August 1, 2013

KO Digest Interview: Mike Alvarado - "I love to prove people wrong"

Alvarado stays humble
For some, the cost of fame and fortune at a young age can be too much to handle, sending an athlete’s personal life off the rails, often with a once promising career in tow. For 33-year-old junior welterweight titlist Mike Alvarado, the spotlight shined bright but late. Born, raised, and trained out of an environment in the rural mountains of Colorado as quiet as his personality, Alvarado did not emerge into mainstream recognition until 2011, seven years after his professional debut and eleven years after he took up the sport at age twenty. “Mile High” is not one to talk trash, agitating fans and opponents, and he doesn’t associate with the shady characters who run amok in boxing. Yet beneath his calm and unassuming demeanor lies a warrior content to trade power shots and go to war each time he steps in the ring.

Battles against Brandon Rios, Breidis Prescott, and Mauricio Herrera have made Alvarado one of the most fan friendly fighters in the weight class. While some problematic stars of the sport engage in tirades on Twitter, hang out in all the wrong places, and fly off the handle under the pressures of stardom and in front of the all-seeing eye of modern day social media, Alvarado has been slowly but surely climbing up the ranks of the talented 140-pound division.

The cast of characters comprising Alvarado’s team of trainers and coaches is small, keeps a low profile, and has remained relatively unchanged since he traded in wrestling for boxing not long after finishing high school. Their bond has become like that of a family, and their mission leading into an October 19 showdown with Ruslan Provodnikov and beyond is bold: to make a self described “nobody” from Denver a “somebody” by fighting the best of the best anywhere, anytime.

Alvarado and trainer Shann Vilhauer
KO Digest's Joel Sebastianelli: You’ve had the same core team surrounding you since you first started as an amateur in the sport. How did you first get involved with them and how has this fruitful relationship stayed strong over time?

Mike Alvarado: Shann Vilhauer was there and knew right when I jumped on the bag—there was actually another trainer there. I was punching the bag and he said, “don’t take up my space on the bag.” Thank God Shann was on the other side working with the other guys, and he worked with me and saw something in me. He said I could be a world champion one day. From when that day was over, Shann picked me up, brought me to amateurs, ringside, I did over 44 amateur fights, and he kept me updated on my strategy and hooked me up with Henry. I got introduced to Top Rank and we went from there. He called every fight exactly how it went, and he broke it down. Every world champion trainer had to start from somewhere. Everybody has big trainer names, but he’s always been on my team. My strength trainer, John-John, has been with me since I was 11-0. I knew him from friendship and he happened to be a strength and conditioning trainer. Our team stays tight. We don’t let anyone come in at this point. Everybody wants to be involved when you’re at this stage of the game. They’re like family. They push me, and to be honest, we’re a bunch on nobodies coming from wherever and we’re contending with the world right now.

Alvarado vs Provodnikov
KOD: Announced last week was your next fight against Ruslan Provodnikov, scheduled for October 19th close to your home in Denver. What qualities and circumstances led to choosing the Russian as an opponent?

MA: Well, he’s a pressure fighter who will come forward to me. It’s obvious that, because of what Tim Bradley did to him, boxing is the key to putting it on this guy.

KOD: Provodnikov comes off of a loss to Timothy Bradley, but he went down swinging in an all-out brawl. You’ve been in a few brawls yourself. Will that style of fighting lend itself well to beating Ruslan, or will you implement a more technical game plan?

MA: I’m going to do a little bit of everything. I’m more of a heart presser—I test everybody’s heart. I’m down to bang inside, but I’ve got to use my head. I'll make my adjustments accordingly based on how I feel during the fight. Nobody is ever going to take my heart, so it just depends how the situation goes.

KOD: It has been two years since you last fought in Colorado, and four years since you’ve fought back to back fights in your home state. Does the home-field advantage give you an extra adrenaline rush in the ring, or do you tune the crowd out once you step into the ring? 

MA: I love being in Denver! I have a lot of support out here and I’ve got good training out here. With my strength and conditioning trainer, we use a lot of the altitude. Being at home in front of my fans pumps me up and reminds me of being in high school. I had a big fan base for my wrestling team when I was out here that followed me from high school all the way up.

Alvarado training at Mile High altitude
KOD: Why do you train for a fight at such a high altitude?

MA: It opens up my lungs and gives me more endurance. My trainer, John-John, really utilizes my heart rate and elevation. He really gets me going, and all I do is just get stronger as fights go on. I don’t die down, I get stronger as the rounds go on. Against Prescott and Herrera, you’ve seen its advantages.

KOD: Boxing fans have been aware of your presence in the division for a couple of years, but the fights that really cemented your place near the top of the 140 lb. weight class were two action packed affairs with Brandon Rios. The first fight was a fight of the year contender, but you lost via TKO in the seventh round. How did you assess your career following the first loss of your career?

MA: I just went back to my preparation and prepped for that style, the pressure of the fight. And you saw in the second fight, I adjusted accordingly how I was supposed to. I had a lot of drills with my team. My team kept pressure on me, and movement! As far as that affecting my career, nobody wants to lose. Everybody wants to remain undefeated and always perfect, but it is what it is. I knew I was going to come back strong and with a better game plan. 

