By Tyson Bruce
This weekends fight between the legendary Juan Manuel Marquez and the all-action Mike Alvarado is everything that is good and bad about boxing wrapped into one. In many respects it’s a fight that shouldn’t be happening because Ruslan Provodnikov, who obliterated Alvarado in his last bout, should be the one getting the golden opportunity. The matchup has managed to escape persecution from the press because it remains an intriguing crossroads that is likely to yield fight of the year type results.
Photo: Chris Farina/Top Rank
The first thing to understand is that boxing is not a fair business. The sport operates under a veil of secrecy where back door dealings, favours and hidden agendas often rule the day. Reason, merit and understanding very rarely has anything to do with how business is conducted and which fights get made. This weekends fight between Juan Manuel Marquez and Mike Alvarado is the perfect example of this.
In an organized sport like the NBA if the Heat beat the Nets and the Pacers beat the Wizards, then the two winners will meet in the next playoff round. Victory is rewarded with progress and the opportunity for more earned glory. Boxing, sadly, doesn’t work this way. It must have been agonizing for Alvarado to watch Brandon Rios, the man he clearly bested, get the opportunity of a life time against Manny Pacquiao. Ruslan Provodnikov must feel the exact same way now. The fight against Marquez is Top Rank’s way of repaying Alvarado for not getting the Pacquiao fight.
If you think this strategy sounds like a slippery slope, your not alone. By all accounts Provodnikov and his team pursued the Marquez fight as much as humanly possible, only to be rebuked. Marquez and company obviously felt that fighting a terror with a still developing profile like the “Siberian Rocky” was not worth the risk. So, despite the fact that Provodnikov took less money to fight Alvarado in his hometown and still managed to put on the best performance of his career by scoring a resounding stoppage win, his reward will be fighting a guy named Chris Algerie. Like I said, boxing is not a fair business.
All of the injustice and intellect offending logic aside, this is still a damn good matchup. Both guys are coming of losses and are entering the twilight of the their careers, which means that’s this is a must win fight for both guys. For Marquez a victory all but guarantees him one more big moment in the sun. At 40 years of age, a loss to a guy like Alvarado would represent the end of the line in what has been a long and arduous career.
Mike Alvarado is no spring chicken either, he’s 33 years old and he’s been through five consecutive fights that were more punishing than some fighter’s entire pro careers. The time for Alvarado to make a serious mark in the annals of boxing history is running out. Marquez is his equivalent to a magic bullet: a chance to erase the stain of loss and a history of missed opportunity with one fell swoop.
The intrigue of the matchup is that although Marquez is the superior fighter in almost every conceivable way, it’s Alvarado that has stylistic advantage in this fight. Alvarado is the biggest 140 pounder I have ever seen—he literally has the frame of a middleweight. The fact that he won’t have to suck down to 140 pounds should be a tremendous advantage for him. Despite Marquez’s mysterious muscular development in the last couple years he is not a real welterweight. In fact, many considered him undersized as a lightweight. That said, his skill set is vastly superior to Alvarado—who is a fairly basic fighter with a humongous right hand and an indomitable will.
One of the most interesting questions is how motivated Marquez is for this bout. After mega fights against the likes of Mayweather, Pacquaio, and Bradley will Marquez be able to get up for a lesser name like Alvarado? Marquez has a history of fighting down to the level of his opposition, it’s the reason why he lost to Chris John a millions moons ago, and the reason why he showed such vulnerability against guys like Katsidis and Diaz. In many ways Alvarado is like a bigger and more powerful version of a guy like Michael Katsidis. Alvarado is a savage fighter who is being backed into a corner in this fight—a dangerous combination to face half-heartedly.
The strategy for Alvarado in this fight should be clear, he needs to back Marquez up with a heavy and unrelenting volume of punches that says: your forty years old and you shouldn’t be doing this anymore. Although he is far from the most sophisticated guy Marquez has fought, he’s by far the biggest and probably the most powerful. If Alvarado brings the same level of mental focus and fitness that he did in the Rios fights then he represents a tall order for the ageing Marquez. The question is after such a physical and mentally scarring loss to Provodnikov, whether Alvarado still has that kind of superhuman effort in him. He will certainly need one if he has any kind of chance of pulling off the upset.
Despite being a matchup on paper that no one wanted or asked for, it remains a vastly intriguing fight. Maybe that’s because it involves Marquez—one of the truly great fighters of our time—and that the opportunity to watch him ply his craft grows more finite by the day. Like Pacquiao, every time he enters the ring there is an air of danger that comes with fighting on borrowed time. It is up to Alvarado to make sure that this is the last time that Marquez punches the clock for work.