Mess with the bull, and you’ll get the horns — especially when you have the audacity to try to out-gore the damn thing.
Yet that’s just what Mike Alvarado did when he tangled with Juan Manuel Marquez on Saturday in Los Angeles’ revived Forum — a venue that, if walls could talk, would have plenty of old boxing tales to tell.
The story for Alvarado, though, was no fairy tale — just grim. After taking the business end of a beatdown at the hands of Ruslan Provodnikov and losing his junior welterweight title in front of his hometown fans last October — the first major fight held in Denver in years — Mile High Mike had hoped to gain back all the mojo he had lost, and then some, with a win over the great Marquez. Instead, the Mexican legend — now 40 — dismantled Alvarado, 33, as easily as he might have a pop-up tent.
The irony: Alvarado’s recent descent can be directly traced back to his greatest professional triumph — a 12-round decision over Brandon Rios in their rematch last year, a gem that fell only a few watts short of their electric first matchup and which was marked by Alvarado’s newfound semi-technical approach. After the career brawler was outbrawled in fight No. 1, he proved in the rematch that a dose of discretion (and a well-placed jab) can indeed be the better part of valor, and even the vehicle to victory.
But slinging scoring shots against and strategically steering clear of a caveman such as Rios can’t compare to matching wits with a master of Marquez’s caliber. Alvarado tried to stink out JMM, keeping his distance and waiting on the counterpuncher to take the lead. This was either a Custer-like miscalculation or the mother of all brain farts.
Marquez patiently pot-shotted Alvarado, eventually baiting him into exchanges that Marquez — with better footwork, more quickness and a deeper arsenal — was always destined to win. Marquez all but chopped up Alvarado over the fight’s first half-dozen or so rounds, and then punked him with a picture-perfect knockdown that sent Alvarado skidding under the ring ropes and very nearly out of the ring.
Although Alvarado salvaged the performance, in a sense, with a brief return to his roots — a damn-the-torpedoes moment in which he pressed and traded with Marquez to open him up for a dynamite right hand that dropped the four-division titlist — he was a day late and a dollar short.
No one should ever dare question Alvarado’s courage, not after he has laid it bare on so many occasions. But after he’d conceded to absorbing enough punishment through 10 rounds against Provodnikov — and he had taken more than enough of it — I had profound doubts about his ability to safely continue his career facing boxing’s best 140- and 147-pounders.
I’m still not convinced. A man who had always known his limitations, and who had fought accordingly, has lately made a concerted effort to change his stripes. He doth protest too much, methinks.
It’s a ball watching Alvarado at his bludgeoning best, and it’s not only the style that landed him his biggest fights in the first place but, most important, is also the crux of a boom-or-bust offensive that is his only chance against elite opposition. Yes, I believe in evolution. But it’s also wise to know one’s place on the food chain.