LAS VEGAS – Henry Delgado is one of those old school boxing types, a guy who's perpetually on the lookout for that can't miss kid and who keeps his gym open for any kid who needs a way to stay out of trouble.
He's worked as an industrial mechanic at Coors Brewery in Denver for a quarter of a century, and has run a boxing and martial arts gym for the past 15 years in Arvada, Colo. He's a sucker for a sob story and always willing to teach a kid the lessons that the fight game is able to provide.
He had a number of pros float in and out of his gym over the years, but it was hardly like the gyms in boxing hotbeds in places like Las Vegas, Philadelphia or New York, where a veritable who's who of the sport would prepare.
One day, though, a thickly muscled young man walked into his gym, put on the gloves and began pummeling the best the gym had to offer.
"When I brought him into my gym, he was still an amateur, but he started knocking my pros out in sparring pretty quickly," Delgado said of the young prospect, an unbeaten former high school wrestling champion named Mike Alvarado. "It didn't take long for any of us to see this kid was going to be special. He was obviously the real deal."
So far, Alvarado has made his co-manager look like a wizard. He's fashioned a 21-0 record with 14 knockouts and has become one of the sport's hottest prospects.
Given Top Rank's ability to develop prospects into champions – something it's done repeatedly over the years and recently with middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, welterweight champion Miguel Cotto, super bantamweight champion Juan Manuel "JuanMa" Lopez and featherweight champion Steven Luevano – Alvarado has a better than average chance of not only winning a world title but becoming a television staple and headline attraction.
"Bruce (Trampler, Top Rank's matchmaker) knows how to develop a fighter and he says this kid is going to be sensational," Top Rank CEO Bob Arum said.
Alvarado will get his first big-time exposure on July 26, on the undercard of the welterweight title clash between Cotto and Antonio Margarito when he faces long-finished ex-lightweight champion Cesar Bazan.
Bazan these days is little more than a steppingstone for upwardly mobile prospects. In 2003, an unbeaten super lightweight Top Rank believed had the potential for greatness knocked out Bazan in the 11th round. Now, about five-and-a-half years later, Cotto is on the verge of becoming boxing's pound-for-pound best.
No one is predicting Alvarado will reach such heights, but Alvarado is one of those guys who finds a way to win.
As a high school wrestler, he went 97-0 at Skyview High School in Denver and won state championships as a 112-pounder in 1997 and as a 135-pounder in 1998.
He began wrestling at the age of four and estimates he's won more than 90 percent of the 2,500 matches he's competed in, including numerous regional and national competitions. Winning all those bouts has given him a confidence that he's carried with him into the boxing ring. He's surprisingly heavy handed and has picked up the technical aspects of the sport well, which he attributes to his wrestling background.
And though he'll be fighting in front of a huge crowd on a hotly anticipated card on July 26, Alvarado scoffs at the notion he may have stage fright or be in any way impacted by the moment.
"I've been a champion at one level or another since I've been a little kid," he said. "I've always been good under pressure and I've competed in front of thousands and thousands of people before. I'm able to adjust to that atmosphere."
He didn't really know his natural father, Ron Cisneros, who was a professional boxer in the Denver area who became known as the "Rocky Mountain Assassin." Cisneros was a flyweight who began his career 17-0. But after losing his first pro fight to the talented Richie Sandoval, who would have been a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic boxing team, were it not for President Carter's decision to boycott the Moscow Games, Cisneros' career fell apart.
The loss to Sandoval was the beginning of a 5-21-1 finish to his career that left a potential star in shatters.
"I only met him a few times in his life before he passed, but he saw me at the gym one day and he gave me some pointers what not to do," Alvarado said. "I talked to people who knew him and who had seen him fight and he had potential. But he didn't have the right management or the right people behind him and he kind of just got lost." The son has the same gift for the sport as the father did. But Mike Alvarado hits harder than his father and should be among the hardest punchers in his division.
More than that, though, he's surrounded with a team the likes of which his father never knew. In addition to signing with Arum, a Hall of Fame promoter, his team of co-managers includes the influential Shelly Finkel.
Finkel rarely works with a fighter who is not a thoroughbred.
"Just to know I have people like Bob Arum and Bruce Trampler and Shelly Finkel out there doing the right thing for me, it helps me so much," Alvarado said. "They have proven over the years they know how to do their jobs. All I have to do is do mine." Delgado said he's done it as well as any young fighter in the game. When Delgado first saw Alvarado, his offense was overwhelming, but he was full of defensive holes.
He's no Floyd Mayweather in that regard now, but he is infinitely more difficult to hit than he once was and, given his power, that's probably good enough.
"I really dream of becoming a champion," Alvarado said. "I'm going through all this work to get to that position. I have to make a statement against (Bazan) and I will. He's a tough guy and he's accomplished a lot, but I want people to know that Mike Alvarado is ready for business now."