Garcia Could Have Been a Cop, But Now He's a Champion

by Kieran Mulvaney

He's just 25 years old, but Mikey Garcia will be gunning for his second world title on Saturday, when the native of Oxnard, California, moves up from featherweight to take on junior lightweight titlist Rocky Martinez in Corpus Christi, Texas.

There is no shortage of observers who think that Garcia is a pound-for-pound star in the making, and given his pedigree, perhaps that isn't surprising. His father and trainer, Eduardo, has been the chief second for such noted fighters as former junior middleweight champ Fernando Vargas; and his older brother Roberto, himself a former junior lightweight titlist, is the reigning Boxing Writers Association of America Trainer of the Year for his work with, among others, Brandon Rios and Nonito Donaire.

But, says Garcia, despite almost literally having boxing in his blood, he wasn't at all sure during his younger years that it was the career for him.

"I would go to the gym just to hang out and watch my brothers train, or even spend time at training camps with Fernando or Robert in the summertime, but never trained to compete or anything like that," he told HBO.com recently. In fact, his first amateur bout happened almost by accident, when he was 14 years old and cheering on a nephew, who was boxing in a tournament.

"One of the kids from his club didn't have an opponent, so they signed me up," he recalls. "They made it an exhibition, because I didn't have a license, and we borrowed some shorts and a cup, borrowed a mouth piece even. We borrowed everything. So I went in the ring, we made it a three-round exhibition, and I kinda liked it. I liked the competition."

Even then, and even after he turned professional in 2006, he kept his options open. At one point, pugilism seemed a less likely profession than law enforcement, as evidenced by his graduating from the Ventura County Police and Sheriff's Reserve Academy in 2010. But, having ultimately committed to the sweet science, he has flourished -- aided, he says, by having been around boxing for so long.

"Being that I grew up around boxing -- and not just any boxing, but a really good boxing family with really good credentials -- it helps me understand the sport, understand the business, understand the politics, understand the media," he explains. "It's not something new to me, because I've already seen it with fighters like Fernando and Robert, and Robert's fighters. I've been around the big stages before and around the cameras and everything, so it's not that new to me. And I've learned about boxing since around age eight. I didn't plan to be a boxer but I've always seen it, always been around it. And all that other stuff, like the media attention, doesn't conflict with anything; it doesn't mess up the way I fight. Everything else is normal with me; I just go in the ring and do my job."

It's a job at which he is proving particularly well suited, with 32 wins from 32 outings, one world title in his collection and the prospect of adding another one on Saturday. And while donning a police uniform still remains a possibility in the future, for now he is firmly ensconced in the family business.

"I still think I could go back and do something in law enforcement, even if I'm not out on the street, doing something in the department," he says. "But right now, my main focus is boxing. I'm not sure what exactly I'm going to do five, 10 years from now, but right now I'm just focused on boxing."

Read the Quick Hits Interview with Mikey Garcia at HBO.com.

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.