Mike Alvarado Looking at Ruslan Provodnikov Bout as Springboard to Elite Status

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured Columnist IIIDecember 5, 2016

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 30:  (R-L) Mike Alvarado lands a right to the head of Brandon Rios in their WBO interim junior welterweight championship bout at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on March 30, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Getty Images)
Josh Hedges/Getty Images

For the first time in 13 years, the Denver area will host a world championship-level boxing event this Saturday night, when hometown kid Mike Alvarado (34-1, 23 KOs) defends his WBO interim junior welterweight title belt against rugged slugger Ruslan Provodnikov (22-2, 15 KOs). 

Alvarado hopes it won’t be so long before the next one.

“It’s a dream come true to be fighting at the highest level of boxing at this stage in my career,” Alvarado told Bleacher Report. “A world title fight in front of my hometown? It’s awesome. It’s priceless…I’m excited about this. It’s huge.”

While Danny Garcia is the linear champion of the division, both the alphabet belt-wearing Alvarado and his opponent are world-class fighters. Each man ranks among the top 10 of the division, according to the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

Alvarado knows how big this moment is.
Alvarado knows how big this moment is.Josh Hedges/Getty Images

A sellout crowd is expected at the 1stBANK Center, and the bout will be broadcast live on HBO beginning at 9:45 pm ET. It will be preceded by the replay of last week's Timothy Bradley vs. Juan Manuel Marquez bout and followed by the premiere of Legendary Nights: The Tale of Gatti-Ward.

Alvarado knows exactly how big this moment is in his career.

“It’s very important. It means a lot in my career. Am I good? Or am I going to be great? Winning this fight is part of my destiny for greatness. I belong at the highest level of the sport. I’m pumped up. I’m focused. I’m ready to put on a good show in front of my hometown.”

He is the type of fighter who entertains almost every time out, sometimes to his own detriment. His aggressive style and natural instincts lend themselves to brawling.

Both fights against Brandon Rios were barnburners. In their first encounter last year, Rios overwhelmed Alvarado with sheer aggression and hard punches to the point that referee Pat Russell was forced to halt the action in Round 7.

Alvarado found out that night what some men of his ilk refuse to learn: You can’t always outslug a slugger.

A jab!
A jab!Josh Hedges/Getty Images

In the rematch, he changed his strategy. While he brawled with Rios at times like before, he also fed the hard-charger a steady diet of jabs and lateral movement.

The result was a decision win.

“It was a huge experience for me to learn how to box different styles and not to box the same way all the time like all these other guys do, like Rios, like Provodnikov. I can adjust. I know how to box. I proved it. I said I wouldn’t get in that type of war again with Rios, and I don’t plan on getting in that type of war with Provodnikov. I’m going to pick him apart. I’m going to make it hard for him. He’s not going to know what to do with all that movement.”

Applying the more technical elements of the sweet science was a difficult lesson for him to learn. The 33-year-old likes to mix it up. It’s been hard for him to hold himself back and box more.

“It has been. It really has been. But I know that keeping myself disciplined and focused will make this fight a lot easier. I’m ready. I’m ready to prove I can do that again.”

He said he didn’t feel any added pressure having his fight against Provodnikov lead into the Legendary Nights installment featuring one of boxing’s most epic slugfests, Arturo Gatti vs. Mickey Ward.

“I know how to stay focused. I know what’s good for me and what I need to do. I don’t have to sit there and slug with him.”

Still, he couldn’t hide his admiration for the men. It almost felt like he was trying to convince himself he wouldn't brawl on fight night like Gatti and Ward.

“Those are big shoes to fill. Those are career ending-type fights right there. They killed each other. If I have the ability to move and adjust to not get into those types of brawls, then that’s what I’m going to do. That’s the plan, and I’m sticking to it. I have to. I have to.”

Ward and Gatti slugged with the best of them.
Ward and Gatti slugged with the best of them.Al Bello/Getty Images

Alvarado said Provodnikov would try and lure him into a slugfest the way the Russian sucked Timothy Bradley into a Fight of the Year candidate in March. Bradley was dazed early in the bout and never really recovered, but he fought through the cobwebs enough to gut out the close decision win.

“He thinks because he lured Timothy Bradley into a fight like that, that he can do that to me. But what you‘ve got to understand is that Bradley fought the wrong fight. He ran in there and basically thought he could fight this dude at his own game. You don’t want to give a guy like that an extra chance by giving him the opportunity to fight his way. He hurt Bradley right off the bat, but after Bradley started moving, it was a lot easier.”

So rightfully, Alvarado plans to use movement against Provodnikov.

“I’m going to have to stay strong on my game plan, move and adjust. He’s going to be right there. He’s going to try hard to get me to exchange with him. I’m going to have to be strong mentally and fight my fight.”

Will fighting in front of his friends and family tempt him a bit? When the chips are down, will he try to create his own legendary night against Provodnikov?

“I don’t have to be lured into that kind of fight to put on a good show,” he said.

That’s probably true. But Alvarado is the kind of guy who might just do it anyway.

Kelsey McCarson is a boxing writer for Bleacher Report and TheSweetScience.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.