by Cliff Rold
Everyone knew it had the potential. The match, the men, were too perfectly suited to think the world would get Wladimir Clinchko-Alexander Povetkin II.
The fight met expectations and then some, giving us moments of incredible violence, guts, and ultimately surrender. In a year chock full of excellent fights, this was one of the best. That the winner may have been in the two very bets scraps of the year is reason to borrow the clichéd title of an old Hollywood classic.
A star is born in Ruslan Provodnikov. A warrior remains in Mike Alvarado.
Let’s go the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Alvarado B; Provodnikov C/Post: B; B
Pre-Fight: Power – Alvarado B+; Provodnikov B+/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Defense – Alvarado B-; Provodnikov C/Post: C+; B-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Alvarado A; Provodnikov A/Post: Same
One thing that stood out early on was that the speed of Provodnikov was dramatically underestimated in the pre-fight report card. While he’s no speed demon, he often beat Timothy Bradley to the punch in their fight and was able to catch Alvarado with snap and explosiveness on Saturday. The suddenness of his short left hook was a huge factor all night. Alvarado, even when he had his right in position to defend it, was getting caught as the punch snuck past the guard.
None of it matters without the sheer relentlessness the Russian provided. The fight was as close as could be through seven rounds. It could have been 4-3 either way. Alvarado boxing to an early lead was expected in this corner but he didn’t hold the lead as long as predicted. After rebounding from a rocky first to win rounds two and three, Provodnikov was right back in the fray in the fourth.
After round eight, there was no looking back. Alvarado was fortunate to escape the frame, two knockdowns leaving him in bad shape. The final minute of the round, where Alvarado rallied as Provodnikov slowed down, was one of the most inspiring moments of the year.
It was followed by a moment sure to stick in the mind of anyone who noticed it. With Provodnikov stalking, Alvarado uncorked a right hand that levels most guys. It sent a wad of spit flying from Provodnikov’s mouth that looked like the sort of slobber an angry pit bull generates.
Provodnikov kept coming.
It reminded the author of a personal moment. Once many years ago, in city traffic, the author saw a stray Bull Mastiff make an errant step and get slammed by an old Ford truck on the side of its jaw. The large dog was spun around, lifted off the ground. It rose from the gravel, shook its head hard, and calmly walked out of the road, seemingly okay. The dog darted down an alley when it finished crossing the street, gone to wherever it was headed.
Provodnikov shook off that right in round nine, darted right back into the trenches, and kept going towards his desired destination in the same way. He reached that destination, the winner’s circle, in the closing moments of round ten. A final assault broke the will of Alvarado.
Alvarado will have some foolish critics calling him quitter today. After the effort he gave for ten rounds, that’s unfair. He didn’t quit. He made a choice. Alvarado, hurt and knowing he couldn’t win, chose life. We forget sometimes that this isn’t a sport like most others. It’s a thing of savage beauty to see a man fight beyond pain, beyond reason, to pursue victory.
Alvarado had already done that in his eighth round rally. On a weekend that carried the sad news of Jr. Flyweight Frankie Leal lapsing into a coma after being knocked out by Raul Garcia, it’s impossible to criticize Alvarado. Saturday was a battle between two hard men.
Provodnikov just proved too much.
The future remains bright for both. As part of the Top Rank and/or HBO bracket at 140 and 147 lbs., both will continue to mix well with the likes of Juan Manuel Marquez, Bradley, and the winner (and loser) of November’s Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios clash. Since the spring of 2012, that bunch has generated the 2012 Fight of the Year (Marquez-Pacquiao IV), a runner-up (Rios-Alvarado II), three similar candidates in 2013 (Provodnikov-Bradley, Alvarado-Rios II, and now Provodnikov-Alvarado), and two high class technical contests (Bradley’s wins over Pacquiao and Marquez).
There will inevitably come a point where these six men run out of each other, when the ‘Cold War’ between promotional and network factions makes it lamentable that we aren’t seeing the brackets collide to allow for things like Provodnikov-Danny Garcia or Alvarado-Lucas Matthysse.
We’ll ignore the obvious Superfight that hasn’t happened for the last three-plus years, but that’s there too.
That saturation point isn’t here yet. Both sides of the bracket are delivering. As long as the fights stay this good, there’s just not enough to complain about to drown out the cheers.
For this week, the newly minted 140 lb. beltholder Provodnikov can soak in all the adulation he’s earned. For years, he’s been a can’t-miss warrior. Hardcore boxing fans already knew it. The platform is expanding and we may not yet have seen his best night.
Report Card Picks 2013: 41-24
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]