by David P. Greisman
BROOMFIELD, Colo. — This was a fight that promised brutality and then delivered on that promise.
But this fight was not just about delivering brutality, but receiving it. And in the end, Ruslan Provodnikov delivered far too much for Mike Alvarado to continue to receive.
Not with the swelling continuing to build above Alvarado’s right eye. Not with the accumulation of 10 rounds of punishment. Not with two knockdowns suffered in the eighth round. And not with a deficit — and an opponent — that could not be overcome.
After the 10th round, referee Tony Weeks went to Alvarado’s corner and asked him multiple times whether he wanted to continue. Each time, Alvarado said “no.”
He couldn’t be blamed for that decision. But he could be blamed for what led him there.
“It just wasn’t Mike’s night. He was too defensive,” Alvarado’s trainer, Shaun Villhauer, said afterward. “I didn’t like the way he fought tonight. Too defensive. He believed all those clippings since the [Brandon] Rios fight, and he was now a great boxer and got away from what he was best at — fighting. This guy was tailor-made for us tonight, and we didn’t take advantage.”
Instead, Provodnikov battered Alvarado and broke him down, scoring the technical knockout victory and winning the World Boxing Organization’s junior welterweight title.
It was not the way that Alvarado had envisioned his first title defense, one taking place in front of an announced hometown crowd of 7,012.
Alvarado had just come off a pair of stellar battles with Rios in October 2012 and March 2013. Rios won their first fight by seventh-round stoppage, hurting Alvarado and forcing the referee to step in while Alvarado was still on his feet. In the rematch, Alvarado still brawled but also mixed in boxing, a strategy that allowed him to last the distance and win a close decision on the scorecards.
Against another stalking, powerful opponent in Provodnikov, Alvarado emphasized footwork from the outset, circling to his left but taking body punches from Provodnikov, who knew where to send shots at a moving target. Alvarado soon stopped moving and threw a left uppercut and a right hand, giving Provodnikov an opportunity to throw a left hook, a right and another right. Alvarado tried a right hand of his own and got countered with a hard overhand right from Provodnikov, and then another. Alvarado appeared to be momentarily stunned, but nevertheless returned fire with uppercuts.
It was just the first of many exchanges to come. It was also a sign of things to come.
Alvarado had tasted Provodnikov’s power and seemed determine not to eat more punches than he had to. He would move in one direction, then another. He would jump in with shots, then jump back. He’d turn southpaw. And eventually he would stop moving and fight on the inside, flirting with danger. He’d land some clean shots and have others blocked. He’d get hit with some clean shots and block others.
It was a question of how long Alvarado could keep it up. It was also question of how long until Provodnikov again tracked him down. Alvarado kept trying to give Provodnikov different looks, to make him reset. But any success Alvarado had keeping Provodnikov off him was limited. Provodnikov was absorbing Alvarado’s punches. Alvarado was seeking to do the same but wouldn’t be as able.
Provodnikov must have sensed this after seven rounds, because he stuck his tongue out as the eighth round began, and soon backed up that taunt. With Alvarado’s right eye closing from swelling, Provodnikov sought to close the show, sending out a combination of punches that hurt Alvarado and then put him down on a knee as a momentary respite from the barrage.
Alvarado smiled as Weeks counted, tapped his glove to his chest, and then beat the count — just barely, rising at nine and a half. Provodnikov soon came back in with another flurry, and Alvarado returned to his knee. Provodnikov began to celebrate. Alvarado appeared to recognize the situation, saying “fuck,” following up with “shit,” then getting up at the count of eight.
If it seemed as if the fight was about to end, as if Alvarado was accepting his fate, then the next moments of the eighth round came as a pleasant surprise.
Provodnikov threw a left hook, and Alvarado sent out a right uppercut followed by a left. Provodnikov responded with a right to the body and a pair of left hooks, and then Alvarado landed a hard right hand, followed by another, then a left hand, then a right uppercut and a right cross.
It was essentially Alvarado’s last stand.
Provodnikov kept coming in the ninth, eating a five-punch combination from Alvarado that brought spittle dangling from his mouth. He boldly threw a wild left hook that missed, and he smiled. He returned to what had worked for him, attacking the body and head, taking away Alvarado’s power, taking away Alvarado’s energy, taking away Alvarado’s resistance.
Yet Alvarado had won with amazing comebacks before, knocking out Breidis Prescott in the 10th and final round in their November 2011 fight. And so Alvarado’s corner told him after the ninth round that he needed a knockout.
It wasn’t to come. His punches weren’t deterring Provodnikov, who hammered away as Alvarado was on the ropes in the 10th. Weeks stood in close, watching as Alvarado soaked up more punishment. Alvarado survived the round, but began to walk toward the wrong corner.
He made it to the correct one, sat down on his stool and remained there.
“I made him not want to fight me anymore,” Provodnikov said afterward.
The judges all had Provodnikov comfortably ahead at the time: Robert Hoyle’s scorecard read 98-90, Levi Martinez saw it 96-92, and Denny Nelson had it 97-90.
Provodnikov had come to Alvarado’s hometown, had put himself clearly in the lead on the scorecards, and then had made sure the scorecards wouldn’t matter anyway.
“This is the best dream I’ve ever had,” Provodnikov said afterward. “I’m a world champion like all the greats, like Leonard and Duran.”
Provodnikov had nearly won a world title back in March, when he fought welterweight beltholder Timothy Bradley, hurt Bradley early, and hurt him again and again over 12 rounds. Bradley, however, battled and boxed his way back and escaped with a very close decision win.
Provodnikov had won by losing to Bradley, but this Alvarado fight was far better. This time, he won by winning. Provodnikov didn’t just beat another great warrior in Alvarado — he beat him into submission.
Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon . Send questions/comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org Tags: Ruslan Provodnikov , Mike Alvarado , Alvarado-Provodnikov , Alvarado vs Provodnikov