Provodnikov Breaks Alvarado and the Hearts of a Hometown Crowd

by Kieran Mulvaney

Ref Tony Weeks, Ruslan Provodnikov - Photo Credit: Will Hart

Before Saturday night, Mike Alvarado and Ruslan Provodnikov had staked rival claims to the Fight of the Year. But now they have joint ownership in a new contender for that honor, following a battle that was every bit as absorbing, skillful and downright brutal as had been predicted, and which ended when Alvarado, no longer able to resist the Russian's relentless aggression, yielded in his corner at the end of the tenth round. With the victory, Provodnikov has a junior welterweight belt and a world of possibilities.

When we last saw Provodnikov (23-2 with 16 KOs), in mid-March, he nearly knocked out Timothy Bradley on more than one occasion before falling short in a points decision. Two weeks later, Alvarado (34-2, 23 KOs) boxed and fought his way to a revenge victory over Brandon Rios, who had issued him his first professional defeat the previous October. Both fights had been compelling, but given these two fighters' styles and commitment to combat, there was genuine optimism that this meeting could match them both. And with the very first action of the very first round, it began to live up to that billing.

Read the Complete Mike Alvarado vs. Ruslan Provodnikov Fight Recap on HBO.com.

Fans Weigh In: It's Gonna Be a Brawl

Boxing fans from across the country offer their insight and analysis as we head into Saturday's slugfest.

 

 

Mickey Ward Recounts Iconic Trilogy

by Hamilton Nolan

Gatti Trainer Buddy McGirt, Mickey Ward, and Michael Strahan - Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland

Micky Ward is an exceptionally soft-spoken man for someone whose fame was earned through punching and bleeding. After a screening this week of 'Legendary Nights: The Tale of Gatti-Ward,' a documentary devoted to his most brutal battles (airing Saturday night on HBO following World Championship Boxing: Alvarado vs. Provodnikov), Ward stepped to a podium in HBO’s headquarters and remembered his opponent in those three historic fights, Arturo Gatti, as a friend. “We had so many memories,” Ward said. “Good, and, obviously, bad at the end.” Gatti himself was not soft-spoken at all. But he was not there to say his piece.

Over a period of just 13 months in 2002 and 2003, Ward and Gatti engaged in three boxing matches that came, rather unexpectedly, to define both of their careers. Had they never met, Ward would have retired as a respected journeyman, just another tough, straightforward Irish fighter out of Massachusetts; Gatti would have had his own flashy and varied career like many other highly-touted Jersey showoffs. Together, however, they each found someone similar enough to themselves to create a situation like two stubborn mountain goats trying to pass each other on a rocky path only big enough for one of them. They butted heads for thirty rounds.

Ward won the classic first fight, in which Gatti got up from a devastating ninth round body shot to finish. Gatti took the second fight, in which Ward shattered his eardrum and lost his equilibrium yet pushed on to the end. And Gatti won the tiebreaking third fight, even though he broke his right hand early on. Each man suffered immensely. Each man instantly came to be defined by these fights, to the near-exclusion of the rest of their careers. “It was the greatest, most dramatic trilogy in the history of boxing,” said Lou DiBella, Ward’s promoter. “They became blood brothers.”

It is the friendship of the two men that shines through most in the film. They came to be like Army buddies, brought together forever by war. In their case, the war was with one another. Yet they grew so close by pushing each other to the edge that after Ward retired, he briefly became Gatti’s trainer. “When I beat him at the racetrack, he wouldn’t talk to me,” Ward recalled with a smile. “He wanted to go home.”

For all of Gatti’s flash inside and outside of the ring--and for all of his wild nights and partying, which were legendary--he comes off as a man equally decent as the humble Ward. Their story, of course, is shadowed by Gatti’s death in 2009 in Brazil (ruled a suicide, though significant skepticism still exists among Gatti’s friends and family, who plausibly believe he was murdered). Their parable seems deceptively simple on its surface: the humble man lived, the wild man died. But that’s not it at all. Gatti and Ward were far more alike than they were different. “He had a wild side, but who doesn’t?” Ward said of Gatti. “Whoever says they don’t, they’re lying.”

More than anything else, both men represent the iron will of a harsh sport--the will not to win, but to fight to the end, no matter the cost. Their fights, and their suffering, stand as a testament to what is possible.

Provodnikov Thankful for Boxing and for Tyson

by Kieran Mulvaney

When Timothy Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov squared off on HBO last March, much of the attention was on the American, fighting for the first time since being awarded a controversial decision against Manny Pacquiao the previous June.

By the time the final bell rang, it had shifted at least as much to the relatively little-known Siberian, who had taken Bradley to the precipice, rocking him early and very nearly stopping him in the final round. Seven months later, the donnybrook remains a leading contender for Fight of the Year; now, one week after Bradley stepped between the ropes for the first time since that bruising encounter—scoring a split decision win in Las Vegas over Juan Manuel Marquez—Provodnikov makes his own return. On Saturday, he enters what is sure to be hostile territory when he faces hometown favorite Mike Alvarado in junior welterweight action in Broomfield, Colorado.

Provodnikov is disarmingly honest in his assessment of the Bradley fight.

"I was a little bit surprised," he told InsideHBOBoxing about his immediate reaction to the judges' verdict. "I wasn't sure that I had won, but I was a little surprised that I didn't get the decision. But after I calmed down and watched the fight, I realized that maybe the decision was fair. I have a lot more respect for him after that fight. He is a true champion, and going through that was a show of a lot of championship heart. I thought that he was pretty much ready for a loss at the end of the fight. I think he was a little surprised he got the decision. But I think he deserved it."

He says he has learned from the experience, that when he had Bradley in trouble he lost his composure and allowed his opponent to fight his way back into the contest, and that he won't make the same mistake again.

"It's going to help me a lot with all my fights in the future," he said. "You can be sure that if I am able to catch Mike Alvarado, I will be able to control my emotions, stay more calm and finish the fight in the right fashion."

Later that day, when he is being put through his paces for a promo shoot for HBO's Epic Fall Boxing Schedule, he happily hams it up, screaming as he works out on a heavybag or stands beneath cascading water. In private, he speaks, through an interpreter, in a much more measured way, displaying the worldly mien of a man who has seen much in his short life.

His upbringing in a small Siberian town was, he concedes, a difficult one. Boxing provided him with an avenue of escape.

"Boxing saved my life, I think," he reflected. "It got me where I am today. My very first trainer, Evgeny Yakuev, is somebody who built me and built my character. I have to admit, as a kid, we were not doing smart things. To survive, we had to steal. We would drink, we would smoke. Boxing took me away from that, and today I am where I am because of boxing."

Now, as a newly-minted HBO regular, he is near the pinnacle of that life-saving profession; during the promo shoot in Los Angeles he mingled with peers such as Adonis Stevenson, Gennady Golovkin, Juan Manuel Marquez, and even his opponent Alvarado. But there is one boxer, he reveals, whom he has yet to meet, and who unwittingly played an outsized role in his life choices. When he was a young boy in Siberia, he explains, he would watch Mike Tyson fight and read about him; inspired as much by Tyson's life story – escaping the poverty of Brownsville to become the most famous boxer of his time – Provodnikov allowed himself to think of a similar future for himself.

"In a way, watching him and reading about him really changed my life," he acknowledged. "I've met a lot of stars in boxing, and I've shaken a lot of boxers' hands, but I still have a dream of shaking Mike Tyson's hand and telling him, 'Thank you,' because he helped me get where I am."

Read the Complete Quick Hits: Ruslan Provodnikov at HBO.com.

Alvarado Happy to Be Home and on the Big Stage

by Kieran Mulvaney

Mike Alvarado didn't grow up planning to be a boxer – or even, he says, thinking about the sport much at all. Through high school, his sport of choice was wrestling; but when, after his senior year, the realization dawned that the only way to continue that vocation was in college, he walked away. Further education, he concedes, was not exactly at the top of his agenda. It took two years of drifting before he had an epiphany, and walked into a boxing gym to see what he could do.

Alvarado's nine-year ascent through the ranks of professional boxing reached its peak earlier this year, when he outpointed Brandon Rios to avenge a stoppage loss the previous October. In that first fight, he admitted, he fell too much into fighting the kind of fight that worked to Rios' advantage: a straight-ahead, fists-flying, defense-lacking barnstormer of a brawl in which both men had their moments before a Rios rally resulted in referee Pat Russell halting the contest in the seventh.

The rematch, in Las Vegas this past March, started out in much the same vein, with Alvarado being wobbled early and staggering Rios in return, before he gradually asserted control by mixing boxing and lateral movement into his game plan and thwarting his opponent's aggression.

On Saturday, Alvarado faces another opponent, Ruslan Provodnikov, whose relentless pressure is not dissimilar to that of Rios, and whose most recent outing was a decision defeat to Timothy Bradley that was seconds away from being a knockout victory. The temptation is to predict another bruising battle, although Alvarado insists that he plans to stick to his new, more nuanced, approach.

"I am not expecting a war because of the way I have been training and how I've seasoned as a professional," he told reporters during a conference call this week. "I know I am going to stay strong, boxing and staying focused on my game plan to make the fight go the way I need it to go and not make it a war."

The words, however, were barely out of his mouth before he acknowledged the prospect that his intentions may be for naught.

