By Jake Donovan
It’s only been a little over two years since Mike Alvarado fought close to home. The event came at a time when he was still trying to find his place in the pro ranks, as he was transitioning between rising prospect and budding contender. His points win over Gabriel Martinez back in July ’11 was as predictable as it was unspectacular, the night becoming little more than a hometown showcase.
This weekend’s return to his home state carries far greater meaning than a local appearance, coming on the heels of his most significant win as a pro and now entering his third straight fight in which the outcome is anything but predictable. Awaiting the recently minted alphabet titlist is a dangerous first defense against tough-as-nails Ruslan Provodnikov, at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield, Colorado.
Given the nature of Alvarado’s back-to-back fights with Brandon Rios, coupled with Provodnikov’s Fight of the Year entrant with Tim Bradley, the expectations are exceedingly high for the local favorite. None of this is lost on this weekend’s headliner.
“This is exciting. It’s a dream come true to defend this title in my hometown and having all of my main supporters here. It’s a blessing,” Alvarado insists, with the mindset of a man who’s seen it all before. “Training camp has been great and I’m ready to get in there and do what I always do – win this fight and retain this title and go on to bigger and better things. I’m excited about it. At the end of this week everyone is going to see a great performance out of me.”
It was seven months ago when boxing fans saw the very best performance Alvarado has offered as a pro fighter to date. The 12-round points win over Rios avenged the lone loss of his career, when he was stopped in the 7th round of their Fight Of the Year-worthy war last October.
Saturday’s bout comes just more than a year since that unforgettable battle, one that cemented both fighters’ legacies as all-action stars. Alvarado saw his “0” go on that night, but made the necessary adjustments to return the favor to Rios five months later.
There was minor – and mostly absurd and illogical - backlash regarding his choice to box for the sake of winning rather than once again throw caution to the wind for the sake of the fans. His fans – not to mention true fans of the sport – saw it as his confirmation as a genuine boxer-puncher, a fighter that can mix it up at a moment’s notice, but also dial back without compromising entertainment value.
If it were any other way, he wouldn’t be back on HBO as the A-side of the promotion. Not when his own promoter holds his fighters to the standard of entertainment value meaning as much as – if not more than – winning any given fight.
“There is not much I can say as a promoter. You don’t have to sell this fight,” acknowledges Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum. “Everyone that knows anything about boxing knows that this fight will be a candidate for ‘Fight of the Year.” Two great warriors - two guys that entertain the public; you don’t need a sales pitch for this one and it’s showing at the box office.”
A sold-out venue is expected by the time Alvarado takes center ring, and for good reason. While his local appeal is strong, the matchup itself makes the night well worth the price of admission.
It’s the level of competition for which Alvarado has longed the minute he garnered accolades as a future star to watch. It’s the level at which he wants to maintain, if not exceed, as he continues his upward climb – but also at a controlled pace from fight to fight, if he can help it.
“All of our fights have been top-caliber fights. The anticipation is from the wars that we have been in tells us that this fight has ‘war’ written all over it and there’s a good chance that this fight will turn into that,” Alvarado states. “I have a good game plan and I know how I’m going to box to win this fight, but you never know, this fight could turn into a crazy war and we could see Rios I all over again.
“I am not expecting a war because of the way I have been training and how I’ve seasoned as a professional. I know I am going to stay strong, boxing and focused on my game plan to make the fight go the way I need it to go and not make it a war. But you never know – that one shot could change the fight around.”
Provodnikov showed just how great an effect one shot can have. The transplanted Russian came up just short in his bid to unseat Bradley in their welterweight title fight earlier this year, despite an strong early start and a final round knockdown.
The bout took place in the very same venue as Alvarado’s knockout loss to Rios (Home Depot Center – now named StubHub Center – in Carson, California) and with the same referee (Pat Russell) in ring. The difference in the fight came down to Bradley miraculously peeling himself off of the canvas to fight back just enough to avoid a knockout. Doing so allowed him to hear the final bell, thus preserving his early lead and escaping with a well-earned majority decision.
Alvarado was deprived of that same opportunity, as he was stopped the moment it was deemed he was in trouble. The severity of damage he was taking at the time of said stoppage is something only he can confirm. The outcome was debated on some levels, but with the middle ground belief that Russell did his job to the best of his ability that night.
If nothing else, it afforded the defeated boxer the opportunity to prove he could add other dimensions to his game.
“I didn’t get the opportunity to come back and show that I could fight back from what was going on in that moment. I was disappointed, but it is what it is and the referee had to do his job and I’m just glad I redeemed myself to prove what should have happened. So I’m happy where I am now and ready to put on another good performance.”
Of course, his fans – and his handlers – will be expecting a great performance, or at least an explosive one. Fight night will tell the final tale, but Alvarado assures his paying public that the performance he offers from bell to bell will be one that pleases all demographics.
“This fight is going to be very interesting. I am going to go in there and use what I worked on for this fight. Boxing is going to definitely be an option, but fighting is a huge option as well. This is a must-see fight and anything can happen.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox