It wasn't quite a Fight of the Year contender, but it was definitely a fight, and a toe-to-toe war tonight in Denver between Mike Alvarado and Ruslan Provodnikov. In the end, Provodnikov beat Alvarado down and forced him to retire on his stool after 10 rounds, winning the WBO junior welterweight title.
Provodnikov (23-2, 16 KO) came out fast in the fight, but Alvarado (34-2, 23 KO) was able to use his boxing skills to keep enough separation to win the second round clearly, and probably the third as well. After that, though, Provodnikov's power advantage made the difference, as he wobbled Alvarado a fair number of times, hurting him to the body and cracking him upstairs with big right hands.
It was the body shots that wound up being Alvarado's true undoing. In the eighth round, Alvarado was devastated on a body shot that eventually put him on the canvas, as Provodnikov just kept unloading. Alvarado barely made it to his feet as referee Tony Weeks reached a count of nine and a half, and Weeks hesitated, it seemed, to let the fight continue, but he decided to do so.
Moments later, Alvarado was forced to take a knee for a second eighth round knockdown. That he managed to survive that round with about a minute left was pretty remarkable, but he did it. Fighting on pure heart and guts, Alvarado survived round nine, too, with Provodnikov slowing down somewhat.
But after a pretty brutal 10th round where Provodnikov picked up the pace a bit more and hurt Alvarado pretty badly late in the round, the choice had to be made. Alvarado's corner wanted to stop the fight, telling the fighter he had "nothing left," and they were most likely right, given that Alvarado was wobbly, had no legs, and was taking a lot of punishment.
Referee Weeks asked the corner what they wanted to do, then asked Alvarado directly if he wanted to continue. Alvarado, with a swollen mess of a left eye and a broken spirit, decided to call it a night, telling Max Kellerman after the fight that he made that choice to protect his own health, feeling he was being shaken up too often, and that he was taking too much punishment.
For Provodnikov, this is a big-time win and might open him up for a rematch with Timothy Bradley, with whom he put on the leading candidate for the 2013 Fight of the Year in March. But if that's not the fight, Provodnikov could now be in the mix to face Juan Manuel Marquez, in theory, or even the Pacquiao-Rios winner. One thing's for sure: Provodnikov is no fluke and his night against Bradley was no mistake. This is a powerful, ferocious fighter with all the guts in the world.