Forgive former junior welterweight titlist Mike Alvarado if he was perhaps a little bit in awe Wednesday when he came face to face with Mexican star and former four-division titleholder Juan Manuel Marquez at the news conference to kick off the promotion for their welterweight title elimination fight.
They meet in an HBO-televised main event at the newly refurbished Forum in Inglewood, Calif., May 17 in a fight that will produce the mandatory challenger for the April 12 rematch between titleholder Timothy Bradley Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. Marquez-Alvarado will be the first card at the Forum, which used to be a boxing hotbed and where Marquez came up as a young prospect almost 20 years ago, since it was recently renovated.
Alvarado was -- is -- a big Marquez fan. He looked up to him when he was a young fighter, loved watching his fights and hoped one day to come close to matching his achievements.
“When I first started fighting I was watching Marquez fight and looking up to him,” Alvarado told ESPN.com. “He’s one of the best. He’s a Mexican boxing legend. It’s awesome, a real-life dream come true for me to fight someone like this. I looked up to Marquez and have all the respect in the world for him.”
So while Wednesday’s news conference was a day for Alvarado to revel in the fact that he will face a future Hall of Famer, make a big payday and qualify to fight an even bigger fight for another world title if he wins, the seriousness of his May 17 task was not entirely lost on him.
“I’m a Marquez fan but I still have to do what I have to do,” Alvarado said. “It’s amazing and kinda shocking and hasn’t hit me yet that I’m fighting him. It’s still kinda like, ‘Hey, I’m fighting Marquez,’ and that’s cool. But it’s sinking in. I am pushing myself. I know I’m gonna have to dig deep to redeem myself.”
Alvarado said he views this fight as redemption for his last fight, when he and Ruslan Provodnikov put on a tremendous slugfest, but Provodnikov dropped Alvarado twice and forced him to retire on his stool after the 10th round.
Alvarado lost his world title and, to make matters worse, it happened in front of his hometown fans in suburban Denver.
“It was really tough,” Alvarado said. “I was mentally beating myself up for the next couple of weeks after the fight. I have to get back to where I need to be. I had to bring the old Mike back, bring back the basics that made me who I am. Not changing things up. I know that ring.
“I went home and hung out, and iced my eyeball. I was hard-timing it. It sucks. It was my hometown. I have a lot of great supporters. Everyone was happy to see a good show like that, but it hurt. I watched [a video of the fight] eventually. I’d be watching and saying, ‘Why’d I let that happen? How’d that happen.’ I wasn’t at the top condition I should have been or I could have been. I wasn’t going after it. I guess there were a lot of distractions fighting at home. I will be more secluded for this fight.”
Alvarado (34-2, 23 KOs) knows Marquez (55-7-1, 40 KOs), as great as he has been, is 40 now and also coming off a loss, a decision challenging Bradley for his belt in October. As he has done after many of his recent fights, Marquez once again talked about possible retirement before agreeing to fight Alvarado.
Alvarado, although a confessed Marquez fan, would love to be the one to send him into retirement for real.
“I don’t know his plans after this fight, if he plans on retiring or what, but it could be huge for me,” Alvarado said. “I could redeem myself and retire a boxing legend. That would be the best way to redeem myself. I’m so motivated for what I have to do.
“I think he’s on his way out, so this is kind of like a farewell. He seems like he’s ready to go. He already made a mark in this boxing game and doesn’t have much to prove. He don’t have to prove anything. He built his legacy and he’s 40. It’s time to retire. This is awesome -- me knowing I can be the man to retire him.”