry How/Getty Images)

How impressive was Brandon Rios' win over Mike Alvarado, Saturday's junior welterweight bout that many pundits have preordained the fight of the year?

CHRIS MANNIX: I’ve had my doubts about Rios; the brawler style, the trouble making weight and the size Rios balloons to when he is not training have made me question whether he could rise to an elite level. But against arguably his best opponent at a heavier weight, Rios did what he has always done, wearing Alvarado down with thudding body shots and closing masterfully in the seventh round when he had Alvarado hurt. Sure, I still wonder if Rios can box -- the fight was even on two judges cards and Rios held a two-point lead on the third’s before the fight was stopped -- but there is simply no keeping Rios from getting inside. He is relentless.

I have little doubt that if Manny Pacquiao beats Juan Manuel Marquez in December that Top Rank will match Pacquiao with Rios. Financially, it makes sense: Rios is enough of a household name now and with the right promotion, Pacquiao-Rios could surpass 1 million pay-per-view buys. But if Pacquiao is unavailable, Rios has plenty of options. Oscar De La Hoya tweeted that he would make a Rios-Lucas Matthysse fight, which has the potential to be even more of a war than Rios-Alvarado. Rios could look for a 140-pound title (a shot at the IBF belt could be available) or simply seek out the biggest paydays. Whatever happens, Rios will be in a big fight, one worth a whole lot of money.

RICHARD O'BRIEN: I know that Bob Arum said ahead of time that the winner of Rios-Alvarado could be in line to be Manny Pacquiao’s next opponent (assuming Pacquiao gets by his old dance partner Juan Manuel Marquez on Dec. 8), but that prospect pales compared to the promise of a rematch of last Saturday’s sensational set-to in Carson, Calif. Rios prevailed in what people are already calling, with justification, one of the best fights of the past several years. But really both boxers did themselves -- and their trade -- proud. And in the process, they provided fans with a rare show of skill, courage and real passion. From the explosive (a combined 190 punches) first round on there was no letup in the action, or in either fighter’s commitment, as both threw -- and absorbed -- hundreds of heavy, heavy shots. Two of the judges had the bout even after six rounds, while the third had Rios just ahead, yet the stoppage by referee Pat Russell was a good one. (Though had he survived the seventh, Alvarado might very well have come right back out in the eighth and thrown 147 punches -- as he did in the fifth -- and Rios no doubt would have been right there to meet him.) In the end, this was a great fight and one that elevated both men’s stature in the sport.

Rios is the real deal: He has great strength and power, an obviously sturdy chin, and he fights with the kind of energy and enthusiasm that makes him enormously enjoyable to watch. I’d expect him to prevail in a rematch with Alvarado and will be very eager to see where he goes from there.

BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: Classic fights happen, but far less often when they're predetermined as such. The come-forward, crowd-pleasing styles of Rios and Alvarado had prompted most boxing people to earmark Saturday's matchup as a potential fight of the year from the moment it was made. It ended up being the rare case of a hyped fight that exceeded its lofty expectations: two prime sluggers trading hell and laying the groundwork for a must-see rematch or, if we're lucky, a trilogy.

Rios' well-documented struggles making the lightweight limit came to a head in December when he lost his title on the scale ahead of the big December show at Madison Square Garden. The young puncher had a sickly pallor when he visited the Sports Illustrated offices about 48 hours before the weigh-in and it was apparent he'd outgrown the division. But any concerns about whether he'd bring his punch up with him to junior welterweight were spectacularly dismissed during Saturday's breakthrough performance -- a spine-tingling 23-minute war that rendered moot the stench from Rios' dubious point victory over Cuba's Richard Abril last year. Now Rios is a star -- he debuted today at No. 14 in's pound-for-pound ratings -- and a can't-miss showdown with Pacquiao looms if the Filipino congressman can hold serve against Marquez. That, of course, is no sure thing. Far more certain is the fact that Rios' biggest paydays are yet to come.

HBO will air replays of the Rios-Alvarado fight on Oct. 15 (11:30 p.m. ET/PT) and Oct. 16 (11 p.m. ET/PT).

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