Like most, I enjoy Brandon Rios' fights.
Rios is entertaining. He's a flesh and blood Rock 'Em Sock 'Em robot who hits hard, fights with relentless pressure and who, like his idol, Julio Cesar Chavez, never, ever backs down. Miguel Acosta looked pretty good against Rios for the first few rounds of their 2011 WBA lightweight title fight. Then Acosta went down in the sixth and eight rounds before being knocked out cold in the 10th.
But like most, I don't think much of Rios' skills. There's not much technique there. He doesn't jab or move his feet, preferring to engage in a toe-to-toe war with opponents who don't have the defense or the chin to stand up to him.
He doesn't seem to have much respect for the sport, either. Consider: Rios missed weight before his 2011 title defense against John Murray, resulting in the WBA stripping him of the belt. Last April, Rios was given a chance to win it back, against Richard Abril. Only Rios missed the 135-pound weight limit again before winning a dubious decision.
Which is what makes Rios's showdown with Mike Alvarado on Saturday night (10 p.m., HBO) a critical one. There is plenty of buzz for Rios-Alvarado. It's being billed as a potential Fight of the Year, despite the fact that it is the co-main event for the show headlined by Nonito Donaire's super bantamweight title defense against Toshiaki Nishioka. Many are expecting a war, including the men headed for the ring.
"The fight I see is we both come forward and I strike him and it is a bloody massacre of a fight," Rios said. "It's going to be one of those fights that people are going to be on their feet the whole time."
Said Alvarado, "I'm not going to put on a bad performance. Never have. It's going to be an explosive, entertaining fight."
Rios (30-0-1) can win that type of fight. Alvarado (33-0) isn't much of a boxer, either. Last November, Alvarado trailed Breidis Prescott -- another marginal fighter who made his name knocking out Amir Khan in 2008 -- on all three judges' scorecards before rallying to knock him out in the 10th round. Rios likes to fight on the inside and Alvarado is likely willing to oblige.
"We have a different kind of game plan," said Alvarado's trainer Henry Delgado. "But the warrior always comes out."
Rios says he is looking for his Arturo Gatti moment against Alvarado -- "It is going to be one of those fights that is like a Gatti-[Micky] Ward," Rios said -- but really, he should be looking for more. He is moving up in weight to a loaded 140-pound division. A win would put him at the top of the list to face Manny Pacquiao in 2013 or position him for a junior welterweight title shot against Zab Judah. To contend with either Pacquiao or Judah, Rios needs to showcase more skills than he has in the past.
At 26, Rios is at a crossroads. His style makes him appealing to high paying networks but only if he makes weight (he says he will) and can beat good opponents (he says he can). Rios's trainer, Robert Garcia, insists that Rios' talents are merely overshadowed by the blunt force he fights with.
"The word is Brandon has won with no defense but his last five or six fights he has won and not been tired at all," Garcia said. "We get in there and throw a lot of punches and get on the inside and work. That's his defense. People think he has no defense, but I disagree. In his last five fights he fought great fighters and his best defense was his offense."
It boils down to this: A rugged win will earn Rios another big fight and another big payday. A more complete win will bring both, while catapulting Rios into the field of candidates hoping to replace Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather atop boxing's must-see list.
Can he do it? Like most, I'll be watching.