Fresh start for Provodnikov
Ruslan Provodnikov knows all about struggle. He hails from the geographically isolated town of Beryozovo in Siberia, a place he describes simply as, “Very small, very far, very cold.” Provodnikov is one of the most visible of the Mansi peoples indigenous to Western Siberia, a group he describes as a “minority…only 7,000 of us are left.”
His reasons for taking up the sport were similar to many others. “I used to like to fight as a kid so my father took me to a boxing gym, because I could do what I loved and not get in trouble for it,” Provodnikov told Boxing Monthly. Like many other kids growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, he also cites Mike Tyson as a hero.
Despite a very solid amateur and early pro career, Provodnikov (24-4, 17 KOs) really announced himself on the world scene with a controversial split decision loss to Timothy Bradley in a WBO welterweight title battle.
The 'Fight of the year' winner featured 12 rounds of brutal and aggressive action. Many felt Provodnikov won, after scoring one official knockdown and what looked like another which wasn’t called by the referee. Provodnikov is part of a group of former soviet block boxers who have burst onto the scene in recent years, alongside Sergey Kovalev and Gennady Golovkin.
“I think the Russian mentality and the tough phases Russia has gone through really made people there very hard working and persistent in whatever they do,” said Ruslan’s manager Vadim Kornilov.
After the Bradley loss, the man rebranded as the ‘Siberian Rocky’ picked up a world title, stopping WBO 140lbs champ Mike Alvarado in the champion’s home state where Provodnikov’s relentless pressure style and clubbing shots eventually told.
A mooted mega fight against then stalemate Manny Pacquiao was scuppered after a shock loss to Chris Algieri. “It's up to the fans to decide who won or who lost, the judges have their own agenda many of the times,” was Provodnikov’s view, the scorecards reflecting the judges’ preference for the New Yorker’s considered defence and shot selection.
Since losing his title, the Russian engaged in another ‘Fight of the year’ candidate in 2015, a points loss against the huge-hitting Argentine Lucas Matthysse. While many thought the result was less controversial, fans still admired Provodnikov for his ability to withstand the concussive power of the South American.
The fight did, however, raise questions about how long Provodnikov could keep taking such brutal punishment, iron chin or not. He made a change.
“I knew that it was my last chance to change something in my style and try to preserve by health,” said the Russian explaining his reasoning for a move away from trainer Freddie Roach to Joel Diaz, fresh off a split from Tim Bradley, of all people. “I knew that the only way I could achieve that is with a big change in my training camp.”
But fans shouldn’t worry too much about a dramatic change in Provodnikov’s come forward style. He suggested that this comes ‘from inside, it's who I am’. “[Joel Diaz] will not change a lot and it's impossible. Even small adjustments are not easy and he has been able to make them with me. It takes time to make even small adjustments, it might take more than one camp.”
The Russian was, however, quick to heap praise on his former mentor Roach. “I owe everything to Freddie, if it wasn't for him I would never be where I am. We are always going to be friends and will help each other with anything we need. Freddie did great in every camp and Marvin [Somodio, Wild Card Gym assistant trainer] did a great job in the corner when Freddie wasn’t there. Again, I just needed a change.”
With a new start and some refinements to a fan-friendly style, it will be interesting to see where Provodnikov’s career goes from here. He is next out in Monte Carlo on 7 November against untested Mexican Jesus Alvarez Rodriguez (14-0, 11 KOs).
“Either weight class [140 or 147] is fine, but junior welterweight is my natural division. I will fight anybody, the question is who fill fight me?” Provodnikov told BM when asked if he would consider travelling to the UK for a bout against the likes of IBF welterweight champion Kell Brook.
Manager Kornilov believes the popularity of his fighter is easy to explain. “It’s his character, he is a great person, people love him for that. He loves his fans and treats every one of them with a lot of respect and appreciation.”