By Tyson Bruce
For the first time since 2000, when Stevie Johnston failed to regain his lightweight crown against Jose Luis Castillo, championship boxing returned to the mile-high city of Denver. Safe to say, that it might be a while before it returns, as hometown hero Mike Alvarado was gradually beat-down by the relentless pressure and brute force of Ruslan Provodnikov.
Photo: Chris Farina/Top Rank
As soon as this fight was announced it had the boxing world melting with anticipation, as it pitted two of the most honest and brutal action fighters in the entire sport. It had that rare anticipation that was not predicated on glamour or athleticism, but rather on the possibility of witnessing a rarified form of violence and brutality.
Going into the fight, Alvarado was the betting favorite because of his proven track record against top-flight opposition and his ability to persevere through extreme punishment and adversity to win fights. Provodnikov, despite his brilliant effort against Timothy Bradley, was still regarded as something of an unknown. It was impossible to say whether his performance against Bradley was an aberration caused by circumstance or a true indication of his ability as a fighter. Regardless of who you thought should have been favored, it was obvious that this was a high-stakes fight for both guys, with the winner likely to gain a coveted mega fight with a Bradley or a Pacquaio.
The tone of the fight was set very early, as Alvarado was stunned in the very first round by a right hook to the top of the head. When he went back to the corner you could almost sense that Alvarado, like Bradley before him, was genuinely shocked by Provodnikov’s punching power. As a result, Alvarado boxed in a much more deliberate and cautious manner for the next several rounds. This was something that was effective, but also lost him a crucial psychological foothold in the fight. He knew that he couldn’t or wasn’t willing to go into the trenches and brawl with Provodnikov. Despite keeping a better level of distance, Provodnikov was effective at cutting off the ring and putting in crucial bodywork early, foreshadowing Alvarado’s eventual demise.
The fight was essentially fought on even terms for the first seven rounds, but was broken wide open in a primitively violent eighth round, which Provodnikov scored two brutal knockdowns that were largely the product of two vicious right hands to the body.
In the two preceding rounds Provodnikov had made a crucial adjustment when he brought his right hand to the head downstairs, and also began pivoting to the side and landing left hooks to the head—causing Alvarado to begin to fatigue and raised enormous swelling on his right eye. This was the combination that would unravel Alvarado in the eighth round, as a right hook to the liver paralyzed Alvarado, and, in a scene that was akin to watching a shark rip apart a wounded surfer, Provodnikov went for the finish with a merciless fury. After the second knockdown, Alvarado got to a knee and looked at his corner giving a slight shake of his head—as if trying to seek some kind of intervention. He found none. Astoundingly, Alvarado managed to mount something of a mini-comeback at the end of the round—making it the most memorable and awe-inspiring moment of the fight.
Alvarado made it through the ninth and tenth round, but took a horrific goring in the process; making it obvious the end was imminent. In a dramatic scene referee Tony Weeks stepped in between Alvarado’s corner men and ask the fighter directly to his face, three times in succession, whether he wanted to continue. Each time he was met with a no and in an instant the fight was over. Provodnikov had just broken one of boxing’s most unbreakable men–something that virtually no one had thought possible.
What wasn’t totally clear before, has now become completely obvious: Ruslan Provodnikov is a force of nature and a major player in boxing’s deepest waters. Much like the way Larry Holmes benefited from sparring and being in camp with the great Muhammad Ali, it appears Provodnikov has clearly taken his game to another level as a result of sparring with the pound for pound great Manny Pacquaio and the competitive atmosphere of Freddie Roach’s Wild Card gym. Sometimes it only takes experience and a competitive training environment to unlock a fighter’s true potential. And with Provodnikov’s seemingly unbreakable toughness and power, it will take one hell of fighter to be able to stand in his wheelhouse—let alone agree to fight him.
For Mike Alvarado this had to be a shocking and sobering experience. To see a guy who sustained some of the worst facial damage in recent boxing history against Breidis Prescott and still rally to win, simply getting his will utterly destroyed Saturday night was shocking and difficult to watch. Recovering from this experience and being able to come back as the same fighter will, undoubtedly, be a very daunting task. A place he might want to start is addressing the problems in his corner, as throughout the fight he received often-contradictory advice from his two brain trusts. His long time trainer Shann Vilhauer commented after the fight that his fighter had fought the wrong fight. It appeared that Alvarado wanted to box at times and slug a times, but didn’t appear to do enough of either.
To Alvarado’s credit he was extremely forthcoming about the nature of the loss and made no excuses. However, seeing the damage that he sustained and the horror on the faces of his loved ones at ringside was a very tough thing to watch. Despite his surrender in between rounds, Alvarado fought like a true warrior—and, really, who would have expected anything less.
Although it wasn’t the fight of the year that a lot people expected it to be, we were privy to the beautiful brutality that true fight fans love and covet about boxing. It was a fight that more than anything perfectly illustrates the raw ecstasy of victory and the tragic agony of defeat.