Boxing Still the Name of the Game

By Mike Casey on April 1, 2013
Boxing Still the Name of the Game
Mike Alvarado adhered to a sensible game plan. He didn't get into a senseless war.

When your recklessness in the ring is getting you nothing but lumps and bruises and a possible visit to the hospital, it pays you to swallow your pride and revisit the basic fundamentals of the noble art.

Mike Alvarado did this most admirably last Saturday night in his highly deserved victory over Brandon Rios. Taking due care, adhering to a sensible game plan and not getting into a senseless war, Mike took his revenge over his former tormentor by boxing an intelligent and patient fight.

It’s all well and good to give the fans a stirring show and wear your heart on your sleeve, but it makes for a short and brutal career if the hell-for-leather approach is only taking you on a fruitless journey straight up your own backside. Alvarado learned his lessons from his first torrid battle with Rios, in which Mike’s stubborn pride and carelessness resulted in a painful beating.

The name of the game still is boxing. It always will be. The sport may have changed its garb in a great many ways over the past fifty years, not always to our liking, but mercifully the essential building blocks for success are still in place. Clever and versatile boxing, allied to patience, intelligent planning and the ability to think outside the box and surprise your opponent, will always make up the cornerstone of success.

Could Alvarado fight Rios differently in their return go? Even if Mike had the ability, would he have the discipline? These were the questions being asked on the eve of the match. Most observers, including your writer, believed we would see more of the same from Mike and a second triumph for the fiery Rios. We were pleasantly surprised.

There are countless examples of fighters shedding their seemingly typecast images and reaping the rewards. Back in 1963, Gene Fullmer stunned Dick Tiger and plenty of others with a game plan that didn’t seem possible. Gene had lost his title to Dick the previous year and emphatically so at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. Fullmer’s traditional bulling and rushing tactics fetched him quite a beating from Tiger.

In the return bout in Las Vegas, Gene the threshing machine became a boxer and was suddenly milling on the retreat. It was a bit like Rocky Marciano getting up on his toes and doing a patchwork impression of Muhammad Ali, but it worked and confused Dick sufficiently to throw his game off and nullify his normally punishing body attacks. Gene didn’t regain his title, but he got himself an honorable draw.

Tiger won their third and deciding fight in Nigeria six months later, but then lost the championship to the changeling that was Joey Giardello. Now Joey was always a smart and canny boxer, but he like to mix it too and did so with great success. Having already split two fights with Dick, Giardello decided on a change of plan for his last big chance at the crown. Boxing more conservatively and nimbly moving around the ring, he gave Tiger fits to capture a masterfully executed victory.

Many people figured they knew how the titanic battle of Zaire would go between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. The former champ, still a great boxer but no longer the butterfly of yore, would stick and move for as long as his legs held out and then be overwhelmed by a man who was surely invincible.

We will never know if Ali’s famous Rope-a-Dope plan was intentional or forced upon him. That topic alone could fill a book. But take another look at that very significant first round when Muhammad came out as the aggressor and rifled George with a quick succession of punches. How could Foreman have been expecting that? Nobody walked into him and hit him on the chin. Nobody dared. One wonders if the seeds of his defeat were sown right there and then.

For me, one of the cleverest tactical switches of recent times was pulled by Marco Antonio Barrera on Naseem Hamed at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in 2001. Undefeated, outrageously confident and highly unorthodox, Hamed entered the ring as a 3 to 1 favorite over the normally aggressive and charging Barrera.

How could Barrera or anyone beat Naseem? The kid was fast! He was different from anything else! He was unbeatable! Then the Mexican bull morphed into a matador and everything was turned upside down. Barrera’s stylistic change of tack, which saw him box admirably but hardly sensationally, completely nonplussed Hamed and sometimes had him flailing like an amateur.

Comparisons with Willie Pep and other featherweight maestros were swiftly parked in a quiet place. Naseem had been trumped and by quite a handsomely wide decision. It was an experience from which the gregarious one never recovered. He never fought again.

Old-fashioned, sensible boxing had snatched up his box of funky tricks and cast them out.

Mike Casey is a writer and Founder & Editor of ALL TIME BOXING at He is a freelance journalist and boxing historian and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO).

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George Foreman vs Muhammad Ali - Oct. 30, 1974 - Entire fight - Rounds 1 - 8 & Interview

Marco Antonio Barrera vs Prince Naseem Hamed

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  1. Mike Casey 10:01am, 04/02/2013

    True, Don!

  2. Don from Prov 09:14am, 04/02/2013

    Great examples, Mr. Casey (and following posters), though I would say that Mike Alvarado still caught a pretty good beating in victory—and repeat that I thought Rios running low on gas had as much to do with his loss as a change in Alvarado’s tactics: Rios was able to use his jab and cut off the ring for a reasonable portion of the fight.  I love Rios, but if he doesn’t end up in jail, I fear that his between fights habits will limit who he becomes in the ring.
    He should check in with Ricky Hatton and the great Roberto Duran.

  3. Pete The Sneak 05:05am, 04/02/2013

    Mike, you are so right on. What impressed me the most about Mile High Mike was not that he decided to change tactics, but the fact that he was able to sustain it for 12 Rounds (no one, including yours truly thought he would be able to do that) against a guy who was trying to take his head off. Dude had to be in tremendous shape. Mad props to Alvarado…In the case of boxers changing their styles to win fights (great examples by the way), I think Sugar Ray Leonard’s 2nd fight with Duran was pretty impressive as well. He went from being bullied in the first fight, to being the bully in the 2nd one… Now I can’t wait for Ted to research and come out with some more intriguing examples. Peace.

  4. Mike Casey 01:44am, 04/02/2013

    Yes, Dan, Fullmer-Basilio another classic example. Gene also turned boxer for the last rounds of his torrid battle with Florentino Fernandez to protect a fractured elbow.

  5. Mike Casey 12:21am, 04/02/2013

    Yes, Ted, Morrison over Big George is another fine example. Thanks to Tex and Dan too for their thoughts.

  6. Tex Hassler 04:12pm, 04/01/2013

    The fighter that can use his brain usually wins. Mike had a fight plan and stuck to it like glue. It is smart to change style at times and that is what Mike did.

  7. the thresher 03:03pm, 04/01/2013

    Great angle here, Mike. Tactical switches are something worth researching and you now have whetted my appetite. I’m on the hunt.

    BTW, Tommy Morrison pulled one on Big George and so so did Carl Froch on Abraham. But nothing like Alvarado’s.

    Good stuff.

  8. jofre 02:44pm, 04/01/2013

    Mike, I agree with you. I too thought Rios would again stop Alvarado. I was dead wrong.
    All the fighters you chronicled went against script and it paid off. I was shocked watching Gene Fullmer destroy Basilio by turning into a boxer. Who knew!!!
    Barrera really did a number on Hamed. Now we know why Hamed ducked his mandatory Juan Manuel Marquez for years.

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