The Trials of Mike Alvarado

Photo Credit: Will Hart

By Kieran Mulvaney

You're Mike Alvarado, and you're a professional prizefighter.

You are nearly unreachably far back on the scorecards against Breidis Prescott, surrendering the first five rounds, your right eye swelling shut, your left eye cut, your lip split. Only you mount a furious rally and, when all hope seems lost, drop your opponent twice and stop him in the final round to earn a dramatic victory and remain unbeaten.

Your reward for that is a matchup with rough, tough Mauricio Herrera, who is coming off a win against some Russian called Ruslan Provodnikov and who gives you hell over ten rounds, outboxing you early, trading with you late, but wilting down the stretch as you take control and tee off on him on your way to a bruising decision.

Your reward for that is a date with fellow undefeated junior welterweight Brandon Rios, in a battle that blurs and damn near erases the line between pugilism and flat-out mutual assault. You and Rios beat the holy hell out of each other, this time you gaining the upper hand early until he hurts you in the sixth round and in the seventh lands a sequence of punches that causes your hands to drop and your head to rock until the referee steps in and before you even realize what is happening, you've lost for the first time in your career.

So you and Rios dance again, and the two of you pick up where you left off the last time, Rios knocking you backward with a jab – a jab, of all things – in the second round, you turning it around to stun him later in that round and this time, pulling a few extra tricks out of your bag, moving laterally and boxing instead of just deploying the face-first if-I-hit-him-harder-and-more-often-than-he-hits-me-I-don't-need-a-good-defense strategy that has featured so effectively, if so painfully, in your previous contests. And it works, too. You're a winner again, and you avenge your only defeat.

Now things are really picking up. Your promoter gives you the opportunity to headline a card in your Denver hometown, in front of friends and family: a gesture of faith, a showcase. There's just one problem: the man in the other corner is the aforementioned Provodnikov, reader of Russian poetry and annihilator of opponents, the demon spawn of Solzhenitsyn and the Tasmanian Devil, with Thor's Hammer in his gloves for good measure. No problem, you think: I got this. Herrera beat Provodnikov, I beat Herrera, and just a year ago, this guy was fighting on ESPN for a bag of Cheetos and some gas money. How hard can this be?

But the Provodnikov who shows up in Denver nearly decapitated Tim Bradley his last time out, and he is way, way better than the Provodnikov who somehow lost to Herrera. It's like Wile E. Coyote's worst nightmare: a giant anvil falling from the sky over and over, and eventually it's all too much and when it ends and he's running around the ring in victorious elation screaming for his mom, you're sitting on the stool in the corner wondering what the hell just happened.

OK, so surely now you get to catch a break, right? No more hard-hitting Provodnikov, no hard-headed Rios? Your next opponent is 40 years old? Forty? Except that this 40-year-old is Juan Manuel Marquez, a future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, one of the greatest counter-punching technicians of all time and, for good measure, the man who knocked Manny Pacquiao cold with one punch. And if you somehow get through that, then your prize is a fall face-off with Pacquiao, a whirling dervish of a fighter who flies at opponents from all angles like the bad guys from The Matrix.

At times, it must seem as if your life is about being fired from a cannon into a brick wall and then, when you stand up and dust yourself off and everyone applauds, being fired from a more powerful cannon into a bigger wall. There must be times when you picture sand between your toes, silk sheets pulled up over your head as you sleep the day away. You must wonder why you didn't pick an easier job, like firewalker or alligator wrestler.

But then you focus on the task ahead, pull on the gloves and make your way to the ring. And when it's over, you take a deep breath and start planning for the next time.

That's what you do. You're Mike Alvarado, and you're a professional prizefighter.