It may not have been the war that many expected, but the showdown between Juan Manuel Marquez and Mike Alvarado eventually became one of the better tussles of the year. But as good as the fight was down the stretch, Marquez was even better.

The Mexican legend boxed beautifully and countered as brilliantly as he usually does, which made the typically busy and brawling Alvarado hesitant and flustered. Marquez popped his opponent with precision jabs, raked him to the body and cracked him in the face with perfect counter right hands for 12 rounds. For long stretches of the contest, it seemed as though Alvarado was stuck in mud while Marquez — who recently turned 40 — was in hyper drive.

Alvarado looked unsure as to what he needed to do inside the ring for most of contest. If he backed away, Marquez stalked him and peppered him on the way in. If he charged right at the future Hall of Famer, Marquez simply turned him away with deft footwork and magnificent countering. And if Alvarado finally was able to goad Marquez into an all-out brawl, he usually ate thrice the shots he dished out. In all, Marquez was sensational in his first fight since dropping a disappointing decision to Timothy Bradley last October.

“I had a little hard time getting going and that’s because of the experience,” Alvarado said after the fight. “I was a little [awed] because I was fighting Marquez. He’s a legend. It’s all a learning experience for me.”

Alvarado seemed star struck at times and couldn’t get into any sort of rhythm. His face was swollen by the fourth and he was losing round after round. The vicious, reckless Alvarado that fans have come to love was virtually non-existent and he almost was never given the chance to get things into gear.

Marquez leveled Alvarado with mere seconds remaining in the eighth with a sinister right hand that was masked behind the left jab. Once it detonated on Alvarado’s jaw, the Denver native was sent sprawling across the ring and down under the bottom rope. He struggled badly to get back up and when he did, he was clearly out on his feet. Referee Pat Russell allowed him to continue just as the bell ended the round, saving from what likely would have been his second consecutive knockout loss.

Still woozy coming into the ninth, Alvarado was gun shy until Marquez opened up his attack in an effort to end the fight. The American was tagged several times but rather than crumbling under the pressure, he returned fire and floored Marquez with a right of his own. Marquez sprung back up to his feet and was not badly wobbled, but the two welterweights tore into each other, bringing the capacity crowd inside the Great Western Forum to its collective feet.

After an entertaining 10th, Alvarado almost took Marquez off his feet in the 11th with another right hand, but “Dinimita” was able to keep himself from touching the canvas. The final four rounds of the battle were filled with sporadic bursts of all-out chaos, but Marquez was just too sharp and quick for Alvarado to handle. In the end, Marquez’ brilliance and vast experience was too much to overcome and Alvarado lost a lopsided unanimous decision. The official scores favored the Mexican via tallies of 117-109 (twice) and 119-108, potentially setting up a fifth skirmish with Manny Pacquiao.

But Marquez was non-committal.

“Right now I’m not sure what I’m going to do next,” Marquez stated afterward. “I leave that in the hands of my promoter. Right now I’m not thinking about [Pacquiao] so I don’t really know who I’ll fight next.”