Teddy Atlas on Rios-Alvarado II

By Robert Ecksel on March 28, 2013
Teddy Atlas on Rios-Alvarado II
“It will be action,” says Atlas. “I don’t need to tell you that. I like Rios to win again." (HBO)

“I live in a boxing world my whole life where it’s pretty much absolutes. You better be able to handle tangible facts if you’re going to be in boxing…”

“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is war minus the shooting.”—George Orwell

Boxing is a metaphor for war. The squared circle is a battlefield. The combatants, who run the gamut from ring generals to grunts, come armed and dangerous and loaded for bear. Fighters earn their stripes in combat. Shots are fired. Bombs are thrown. There are injuries. There are casualties. There are deaths.

But boxing also differs from war. Boxing is ostensibly a fair fight. The participants are of equal weight. Sometimes they are evenly matched. War has the Geneva Convention to establish rules of engagement. Boxing has its Marquis of Queensberry Rules, which in addition to being more colorfully named, are a bit more stringently observed.

The first fight between Brandon Rios (31-0-1) and Mike Alvarado (33-1) was a war. It wasn’t boxing’s first war, not by a long shot, nor will it be boxing’s last. There was Gans-Nelson, Graziano-Zale, Marquez-Vasquez, Lewis-Klitschko, Hagler-Hearns, Barrera-Morales, Robinson-Basilio, Griffith-Paret, Corrales-Castillo, and Gatti-Ward, the fight to which Rios-Alvarado is most often compared. Each of those bouts was an all-out war, heroic, definitive, merciless, unforgettable, and yes, even bloodcurdling.

Rios vs. Alvarado was such a fight, and on Saturday, March 30, at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, they’re going to do it again. Expectations are running high but are somewhat less than feverish. Neither man is a titleholder (at least not holding a title of note). Neither man is destined to break any records for longevity; Bernard Hopkins can relax. But Rios and Alvarado do what they do as few are willing to do it. They put it all on the line whenever they climb through the ropes. They are boxers who represent boxing, but they are also warriors who exemplify war.

Whether it’ a time of peace time or time of war, I hate bothering Teddy Atlas. ESPN’s resident boxing guru is always available, but his plate isn’t just full, it’s full to overflowing. So I need a good reason, no, make that a very good reason to give Atlas a call, and the rematch between Rios and Alvarado seems to qualify.

“It will be action,” says Atlas. “I don’t need to tell you that. I like Rios to win again. Looking at the history of this sport and understanding it, very rarely do you see a guy, not beaten but knocked out, come back to perform near the same level. If you go back and look at a fight like Arguello-Pryor, the first fight was great and the second fight much less so, much less resistance from Arguello. If you go back even further to the days I like to look at sometimes, back to the heavyweights, to Ezzard Charles and Rocky Marciano, Charles wound up retiring after their second fight. If you look at their first fight, it was a great fight. Marciano was behind going into the 13th round—he knocks Charles out. And the rematch was a shadow, not even a shadow of what the first fight was.”

Those are great examples (see videos below). Atlas may be the commentator everyone—well, thank God not everyone—loves to hate, but he knows boxing, knows the business of boxing, and knows the truth when he sees it. Teddy can be didactic, but he believes he has an obligation to teach, an obligation to educate, an obligation to tell it like it is. Some prefer the white bread approach, the fan boy approach. That’s their prerogative. But others, many others, including myself, want him to continue doing what he he’s doing, in part because no one else is doing it, in part because it desperately needs to be done.

“Why?” asks Teddy, returning to the subject of rematches. “Why does that happen? There’s a reason for it. If they fight a good fight, that’s different. But if somebody gets knocked out, usually the guy that gets knocked out is not going to put up the same resistance, or near the same level of fight as before. Of course this business is physical, but it is also emotional and psychological at the same time. And in those kinds of fights the guy that lost, just like the guy that won, have something in common. They did just about everything they could to win the fight—and the one who lost, he didn’t win and he didn’t finish, he got knocked out, and he goes into the next fight with almost no bullets. He tells himself, ‘I didn’t win the fight. I did everything I could the first time and yet it still came out the wrong way.’ So you’re in there after emptying the chamber, psychologically and physically. It’s so important that you go into a fight physically and technically right, but it’s paramount to go in there psychologically right. I mean it’s 75 percent of this equation. And if you’re not going in there with that kind of confidence—you understand that you didn’t finish standing up, a referee had to come in and help you and intervene in the fight. You KNOW that, and your mind knows it, your soul knows it, your inner consciousness knows it. And you’re going into that same battlefield again—and especially with nothing in between, nothing in between to tell you, ‘Okay, I’ll be okay now. I’ve gotten back into the arena. I’ve gotten back on the battlefield, and I’m okay again, I’m okay.’ But you don’t know if you’re okay. And the other guy is going in there obviously propelled by the opposite, that he has the utmost confidence, that he’s done it once, he’s broken you once, he’s gotten through to you, he’s gotten to you physically, he can get to you again.”

I think about asking Teddy a question, but can’t think of a question he won’t address if given time.

“This business has been around for a couple of hundred years,” he says. “There are reasons for that. There are answers for that. I look at it from a trainer’s standpoint. I say, okay, you make an argument going into the fight. You listen to these guys who are supposed to be experts. They say, ‘Alvarado can fight with you. Obviously Rios can fight with you in the trenches, but that’s his thing, that’s his only thing. He’s one-dimensional. That’s why it’s not hard to find the guy fairly regularly.’ That’s what the experts would say. ‘Well,  but Alvarado can do more things. He can box,’ which he tried to do in spurts, ‘he can box, he could use his jab, he could take the outside, and then he can go inside.’ And going into the fight, most people thought he could match Rios inside. Maybe MORE THAN MATCH HIM since he is naturally the bigger guy. It didn’t pan out that way.

“I don’t look at it like the experts do. Theoretically Alvarado can, if he does it right. But when he boxed and used his jab and tried to control the outside—that’s when he got hurt! That’s when he got hit by the right hand, because he doesn’t do it right! Just doing it doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful doing it. When he jabbed on the outside, if you looked at it while you were watching, that’s when he got caught with the right hand over the jab because he jabs from too close. When he starts boxing and doing the things that you are supposed to do in the words of the experts, to give him the advantage, HE’S AT A DISADVANTAGE. That’s when he EXPOSED HIMSELF. He was actually better off inside at close quarters exchanging with Rios. Yeah, something could happen. But something did happen when he was on the outside jabbing. Something didn’t happen on the inside. He was actually safe there. When he threw the jab he was straight up. There was no head movement. There was no variance of cadence of the jab. He was throwing the jab where Rios understood he could time the jab. That’s when the roof caved in. That’s when the right hand caved in.”

Call me crazy, but I love listening to Teddy Atlas. A natural-born contrarian, Teddy is many things, but a man of few words is not among them. He doesn’t talk for talking’s sake. He’s no more afraid of silence than he is of you or me. He’ll be the first to tell you there are things he doesn’t know. Conversely, he’ll also be the first to tell you there are things he does know. He knows, for example, that Alvarado presumably has a blueprint going into the rematch, which was not the case in the first fight. But Atlas doesn’t buy it.

“If he says ‘we’re going to have a better stricter game plan,’ he’s going to go in there and correct his mistake. ‘We’re going to do more boxing,’ because that’s what the so-called experts are probably going to be echoing: “Well, if he boxes more maybe he’s going to take away that inside game, that power game of Rios.’ Use your eyes. Understand what’s really going on. If he’s going to go in there and box, the one thing that he better correct is the one thing that put him in a position to have a rematch—and that’s when he is jabbing he’s vulnerable.”

Can an old dog be taught new tricks? Has Alvarado learned enough in a few short months to correct his mistakes? Can he adapt?

“At the end of the day, if that’s not corrected, whether he goes inside or goes outside, he’s going to get beat again. For me, that’s what’s relevant. I live in a boxing world my whole life where it’s pretty much absolutes. You better be able to handle tangible facts if you’re going to be in boxing your whole life. You better have your feet in reality. Not just what you want to say. Not just what you want to hope. No, but what is. There are physical and psychological things that are real things; that are real solid things. They don’t sway in the wind. They’re there to be dealt with. They’re there each and every time you get in the ring. They’re there every day. So when people say ‘he’ll be able to go to that outside game’—no, no, No, NO. If he’s going to that outside game, it better be a different outside game. It better be an outside game that’s COGNIZANT of what went wrong the last time he used that outside game. But he’s also making a concession to Rios that ‘I can’t stay with you physically because of what happened the first time. So I’m going in there to box you. The first time I went in there to fight you and box you. Now I’m just going in there just to box you.’ So he’s giving a little more ammo to his opponent who says, ‘I have him on the run. I have him thinking that he can’t stay with me on certain dimensions anymore, in certain quarters anymore.’ He’s already making a certain compromise. Therefore Alvarado better stay buttoned up and hunkered down and better be as consistent as the word consistency represents. He’s going to have to be perfect with that. He going to have to be ready to deal with probably a more aggressive opponent in some ways than he did the first time, because Rios is going to recognize that and it’s going to fuel him.”

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Aaron Pryor vs Alexis Arguello I - Nov 12, 1982 - Entire fight - Rounds 1 - 14

Rocky Marciano vs Ezzard Charles, I


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  1. B.G 04:10pm, 03/31/2013

    Congratulations to both fighters, and their camps for coming into a fight prepared and where the world knew either one was capable of winning big. I respect what Teddy Atlas has to input on boxing analyses but was he way off on this one.
    First off Mike Alvarado was not knocked out in the first fight, everyone knows the ref stopped that fight early, so therefore history has no barring on this fight what so ever and stats on men being knocked out previously doesn’t count on a return rematch. Alvarado mind set was on WINNING! AND WIN HE DID!
    How can you analyze a man’s heart, and desire? Both those guys have hearts as big as I’ve ever seen and the will to win is breath taking. When some fighters say they have to carry them out the ring or kill them, Alvarado and Rios lived that in both fights.
    Rios boxing since the age of eight and Alvarado at twenty, just saying didn’t matter this time.

  2. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:08am, 03/29/2013

    Which reminds me…I think the Prof got Walcott and Charles interchanged in his really great as always lecture above.

  3. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:01am, 03/29/2013

    As I posted to Clarence George, the writers on this site (including the youngsters) are my Professors from night school all those years ago when I sat in the back row and carried on a constant diologue with them as if I were their mentor. Teddy is the visiting Professor Emeritus who I always missed out on because I was home watching the fights and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon!

  4. NYIrish 06:17am, 03/29/2013

    Mike Tyson put it succinctly. “They all have a game plan. Then they get hit.”

  5. the thresher 08:53am, 03/28/2013

    When two fighters make up their minds to come out of the gate like madmen, then you will always get a great fight. The mindset must be mutual, and for me, Hagler-Hearns is the best example—with Monroe Books-Bruce Curry a close second. Rios and Urbano Antillon did it as well. So did Alvarado and Prescott.

    Game plans will mean nothing if they decide to do it again.

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