LAS VEGAS -- Move over, Timothy Bradley Jr. and Ruslan Provodnikov. You have company in the race for fight of the year.
Five months after they turned in a classic slugfest, Mike Alvarado and Brandon "Bam Bam" Rios did it again, fighting another positively hellacious war. But this time, Alvarado was the winner, exacting revenge via unanimous decision and claiming a vacant interim junior welterweight title on Saturday night before 5,418 exhilarated fight fans at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
"They both fought their hearts out," Robert Garcia, Rios' trainer, said.
It was another sensational and wickedly violent fight and very similar to their virtually even first collision -- until the stoppage -- which took place Oct. 13 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. In that slugfest, former lightweight titleholder Rios stopped Alvarado on his feet in the seventh round, and the demand for a rematch was immediate.
So now they are each 1-1. Obviously, there has to be an eventual rubber match, which Rios asked for as he crashed Alvarado's postfight interview with HBO's Max Kellerman.
"I won the first one, now they want to make the third one. Let's make the third one," Rios loudly barked at Alvarado, who was open to the idea.
"Brandon gave me a shot to redeem myself," Alvarado said. "I'll give him a shot for the trilogy."
Two weeks ago, Bradley retained his welterweight title in a war with Provodnikov, but Alvarado-Rios II was even more violent. So much so that both fighters were transported to the hospital for precautionary reasons and to undergo CT scans.
But as violent as the fight was, Alvarado boxed more than he did in their first meeting, just as he had promised he would. The difference was subtle, but late in the bout he was bouncing on his toes and moving and picking Rios apart.
"It was that movement I was talking about," Alvarado said. "The focus to stay on my movement, the strategic movement we worked on all training camp. The first fight was prematurely stopped. I'm always smarter the second time around. My camp and my team are the best in the world. I proved it tonight."
The three judges had it for Alvarado, 115-113, 115-113 and 114-113. ESPN.com also had it for Alvarado, 116-112.
"I thought it would be great, but what really surpassed my expectations was how intelligently Alvarado fought," Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said. "In the first fight there was no intelligence, just boom, boom, boom. Here, he had a game plan and he executed the game plan by moving, holding and not just doing the craziness."
Alvarado was also in tremendous condition, which his trainer, Henry Delgado, said was because of the intense mountain road work Alvarado put in while training in his hometown of Denver.
"The difference this time was that Mike had better legs," Delgado said. "We worked on high-elevation training. He ran up a mountain, eight miles a day, for two months. We figured we had to have better legs to keep punching against this guy late in the fight."
The fighters started on Saturday where they left off in October. There was no feeling-out process in the first round as they took turns exchanging shots and fighting at a fast pace -- exactly as was expected.
The second round was sensational. They were swapping hard shots on the inside and from the outside, but then, with a minute left, Rios staggered Alvarado with a left hand. Alvarado's legs betrayed him, and he did a bit of a dance. But he held on and collected himself and rallied as they intensely exchanged brutal shots.
The action was so fierce that none other than Mike Tyson, who was sitting ringside, jumped to his feet to cheer.
Alvarado (34-1, 23 KOs), 32, bounced back to hurt Rios (31-1-1, 23 KOs), 26, of Oxnard, Calif., in the third round, rocking him with a right hand as the crowd went wild.
"Your eyes are deceiving," Rios said when asked if he had been hurt. "I didn't get rocked. If I got rocked, I'd have been wobbling."
But Alvarado, who earned a career-best $625,000 to Rios' career-high $1.25 million, also took shots in the round, and his face was red and beginning to swell.
The only lull in the action came in the fifth round, when Rios hit Alvarado with an accidental low blow and referee Tony Weeks called time to give him a chance to recover. The fighters spent long stretches in the round hunched over, head-to-head and driving home body shots.
They went back and forth, round after round.
A right hand from Alvarado stopped Rios in his tracks in the eighth round, and they wound up in a heated toe-to-toe exchange as the round ended.
But the last few rounds of the fight, as exciting as they were, was when Alvarado broke out the boxing and did just enough jabbing and moving to keep Rios, whose left eye was swelling, off balance to pull away and lock up the fight.
The final CompuBox punch statistics were nearly identical, and through the ninth round, Rios had landed 210 of 674 punches to Alvarado's 212 and 675.
By the 12th round, Alvarado looked far worse for the wear, his face a bloody, black-blue-and-red swollen mess. But he closed strong, firing a three-punch combination just before raising his arm in a victory sign as the final seconds ticked off and his fans cheered wildly.
The fans and the fighters are likely going to get the rubber match, but it won't be immediate, Arum said.
"I'd like to see one of them against Provodnikov or for [Juan Manuel] Marquez to face one of them," Arum said. "But it doesn't have to be next. I sort of feel I'd like to see these guys against other people, and then we can do a rematch. Certainly, the rubber match will be bigger, but it doesn't have to be next. I really don't like doing immediate rematches. I did it here because these guys are crazy, and they wanted to do it and HBO pressed me into the fight."
Rios didn't complain about the decision. He only wanted the chance that he extended to Alvarado after the first fight.
"He went to my backyard [in Southern California]; I'll go to his backyard. Denver? F--- it. I'll go to your city," Rios told Alvarado in the ring. "I'm not scared. You know how I roll. I could go 15 more rounds. I'm a warrior. I love to fight. We gotta do it again."
Yes. Yes, they do.