Felix Alvarado knew he had the fight won after twelve rounds.
So, too, did most viewers. Even ring announcer Pablo Flores was in line with that viewpoint, as he announced Alvarado as the winner by unanimous decision over his hard-fought battle versus Angel Ayala.
The thrill of victory immediately shifted to the agony of defeat for the former IBF junior flyweight titlist.
Mexico City’s Ayala was instead hailed as the winner of their IBF flyweight title eliminator, as he was awarded the bout by scores of 114-113 on all three scorecards Saturday evening in Merida, Mexico.
The heavy-handed Alvarado struck early. A right hand by the visiting Nicaraguan sent Ayala to the canvas with roughly 40 seconds to go in the opening round.
Ayala bounced back in the second, when he was able to land several right hands. Alvarado took the shots well but did not do himself any favors being beaten to the punch on the road in his opponent’s home country.
Alvarado charged forward in rounds three and four. Ayala switched between conventional and southpaw stance in an attempt to disrupt the rhythm of his dogged foe. Alvarado closed the gap and landed with body shots, while a right hand upstairs produced a deep cut above Ayala’s left eye.
Time was called at the start of round five to examine the wound before he permitted the bout to continue. Ayala taunted Alvarado and dared him to engage. Alvarado obliged but was caught by a right hand. A clash of heads forced Alvarado to clutch the top of his head while Ayala was clipped on the nose. Alvarado continued on the attack but Alya made a defensive adjustment to avoid most of the incoming.
Blood streamed down the left side of Ayala’s face but he was able to finish round six strong. A right uppercut by the 23-year-old Mexican was followed by body shots just before the bell.
Ayala shook his right hand at the start of round seven but relented and let it rip after Alvarado forced a dogfight. Both boxers landed to the body, Ayala with his left hook and Alvarado with digging right hands. Alvarado landed a combination upstairs and an uppercut inside the final 20 seconds.
Time was called in round eight as Ayala was warned for a low blow that initially appeared to be a borderline shot. It came after Ayala enjoyed perhaps his best round of the fight as he landed several right hands and left hooks upstairs. Both boxers let their hands go once action resumed and traded until the bell.
Alvarado launched a left hook and looping right to the body in round nine. Ayala took the shot well and actually got the better of a fiery exchange down the stretch. A left hook by the unbeaten contender caught Alvarado’s attention as he fought off the ropes.
The two-way body attack continued in round ten. Alvarado was able to break free and reset before he worked his way back inside. They both exchanged hooks and Alvarado followed with a right hand. An ensuing sequence saw the veteran former champ use his body weight to force Ayala to the canvas, which was ruled a slip.
Alvarado pushed through fatigue to force a torrid pace in round eleven. He continued to target the body but Ayala snuck in a right hand upstairs just before the ten-second warning.
Action did not let up in the twelfth and final round as both fought as if the fight was very much on the table.
The final scorecards would confirm just that.
Alvarado landed a left hook to the chin during an exchange. Ayala shook off the blow but the steam was gone from his punches as his response carried minimal impact. Alvarado dug to the body but Ayala responded in kind with yet another late-in-the-round finish.
Both boxers celebrated as the bell sounded to end their spirited affair. Little did they know that they would each arm raised in victory once the scorecards were read.
Alvarado threw back his head and breathed a sigh of relief when the cards initially revealed that the first-round knockdown was the difference in the fight.
That quickly turned to a look of disgust.
“Perdón,” said the ring announcer immediately after reading ‘De Managua, Nicaragua’ to suggest Alvarado.
The declaration that the winner was from Mexico City saw an immediate celebration from Ayala’s corner, though the boxer himself was completely caught off guard and perhaps too drained to properly celebrate.
Ayala will have plenty of reason to rejoice in the aftermath.
In addition to his record now at (17-0, 7KOs), he became a double mandatory and with terrific options for his next outing. Ayala was named prior to the fight as the mandatory to the WBC flyweight title held by countryman Julio Cesar Martinez. The IBF-sanctioned bout left him in position to next challenge the winner of the Sunny Edwards-Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez IBF/WBO unification bout on December 16 in Glendale, Arizona.
Alvarado was forced to settle for his second defeat in three fights. He came up short in a challenge for Edwards’ IBF flyweight title last November on the road in Sheffield, England. A quick win this past June in Miami allowed Alvarado to shake off ring rust before he entered the sanctioned eliminator with hopes of a second shot to become a two-division titleholder.
Barring a successful appeal to overturn the verdict, it is back to the drawing board for the 34-year-old former titleholder. It was not how he expected the night to play out, all the way up to briefly being led to believe he won the fight.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox