Forgive Ruslan Provodnikov for his clichés. Because he speaks through an interpreter, his words may lose a richer meaning in translation. Or he may deal in clichés because they are easy to pick up, especially in a sport where fists are the primary tools of discourse. Besides, in the right context, those commonplace phrases are perfectly accurate. “I knew what I had to do was break him,” Provodnikov told Max Kellerman in the afterglow of his victory over Mike Alvarado last night. A little trite, perhaps, but over ten grueling rounds at the 1stBank Center in Denver, Ruslan Provodnikov indeed broke Mike Alvarado, who did not answer the bell for the eleventh.
Before beating Alvarado, Provodnikov’s best performance was a loss to Timothy Bradley in April. While he looked every bit as relentless and destructive that night, he was aided by Bradley’s willingness to trade with a bigger puncher. It was difficult to say just how Provodnikov, a career ESPN level fighter, would fare against a top flight opponent unwilling to concede any advantage. Alvarado, Denver, Colorado, had already defused a similar threat in his rematch with Brandon Rios, showing the discipline and boxing skills to handle a relentless pressure fighter. He tried the same approach against Provodnikov, boxing on his toes, firing off quick combinations before slipping out of range—but Provodnikov would have none of it. Provodnikov was going to make Alvarado fight, and he wasted no time in forcing that cold reality.
Which is not to say that Alvarado obliged him. In the early rounds, Alvarado skirted the ropes, using his superior hand and foot speed to score while eluding Provodnikov’s lumbering assault. Provodnikov, Beryozova, Russia, cooperated to some extent, stalking Alvarado without jabbing, and eating an assortment of Alvarado’s punches—including a flashy lead uppercut—as payment for closing the distance. Undeterred, he marched forward, measuring, calculating, and most importantly, learning.
Alvarado, 140, fought a winning strategy for as long as he could, carrying the contest with movement and greater activity. But by the middle rounds Provodnikov had found a way to hit him. Still conceding whatever punishment it took to set his head on Alvarado’s, Provodnikov committed to whipping right hands into Alvarado’s body. Rather than allow himself to be stymied in close, he began taking little half steps to his right when he got inside. This shift in position allowed Provodnikov, 140, to land his hook between Alvarado’s guard; hooks that Alvarado absorbed on his gloves in the early rounds were now swelling his right eye. From this angle Provodnikov also found a clear path to Alvarado’s jaw, sneaking with his right fist in behind Alvarado’s left hand. Alvarado had taken Provodnikov’s power well in the early rounds, but little flashes of betrayal began to show in his legs when Provodnikov put these new tools to work.
With this damage came retaliation. Unfortunately for Alvarado, it was desperate retaliation. He was fighting not because—as was the case in the first Rios fight—he thought he could win a donnybrook, but because Provodnikov refused to let him do anything else. Bradley may have given Provodnikov the slugfest he wanted, but Provodnikov needed no such generosity from Alvarado. For all his early success, Alvarado was soon trapped in a fight.
The eighth round saw Alvarado floored twice, the result of perfectly placed body shots and some vigorous follow up. He exhausted both counts to recover, and was able to survive the round when it appeared Provodnikov was gassed from his own fury. While Alvarado showed decent movement in the ninth, it was movement motivated by survival, and the sharp punches that gave his strides purpose early were largely absent. Provodnikov’s sickening body shots however, continued to find the mark. Alvarado was beaten about the canvas in the tenth, hammered to the body and head, while Provodnikov walked through any dissuading leather lobbed his way. In between rounds referee Tony Weeks asked Alvarado if he wanted to continue. The battered fighter declined; the fight was over, the breaking complete.
There is a refreshing message in Provodnikov’s victory. Hired as a rehab assignment for Bradley, Provodnikov, even in losing, brought the ruckus. That performance did more for his Q score than any knockout on Friday Night Fights. Provodnikov, 23-2 (16), was rewarded with a return to HBO because of the drama of the Bradley fight, not its outcome; because, to borrow from Coetzee, he embraces the, “Come home either with your shield or on your shield,” approach to violence. Perhaps that is cliché too? If so, it is not one Provodnikov need ever apologize for. He could rematch Bradley, or try his hand at the winner of November’s Pacquiao-Rios fight. Even the loser of that fight would guarantee carnage when squared off against the inexorable Provodnikov. Whomever he fights next, Provodnikov can expect bigger crowds and better purses. And he has earned both.
Alvarado, 34-2 (23), will inevitably suffer some backlash for being human, mostly from beings who dubiously share that classification. He of course, has nothing to apologize for, having provided, in rumbles with Breidis Prescott, Rios, and now Provodnikov, some of the most exciting, dramatic fights of recent years. That honor has its price however, as does a violent life outside of the ring, and it is possible that Alvarado, in succumbing to Provodnikov, was also acquiescing to a life of both brave and bad decisions. Decisions that have not only found him at the mercy of referees, but in prison, and, as the ragged scars on his face show, an extracurricular dust-up or two. He will undoubtedly be back, because he deserves to be, and because fighters never leave in time, but his best days could very well be behind him. Considering the path he took to the ring, so could his worst.