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."
"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.