While the acrimony between boxing’s two biggest promotional companies, Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions, is not without its casualties, it has resulted in some compelling fights. Consider Top Rank’s junior welterweight and welterweight stable, where Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez, Timothy Bradley, Mike Alvarado, Brandon Rios and Ruslan Provodnikov (promoted by Artie Pellulo, and therefore not the enemy) are in the second phase of what looks like an unofficial round robin. Tomorrow night, Alvarado and Provodnikov will try and add their names to the winner’s bracket when they meet in a junior welterweight fight from the 1stBank Center in Denver, Colorado.
Alvarado-Provodnikov is a fight constructed according to the matchmaker’s alchemy: take two men hard as metal, and have them transmute their bodies into cruel gold. It is not only what is promised by the physical chemistry of these respective roughnecks, but the air of mystery surrounding the outcome that feeds the intrigue surrounding this fight.
For twelve brutal rounds in April, Ruslan Provodnikov, 25-2 (12), beat some sense into Tim Bradley. In exorcising his demons, Bradley took the fight to Provodnikov, and nearly lost his head along with the malignant spirits tormenting him. That Bradley was able to fight through a concussion to decision Provodnikov raises questions about the Siberian slugger. While his reputation for ferocity has never been greater, how much of that reputation is owed to Bradley’s uncharacteristic recklessness? Against Juan Manuel Marquez last Saturday, Bradley fought a controlled, intelligent, fight and was never in the danger Provodnikov had him in. And if Provodnikov, Beryozova, Russia, is such a bruiser, how did he not put Bradley away? Part of the answer lies in Bradley, yes, part in the discretion of referee Pat Russell. Nevertheless, Provodnikov not only failed to stop a fighter who spent the opening rounds stumbling around the ring on legs like al dente fettuccine, he lost to him. Provodnikov can hurt Alvarado if given the chance, that much is obvious. The question is: can he put him away?
The Provodnikov constituency will certainly say, “Da.” Alvarado is only a fight removed from being stopped by Brandon Rios in an exercise in torture won by Rios’ chin and superior firepower. Even in winning the rematch this past March, Alvarado, whose face seems perpetually pulped, took his lumps. It is possible that Alvarado, Denver, Colorado, may never be better than he was against Rios in the second fight; that all those rounds when either his own or Rios’ bloodlust got the best of him have exacted a permanent toll. If Provodnikov is looking for signs he can lay Alvarado out, he can find them in the two rumbles with Rios. But there is more to glean from the dramatic rounds with Rios than Alvarado’s vulnerability.
Alvarado, 33, won the rematch against Rios by unveiling a boxing acumen and discipline he had never before called on. Saturday will be the third straight fight where the rugged former wrestler will have to box his way to victory. Rest assured, there will be moments of savagery; Alvarado will have to fight for Provodnikov’s respect, and the breathing room it promises. But if Alvarado’s boxing kept Rios from muddling him, he should be able to stall the Human Trans-Siberian Express. And while the partisan crowd in Denver will surely erupt whenever the violence goes to eleven, Alvarado can resist the invitation to attrition from both the beast before him and the one beating in his chest.
The issue of geography figures in another way. If Alvarado, 34-1 (23), boxes his way to a lead, will Provodnikov be able to finish strong in the thin air of the Mile High city? Against a lesser opponent Provodnikov, 29, could bank an onslaught or three for a late rounds charge. To beat Alvarado, however, Provodnikov will have to bring the fight from the opening bell, reservations about the effects of elevation be damned.
More than the altitude stands to encumber Provodnikov’s attack. The return to junior welterweight could have its consequences as well. Prior to the Bradley fight, both Provodnikov and trainer Freddie Roach claimed welterweight was the fighter’s ideal division. It stands to reason then, that some of Provodnikov’s fury will be stripped away with the seven crucial pounds he shed.
Of the two fighters, Provodnikov has more questions hanging over him. His relentlessness, durability and right hand can answer all of them. Alvarado has two styles he can employ, has proven his mettle against superior competition, and is fighting before his hometown, but it takes neither luck nor a compass to find Alvarado. However long the fight lasts, Alvarado will know he is a hair’s remove from disaster, mixing it up in the ever-present danger of the matchmaker’s alchemy.