By Tyson Bruce
Since HBO’s banishment of Floyd Mayweather and the rest of Golden Boy’s deep and diverse stable of fighters, the network has attempted to refocus its programming with creative matchmaking and a noted emphasis on creating action fights.
Despite clearly suffering financially by not having access to big names such as Mayweather, Garcia, and Canelo Alvarez, the strategy does appear to be working—at least from an entertainment perspective. With terrific slugfests like the Bradley-Provodnikov and Rios-Alvarado fights, and showcase fights for a trio of tremendous punchers in Adonis Stevenson, Sergei Kovalev, and Gennady Golovkin, the network’s long-term health appears stable.
This weekend features a matchup between Denver’s “Mile-High” Mike Alvarado and the “Siberian Rocky” Ruslan Provodnikov, which on paper appears to be the most surefire bloodletting since Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward—which, indecently, is the subject of a new Legendary nights series following the live telecast.
Sometimes it doesn’t take all that much for a fighter to go from being a total unknown to a universally respected stud. This appears to be the case for Ruslan Provodikov, who, previous to his rousing tilt with welterweight champion Timothy Bradley earlier this year, was regarded as a one-dimensional ESPN level fringe contender. He certainly proved that he is a whole lot more than that by pushing Bradley to the limit and showcasing his surreal fortitude, iron chin, and excellent punching power. However, was it really the case of Provodikov being that good, or merely a perfect storm in which Bradley, determined to prove his entertainment value and gain respect of the boxing community that loathed him, ended up fighting Provodnikov’s fight?
While Alvarado certainly doesn’t have Bradley’s skill or speed, he unquestionably has a superior chin and much better punching power—two things that will be a huge asset to him if the fight degenerates into the slugfest most predict it will.
Mike Alvarado’s name has become a byword for slugfests. Over the last two years, beginning with his come from behind KO over Breidis Prescott, Alvarado has proved to be among boxing’s most exciting and reliable action heroes. The guy has been in four straight fights against Prescott, Herrera, and Brandon Rios (twice) that were all fight of the year quality contests. He has overcome a torn open mouth, gargantuan eye gashes, and revenged a knockout loss against Brandon Rios on his way to establishing himself as one of the top three Jr. Welterweights in the world.
While all of these wins were outstanding to watch and impressive in their own right, it was the rematch with Rios where, after being hurt early in the fight, he was able to adapt and make just enough strategic adjustments to gut out a win against boxing’s hardest charging bull. It was impressive, because most experts felt he was incapable of sticking to such a strict and calculated strategy. Undoubtedly, he would be advised to employ a similarly multidimensional attack against Provodnikov, who fights in a very similar manner to Rios.
What excites me about a matchup like this one, and other upcoming matchups like Rios vs. Pacquiao, is that it appears that HBO is finally moving away from the “undefeated or else” branding strategy: one where only fighters with pristine records get showcased. These guys are proving that one loss or even a couple of losses shouldn’t derail your career, and that your worth is determined by the effort and entertainment value you put forth.
After all, boxing in not just a sport but also a business, and one of the biggest criticisms leveled at boxing by mainstream sports fans are the often-terrible matchups that we see televised on premium cable networks. Think about all those fights in the 1990’s, when HBO was wasting their money on mismatches like Roy Jones vs. Richard Frazier or, more recently, duds like the Crawford vs. Klimov bout, where the fighters who had a combined 38-0 record going into the fight.
This is clearly not boxing at its best, and while there is certainly room for master boxers like Rigondeaux and Mayweather, it’s action fights that will sustain and enhance boxing’s long-term viewership.
In the face-off promo for the Alvarado-Provodnikov fight, Provodnikov stated that he thinks titles and money are meaningless and that he was fighting for history—the idea that being remembered for years to come was somehow greater than any material reward.
While it easy to be cynical about such claims, it seemed very genuine coming from Provodnikov and encapsulated who he is as man and what this match-up represents. This fight will not generate hundreds of millions of dollars like the Mayweather-Canelo fight, but watching Alvarado try and fend off the hard charging Provodnikov in front of his rabid hometown fans in Denver has the chance to be equally, if not more, memorable.
If you’re a true boxing fan, then this fight is for you.