How does a "B-side" become an "A-lister?" Just ask Mike Alvarado.
Before "Mile High Mike" fought Brandon Rios the first time, he was the definitive "opponent" despite being 33-0 and Rios losing his last bout to Richar Abril as well as missing weight in two consecutive fights. But following a sensational war (KO by 7) that spawned a TV-friendly rematch that Alvarado correctly won by decision, he has been rewarded with a homecoming fight on HBO.
Provodnikov is trying to follow the same formula. After being an ESPN "A-side," he was Timothy Bradley's party of the second part this past March. Defying all expectations, the fight was extraordinary and though the Russian lost he covered himself in glory just as Alvarado did with Rios in his first fight. If he beats Alvarado in Denver, he might change his status as well.
Statistical factors that may influence the outcome include:
A Common Opponent: One of the two shared names on their records is Mauricio Herrera, to whom Provodnikov lost a wider-than-thought unanimous decision and Alvarado defeated in a classic war.
Alvarado was at his volume-punching best as he fired an incredible 119.9 punches and 78.4 power punches per round -- way more than the 60.2 and 35.5 junior welterweight averages -- and out-landed Herrera 429-380 (total), 101-85 (jabs) and 328-295 (power). Herrera was more accurate (39%-36% overall, 28%-24% jabs, 44%-42% power) but his 96.8 punches per round and 66.7 power shots each round wasn't enough to sway the judges, who scored Alvarado a solid winner (99-91, 97-93, 96-94).
Herrera's blend of style and volume-punching enabled him to overcome horrific facial damage and score a unanimous (116-112 twice, 115-113) decision. It was Herrera's superior volume (76 vs. 58.3 per round), balance (436 jabs/476 power shots vs. 254 jabs/446 power shots) and raw connect leads (302-240 total, 121-74 jabs, 181-166 power) that swung enough rounds to secure the verdict. Provodnikov was very slightly more accurate (34%-33% total, 29%-28% jabs, trailed 38%-37% power), but Herrera's volume gap more than made up for it.
Alvarado's Style Shift: While Alvarado remains an action fighter, he has added more wrinkles to his game in recent fights. Alvarado promised in the Rios rematch that he would box more and that he did as he throttled down his offense from 111.3 to 71.7 in the rematch while maintaining his punch distribution between fights one and two (54% power shots in both fights). Alvarado landed more punches over the long haul (261-241 total, 84-59 jabs, trailed only 182-177 power) and was more accurate (30%-29% overall, 21.1%-20.9% jabs, 38%-34% power. Compare that to the first Rios fight, where Rios led 30%-22% overall, 17%-12% jabs and 33%-31% power. For Alvarado, less is more.
Here's more evidence of that adage: Against Breidis Prescott (TKO 10), Alvarado averaged just 56.6 punches per round and he threw more jabs (287) than power shots (279). Though he trailed 208-192 overall and 110-72 in jabs, his 120-98 power connect lead and his 43%-36% advantage eventually set up the stoppage. Against Gabriel Martinez (W 10), Alvarado averaged 61.3 punches per round and led 135-96 (total), 48-19 (jabs) and 87-77 (power). Interestingly, 54.8% of his total punches in that fight were power shots, exactly the punch distribution figure in the second Rios fight. So is Alvarado coming full circle in terms of style? If he can remain an attractive TV commodity while exposing himself to less risk, it will pay off big in the long run.
The Russian Warrior: Win or lose, Provodnikov is a certified TV favorite. Against Ivan Popoca (KO 8), Provodnikov weathered Popoca's 96.8 punch-per-round pace as he averaged 75.2, out-landed Popoca 253-172 (total), 93-69 (jabs) and 160-103 (power) and was far more precise (43%-23% total, 34%-18% jabs, 52%-27% power). In stopping David Torres in six, Provodnikov fired 83 punches per round, out-landed his foe 181-87 (total), 75-16 (jabs) and 106-71 (power) and also led in accuracy (36%-24% total, 34%-11% jabs, 39%-33% power).
Alvarado would be wise to mix in skillful boxing because Provodnikov doesn't do as well against stylists. Although his fight with Herrera was a violent war, Herrera was the more savvy fighter and those talents served him well as he limited Provodnikov to 58.3 punches per round. The faded but still slick DeMarcus Corley held Provodnikov to 62.2 per round and though he out-landed the American 164-122 (total) and 125-70 (power), his accuracy suffered (22% overall, 12% jabs and 30% power). Finally, against Bradley, the most complete fighter he has faced to date, Provodnikov's output again was limited to 56.3. Will Alvarado do the same if he chooses to box?
Prediction: Alvarado has the better all-around skills and if he makes this a crowd-pleasing technical contest he should win a wide decision. That, and time will tell how much his war with Bradley took out of Provodnikov. Home ring advantage will help as well so we could see a slightly wider than perceived unanimous verdict for Alvarado.