By Keith Idec
NEW YORK — Bob Arum made a joke Wednesday about closing in on his 82nd birthday and admits it’s slightly possible he misheard Ruslan Provodnikov.
But the Hall-of-Fame promoter is virtually certain Provodnikov told him in the aftermath of Manny Pacquiao’s easy victory over Brandon Rios last month that the rugged Russian brawler would fight Manny Pacquiao next year. That’s why Arum hasn’t eliminated Provodnikov as one of Pacquiao’s options for his next fight April 12 in Las Vegas, despite Provodnikov stating that his friendship with Pacquiao and the fact that they share trainer Freddie Roach would prevent them from fighting.
With Juan Manuel Marquez seemingly disinterested in a fifth fight against the Filipino superstar and a Pacquiao-Mayweather showdown no closer to materializing, Arum considers a Provodnikov clash and a rematch against Timothy Bradley as Pacquiao’s top options. Battling Bradley would afford Pacquiao an opportunity to avenge a dubious split-decision defeat in their first fight, but a Pacquiao-Provodnikov bout would be highly entertaining.
“I really believe that the Russians want to do that fight,” Arum told BoxingScene.com, referring to Provodnikov’s representatives. “They want to do Ruslan against Pacquiao. I know [Provodnikov promoter] Artie [Pelullo] does, [Provodnikov manager] Vadim [Kornilov] does. And I think they were playing a game, because after the fight Ruslan was in the corner when I came down from the ring. And he told me, at least I think he told me, ‘Bob, I fight Pacquiao next year.’ He told me that.
“Now, could he have not said that and said something else because of his thick accent? Yeah. But I would be willing to swear that’s what he said to me. That was right after the fight. So that’s why I don’t believe that he won’t fight him. I think they told him to say, ‘I don’t want to fight Manny,’ in an effort to build the purse. You know what they say, if the broad is too easy.”
Arum smiled and didn’t finish that sentence, but his message was clear.
Provodnikov (23-2, 16 KOs) has been anything but easy on recent opponents. He battered Bradley (31-0, 12 KOs, 1 NC) during a unanimous-decision defeat March 16 in Carson, Calif., that’ll receive strong “Fight of the Year” consideration. In his next fight, Provodnikov stopped Mike Alvarado (34-2, 23 KOs) after 10 rounds Oct. 19 in Broomfield, Colo., to win the WBO junior welterweight title.
The 29-year-old Provodnikov intends, however, to move back up to welterweight, the division in which he boxed Bradley. With the amount of money Provodnikov could make for opposing Pacquiao (55-5-2, 38 KOs) at 147 pounds, Arum doesn’t think their friendship will prohibit Provodnikov from pursuing it.
“How many times,” Arum said, “have you heard from guys, ‘I’m not going to fight him because he’s my friend?’ First of all, is Manny a friend of his? They can’t even speak [to each other]. Manny certainly likes him and they trained together, but I wouldn’t say they’re friends. They’re not unfriendly, but they’re not guys that call each other up every day and talk.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.