"The anticipation from the wars that we have been in tells us that this fight has 'War' written all over it and there's a good chance that this fight will turn into that," he conceded. "I have a good game plan and I know how I'm going to box to win this fight, but you never know, this fight could turn into a crazy war 

and we could see [the first Rios fight] all over again."

As an added incentive to both put on a show and emerge victorious, the Denver-born Alvarado will take the stage in front of his hometown fans, family and friends. It is the first world title fight in Colorado in 13 years, and the first-ever HBO boxing broadcast from the Centennial State.

"I'm ready to give the Colorado fans a good boxing show," he told InsideHBOBoxing. "Some people have never seen a boxing show like that. There are local shows, but not a big, huge HBO show."

He smiled.

"It's awesome," he added. "I'm happy about it. I'm excited. I'm thrilled. I can't wait."

Boxing fans, knowing how both Alvarado and Provodnikov fight, might say the same thing.

Read the Complete Quick Hits: Mike Alvarado at HBO.com.

CompuBox Analysis: Alvarado vs. Provodnikov

by CompuBox

How does a "B-side" become an "A-lister?" Just ask Mike Alvarado.

Before "Mile High Mike" fought Brandon Rios the first time, he was the definitive "opponent" despite being 33-0 and Rios losing his last bout to Richar Abril as well as missing weight in two consecutive fights. But following a sensational war (KO by 7) that spawned a TV-friendly rematch that Alvarado correctly won by decision, he has been rewarded with a homecoming fight on HBO.

Provodnikov is trying to follow the same formula. After being an ESPN "A-side," he was Timothy Bradley's party of the second part this past March. Defying all expectations, the fight was extraordinary and though the Russian lost he covered himself in glory just as Alvarado did with Rios in his first fight. If he beats Alvarado in Denver, he might change his status as well.

Statistical factors that may influence the outcome include:

Read the Complete Mike Alvarado vs. Ruslan Provodnikov CompuBox Analysis on HBO.com.

Gatti And Ward's Warrior Spirit Lives On In Alvarado And Provodnikov

by Eric Raskin

"People will say they weren't the greatest fighters in the world, but you know what? I'll take those two guys anytime." —Pat Lynch

Most of us have no illusions about how proficient Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward were at the science of boxing. Gatti could make himself appear a highly skilled practitioner against opponents below a certain threshold; against very good opponents he turned into a slugger because he had no other choice, and against great ones, such as Floyd Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya, he was hopelessly overmatched. Ward couldn't even trick anyone into temporarily believing he was a slick tactician; he was a brawler, a pressure fighter, a bodysnatcher, and damned good in all of those roles, but you'd catch him sporting a deep suntan before you'd catch him outboxing someone.

The above quote from Pat Lynch, Gatti's career-long manager, heard in the closing moments of the documentary 'Legendary Nights: The Tale of Gatti-Ward' (premiering Saturday night on HBO, following World Championship Boxing: Alvarado-Provodnikov), says it all. Nobody will ever confuse Gatti and Ward with anybody nicknamed "Sugar" or "Sweet Pea." But no other fighters displayed more heart or punched their way deeper into ours than Gatti and Ward did. That can count for more than victories, championship belts, and pound-for-pound rankings. A visit to BoxRec will not explain why Gatti is in the Hall of Fame or why Ward had an Oscar-nominated movie made about his life; a visit to

YouTube will. Gatti and Ward remain, 10 years after Ward's retirement and four years after Gatti's death, boxing's reigning kings of drama.

But that doesn't mean the warrior breed went extinct when their careers ended. Boxers with oversized hearts continue to find their way onto our TV screens every few weekends. And on Saturday night in Denver, Colorado, two of the best examples going will do their damnedest to remind us of that exhilarating trilogy.

Read the Complete Legendary Nights: The Tale of Gatti-Ward Article on HBO.com.

Alvarado and Provodnikov Sure to Smash in the Ring

by Hamilton Nolan

Mike Alvarado, Ruslan Provodnikov

Every fighter need not be a world champion. He need not be the slickest, the most well-rounded, the most polished athlete at the pinnacle of human performance. Sometimes, to make it to the sport’s highest heights, it is enough to be good at just one thing. Punching, preferably. He who loves to punch will find love in boxing. Everything else can wait.

The road of extreme, devil-may-care punching is a hard one to walk. But some fighters are naturally drawn to it. Those who embrace it fully--who give their bodies, and their hearts, and their health to the cause of hard punching, consequences be damned--often find themselves more popular than other fighters who, while objectively better, seem to lack that near-insane lust for violence. Mike Alvarado and Ruslan Provodnikov are both fighters of this sort. When they come together, the only thing guaranteed is smashing.

Read the Complete Mike Alvarado vs. Ruslan Provodnikov Fight Overview on HBO.com.