BROOMFIELD, Colo. -- Ruslan Provodnikov, who goes by the nickname "The Siberian Rocky," had his "Rocky" moment in a career-best performance.
Provodnikov came to Mike Alvarado's hometown and took his junior welterweight world title, stopping him at the end of the 10th round in a brutal battle on Saturday night before a raucous, sold-out crowd of 7,012 at the 1stBank Center.
The Russian fighter had hammered Alvarado for three consecutive rounds, including scoring two knockdowns in a decisive eighth round, and had him nearly out late in the 10th round before referee Tony Weeks stopped the fight in the corner.
"I asked Mike two to three times, 'Do you want to continue,'" Weeks said. "And each time Mike said no."
Considering the type of warrior Alvarado has been -- he had been in four consecutive fight of the year candidates heading into this fight -- that was a surprise. But Provodnikov was relentless and dished out a beating in the final few rounds.
"This is the best dream I could have," Provodnikov said through a translator. "Like Sugar Ray Leonard did when he beat Roberto Duran and made him quit, I made Alvarado do the same thing. I made him not want to fight me anymore.
"I felt that in the second and third round he was weaker than me. I just needed to be calm and do my job."
"This kid hits like a ton, really," Alvarado promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank said of Provodnikov. "Very few guys can stand up to his punch. [Timothy] Bradley did it by a miracle. Alvarado was concussed, I'm sure. It's very, very hard to hold a strong guy off like that. It was a terrific fight and competitive until Alvarado got clocked in the eighth round. It was a miracle he recovered but he lost everything else afterward."
The fight had been expected to be an action-packed brawl and that's how it turned out, although it did not rise to the fight of the year level many thought it would.
Still, it was a hellacious slugfest that gave the heavily pro-Alvarado crowd its money's worth, at least until the disappointment set in that Alvarado -- fighting in a suburb of his hometown of Denver -- had lost in his first title defense.
The win was a glorious moment for Provodnikov, who got the title shot even though he was coming off a decision loss challenging welterweight titlist Bradley in March. But it was such a fantastic, close fight that Alvarado gave him the shot and Provodnikov had no problem coming to his hometown for the opportunity.
"If you want to become a world champion you have to risk everything," Provodnikov said. "You go to his hometown, you take a risk. That's how you become a world champion."
As expected, the fight started quick. Alvarado (34-2, 23 KOs) boxed and moved a bit until later in the round, when he and Provodnikov stood head to head and traded fierce shots.
But Provodnikov, who led on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage (98-90, 97-90 and 96-92), looked like the stronger fighter and Alvarado resorted to trying to box and move a bit more than usual. That did not sit well with head trainer Shann Vilhauer.
"It just wasn't Mike's night. He was too defensive," Vilhauer said. "I think he just started reading all these clips after the Brandon Rios rematch [in March] that he was this great boxer and he got away from what he was best at.
"This guy was tailor-made for him and he didn't take advantage of it."
There was a lot of action in the toe-to-toe third round, but Alvarado was landing right hands and using just enough movement to keep Provodnikov off balance. But he could not keep it up.
Provodnikov landed a solid left uppercut and multiple left hands to the head in the fourth round, but Provodnikov also had swelling under his right eye as some of Alvarado's shots were connecting to his face.
As violent as the first half of the fight was, it got seriously violent in the seventh round. Alvarado opened a bloody gash over Provodnikov's right eye. The challenger also landed thudding left hands that badly swelled Alvarado's right eye.
Then came the fight-changing eighth round as Provodnikov dropped Alvarado under a hail of shots, the first time Alvarado had ever been down. Alvarado was on his knees, pounded his chest and barely beat Weeks' count. He was soon down again under another series of hard punches, including a body shot and an overhand right. Again, Alvarado was on his knees but beat the count and surprisingly mounted a short-lived comeback late in the round.
"I was boxing him and I felt I had the fight going my direction, but he hit me with a couple of shots," Alvarado said. "I'm used to taking shots and recovering from them and tonight I wasn't able to recover from the big shots."
Provodnikov (23-2, 16 KOs), 29, wobbled Alvarado in the 10th round with a left hand and later hurt him again with a series of hard right hands. Alvarado was being worked over to the head and body and was staggering all over the place and nearly went down.
When the round ended, Weeks went to take a close look and elected to stop the fight.
"It was not worth taking more punishment because the damage could be permanent," said Alvarado, who earned a career-high $1.3 million. "It was just not my night."
Provodnikov won the title even without head trainer Freddie Roach in his corner. With Roach in the Philippines with Manny Pacquiao, assistant Marvin Somodio took over and they stuck to Roach's game plan in what was the first world title bout in Colorado since 2000, when Denver's Stevie Johnston fought to a draw against lightweight champion Jose Luis Castillo in a bid to regain the title in their rematch at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
"Even though Freddie wasn't here, they knew the game plan," said Banner Promotions promoter Artie Pelullo, who represents Provodnikov. "Alvarado is a tough son of a gun. He was hurt in the first round but he's a guy you have to give respect. He allowed us to have a shot at the title. He could have avoided Ruslan if he wanted. Ruslan knew if he pressured him, he would win the fight."
"I knew that I had to win it for Freddie," Provodnikov said. "Not having him here, I miss him, but we did his game plan exactly."
Provodnikov, who earned a career-high $600,000, has many options now, be it a Bradley rematch or a shot at the Nov. 23 Pacquiao-Rios winner, although Roach training both Pacquiao and Provodnikov would be an issue making that fight.
No decisions were going to be made just yet, however.
"I'll take him back to the hotel and he'll have an orange juice and I'll have a martini," Pelullo said. "Bradley, Pacquiao and Rios are out there. Alvarado might want a rematch. We have a lot of options."
Provodnikov was in no hurry to begin plans for the next fight either.
"Just give me a rest," he said.
He earned it.