By Jake Donovan
It’s been more than two years since Mike Alvarado has enjoyed the luxury of plying his trade in front of a hometown crowd.
Given his career progress since then and the lack of substantive explanations (at the time) surrounding two separate breaks from the ring, you’d think he was stuck in a time warp.
There’s nothing you can do about the past, so instead the undefeated super lightweight contender turns to the future. The next step forward takes place this weekend when he faces Gabriel Martinez in their Fox Deportes-televised main event live from the Softball Country Arena in Denver, Colorado.
The fight will be his fourth in the past eight months as his handlers have done their best to make up for lost time. The former high school wrestling standout had only fought once in an 18 month span interrupted by two separate trips to prison for probation and parole violations.
It’s been smooth sailing ever since, though what Alvarado (30-0, 22KO) has yet to endure in his return to the ring is a formidable challenge. His past four fights have lasted a combined 12 rounds, including a third round stoppage of Ray Narh this past May on the pay-per-view undercard of Manny Pacquiao’s decision win over Shane Mosley.
Ever the gamer, he’s hoping that pattern changes this weekend and that his opponent’s performance matches the scouting report.
“From what I’ve seen (of Martinez), he’s a legitimate fighter,” Alvarado says of his opponent on Saturday night. “He’s coming to win. I’m in my atmosphere and am ready for a crowd pleasing fight. The last two fights, my opponents quit, so the fans didn’t really get to see the best I have to offer.”
His handlers actually have a theory to that belief.
“He’s too strong for these guys,” insists Henry Delgado, Alvarado’s manager. “The moment he enters the ring, he just has this mentality like ‘you’re mine.’ Once he gets going, these guys can’t handle him.”
The trick is to find a tougher collection of guys against which Alvarado can shine.
Those plans were initially set in motion two years ago. A month after Alvarado appeared on the non-televised portion of another Pacquiao card – his second round knockout of Ricky Hatton – a fight was secured against former 140 lb. titlist Paul Malignaggi.
The bout was to take place in Atlantic City as part of Top Rank’s Latin Fury pay-per-view series and would have served as a springboard for an eventual title shot, but was scratched after an announcement of an injured elbow suffered in training camp.
Soon to follow was a trip to prison due to a probation violation, putting his career on hold for a spell before returning that following April with a knockout win over Lenin Arroyo.
Once again, a pay-per-view undercard slot was secured, this time in a supporting bout for Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. last June.
Once again, a technicality got in the way of his career progress, as an out-of-state trip was ruled a parole violation, landing him back in jail to finish out the remainder of his previously assigned three year sentence.
In search of a tough opponent, it can be argued back then that Alvarado found one in himself. Now that he’s back on the straight and narrow, the hunt continues for bigger game.
This weekend’s hometown showcase came about only after plans fell through for what would have been his first crack at an alphabet title. Negotiations had begun for a showdown with Zab Judah, who instead accepted a sweeter offer from HBO for last weekend’s unification match with Amir Khan.
Naturally, Alvarado watched the fight, wondering what he would’ve been presented with had negotiations transitioned into a signed contract.
What he was left with was the belief that he’d have still been searching for a tough challenge.
“I wasn’t very impressed with the fight,” Alvarado remarks, sharing the sentiments of nearly everyone who tuned in last weekend. “Khan did what he was supposed to do and looked good doing it. Zab didn’t show any class, he just flat out quit.”
If there was anything that Alvarado took from the fight, it’s the belief that he’s ready to compete on that level. A win on Saturday night should lead to what his handlers hope will be a title shot before the end of the year.
“We’re fighting for a belt within the next two fights,” Delgado guarantees.
Those plans are just fine with Alvarado, though he’s generally okay with anything his team lines up for him. They’re the ones who stuck it out through the worst period of his life, never turning their backs on him and were right there to ensure his career picked up without missing a beat the moment he was ready to return to the ring.
More so than the loyalty shown, it served as a huge sigh of relief, one less thing he had to worry about when he returned to the gym.
“It’s a true blessing. Henry Delgado and the Top Rank family, they’ve always stood behind me. I can train that much harder knowing that they got my back. I’m thankful that they’re still in my corner. I’m staying consistently busy. I’m excited about that and thankful that they keep ‘em coming.”
For the first time in 28 months, he’s able to keep it coming in front of a hometown audience. It’s a gift he feels privileged to provide after forcing the Mile High faithful to track his career progress from the living room couch, though it was his last fight that had fans talking the most.
“Appearing on the Pacquiao undercard at this point in his career was huge for my own career,” Alvarado acknowledges. “It showed my level as a fighter. Now I get to enjoy a homecoming fight in my hometown in a much bigger event. I’m just happy my people get to experience it live rather than on TV.”
It’s highly possible that these bigger challenges he seeks will be limited to on-screen viewing for his homeboys. The likelihood of high profile opponents in the talent-laden super lightweight division traveling to Denver is – well, about as likely as getting high profile opponents to jump at the opportunity to face Alvarado anywhere.
“We’ve never turned down an opponent,” Delgado insists. “Top Rank gives us names, and we just tell them to pick whomever they think will fight us. Any opponent the offer, we’re always ready. Anytime I mention a fight to Mike, he says yes no matter who it is. He doesn’t care.
“All he wants is someone tougher than his last fight every time he prepares for the next one. That makes it easy to do my job.”
Assuming a win comes this weekend, Alvarado is ready to make everyone’s jobs even easier.
“I want fights with all of the top fighters. I want Khan, Tim Bradley – I just want to win titles, defend them, move up and win some more titles.”
A future move to welterweight could prove to be the future jackpot he seeks. But for now, he’s content with simply finishing what he started in his current division.
“I can stay at 140 as long as I want. I want great fights. I want to take over the division. I’d like to bulk up and become a better fighter at welterweight, but have to take care of what’s in front of me first.”
That means not only winning, but sending the patrons home happy. It’s perhaps the very challenge he seeks, if it’s not to be found in the form of his actual opponent.
“I have no more extra pressure and just plan to do what I am supposed to do. I’m ready for this weekend and excited for what the future has in store for me.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected] .