Rios stops Alvarado in their first fight
KOD: How big a setback was the loss for you emotionally? 

MA: It was tough because I’m used to winning, always. All the way from my wrestling days, I was undefeated, I never lost. I always want to win, but it just made me that much better and stronger. I love to prove people wrong because I will continue to push myself to the limit. 

KOD: The Mike Alvarado that defeated Brandon Rios in the rematch in March of 2013 looked different than the one that finished battered along the ropes in October of the previous year. What adjustments did you make that led to the victory?

MA: Rios pressured me, and I was ready for any type of pressure. He’s like a Margarito type fighter, always coming forward. All I did was just adjust to the footwork, more legs. My trainer helped me push forward with my legs to make sure I was better conditioned. I was still dancing around with my legs in the twelfth round. That was altitude training and my strength trainer helped me improve that element a lot more.

KOD: At this point in the rivalry, the score reads Brandon Rios: 1, Mike Alvarado: 1. Have the doors of opportunity and interest in a third fight between you two closed, or is there a chance we’ll see a trilogy with one final, deciding fight?

BR: No, Brandon gave me my rematch. I already said, come to my hometown and come grab my belt. We’ll see how it plays out depending on what’s going on with my managers promotional team and how we feel, but I’ll bang with him again. I have Ruslan first in Denver, and you never know, a fight is a fight. Anything can happen.

Breidis Prescott gets in a war with Alvarado
KOD: Between the two fights against Brandon Rios, the entertaining scrap against Mauricio Herrera, and other fights that many fans are likely unaware of from the beginning of your career, you’ve been in many grueling fights. In what physical condition has this hankering for war in the ring left you? Do you feel like a young 33 or an old 33?

MA: Nah, I’m fresh! I came into this game when I was twenty and I’ve been doing this my whole life. Right now, I’m at my peak of where I need to be. Everything played out how it was supposed to and I leave it in God’s hands. I go under the radar because I don’t talk much. I don’t have much of a big mouth. I stay humble and do what I have to do. Maybe if I was more outspoken, things would have been different, but I am where I am right now.

KOD: But even though you feel like a fresh 33, do you still feel extra pressure heading into every fight because, unlike a young champion in his 20s, you don’t have time for mistakes?

MA: Of course, but when you’re at this stage and level, everything is technical now. You’ve got to be smart going in there. I’ve got to step up to a level, where I know going in there, I’ve got more brains. My hard work ethic and my heart is what gets me there, but now my mindset is different. 

Top Rank Fighter
KOD: How instrumental has Bob Arum been in bringing you to where you are right now at this point in your career?

MA: They’ve all been good. Top Rank has been faithful to me and I’ve been faithful to them. They’ve been taking care of me and they’ve been bringing me up the right way. I go for the win with whoever they put in front of me, whatever Bob Arum wants to do as far as matchmaking. I’ve never turned down one fight, so whatever name they’d bring, I always brought it and accepted the fight. Right now, I’m just worried about getting past the hungry Russian who wants the American dream. 

KOD: In your youth in Colorado, you were a two time high school wrestling champion. In fact, you didn't begin boxing until you were 20 years old. 
When did you make the switch from one sport to another, and how difficult was the transition? 

Alvarado's father Ron Cisneros
MA: I was always an aggressor in wrestling, always a come-forward wrestler. My biological dad was a boxer, so I said “it’s in my blood.” I actually liked it, and I just kept doing it and figured out one day that I needed to train year round. I got in the gym, started getting in some amateur fights, and went from there. I started putting down people, and my strength was overwhelming for a lot of people my size.

KOD: Boxing does run in your family, however. You are the son of “The Rocky Mountain Assassin” -- bantamweight and flyweight fighter Ron Cisneros, and the cousin of professional fighters as well. Did any of the family lineage factor into your decision to fight?

MA: Not really. Me and my buddies still mess around and put the gloves on in the backyard. I always wanted to box, but I walked in the ring that day and everything started from there.

KOD: What lessons did wrestling teach that you could carryover to boxing?

MA: Discipline and training. You have to have that edge to push the extra mile, extra heart, and extra sweat. Whatever my opponent is doing, I’m going to push that much harder. Discipline carried over, and cutting weight helped me. Other people struggled with cutting weight, but I have no problem cutting weight even at my age now.

KOD: What can we expect in the fight against Ruslan Provodnikov?

MA: Action! Tune in! He’s going to bring his heart. So am I and we’ll see who is stronger and more technical that night. I’ve got a lot of rounds and I’ve been under the pressure of the moment. I break down and adjust accordingly.

KOD: Can you knock him out? 

MA: I believe I can knock anybody out.

The Future of Boxing
KO Digest Interview conducted by Joel "The Future" Sebastianelli

Joel joined KO Digest in January 2013 and has been a fixture on press row in the New England area for three years. In 2012, he served as the host of “The Boxing Fix” on Leave it in the Ring Radio.
Sebastianelli is the future of boxing journalism and broadcasting.  

Joel can be found Tweeting on Twitter @JJSebastianelli