(photo credit: Chris Farina, Top Rank)
It was like a Rocky movie gone terribly wrong. The hometown hero had been in control. His Russian opponent had looked frustrated and even a little primitive. But junior welterweight Ruslan Provodnikov (23-2, 16 KO) has the kind of power and determination that reconfigures Hollywood endings.
"I knew what I had to do was break him," he said after stopping Mike Alvarado (34-2, 23 KO) in the 10th round of their clash in Denver, broadcast on HBO. "I had to break his will to win this fight and I did that."
Sylvester Stallone couldn't have written it better. "The Siberian Rocky" created his own happy ending in a tense, action packed fight. It wasn't the wild, sloppy brawl that most expected, but I don't think you'll hear many complaints.
Provodnikov roared out of the blocks in the 1st, shaking Alvarado with a mix of crashing hooks and chopping rights. Alvarado's cheeky right uppercut found a home one or twice, but the Russian showed surprising defensive nous, slipping and ducking a lot of the incoming fire.
Alvarado rediscovered his script in the 2nd -- stick and move. And he managed to stay with it, for the most part, until midway through the 4th, when the fight opened up into a wild, forehead to forehead brawl. Who got the best of it was hard to say, though it was probably Provodnikov, whose left hook-overhand right routine was the more consistent.
In the 5th Alvarado's straight, fast right hands carried the day, while Provodnikov took the 6th with a clubbing left hook that had the Denver native shaken. A huge right hand bomb on the bell might have stolen the 7th for the Russian, but splitting the two until that point was nigh on impossible.
Then came the 8th. Provodnikov shook "Mile High Mike" with a left hook and followed up with an onslaught of punches to the body and head that left his man on the canvas. He rose nearly on the count of ten, only to be greeted by another left hook, this time to the body, and sinking to a knee again.
The fact that Alvarado survived two more rounds is a testament to his insane toughness. In the 9th Provodnikov laughed after missing a wild shot. Alvarado didn't see the joke. Provodnikov basically beat him from pillar to post for the rest of the fight.
Finally, after walking to the wrong corner at the end of the 10th, Alvarado's corner stopped it with their man bloody, swollen and unresponsive on the stool. You can't help but feel sorry for Alvarado, though. His ridiculous toughness and not inconsiderable skill just weren't enough. His homecoming fairytale got reduced to an absolute nightmare.
It was a huge triumph for Provodnikov, who showed that he's much more than a beast from the east (those he also is that). Under Freddie Roach he's actually developed some decent skills to go with his frightening power. Fighting in one of the best weight classes in boxing, the world is the man from Beryozovo's oyster.
Provodnikov's evolution from "Friday Night Fights" staple crop to budding star at 140 and 147 is fascinating to watch.
He's clearly a better boxer since working with Roach. Combine that increasing acumen with his strong chin and relentless style, and Provodnikov will be a tough out for anyone at junior welter or welter not named Mayweather.
@GlenVillanueva He's from Siberia. Heavy Asian ethnicity.