By Robert Morales
Rarely has a fighter gained so much from a defeat the way Ruslan Provodnikov of Russia did in his narrow 12-round decision loss to welterweight champion Timothy
Bradley on March 16 at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. In taking Bradley to the limit, Provodnikov lost by scores of 114-113, 114-113 and 115-112. He had Bradley hurt the first two rounds, and also decked Bradley in the 12th round of what turned out to be a Fight of the Year candidate.
Bradley showed tremendous heart. But his reputation for that had long been established. Fight fans did not know as much about Provodnikov, but he showed everyone who he was that night. Keep in mind that he moved up in weight for Bradley.
Provodnikov looked like he loved every minute of the brutality. It was an eye-popping performance by a fighter who adores his work. Through manager and translator Vadim Gornilov, Provodnikov on Tuesday painted a picture that made sense of his attitude in the ring.
"When I was a little kid growing up in a small little village-type town, I was fighting a lot (on the streets)," Provodnikov said to BoxingScene.com via telephone following a Denver news conference formally announcing his challenge to junior welterweight champion Mike Alvarado on Oct. 19 at First Bank Center near Denver (on HBO). "I was fighting a lot for respect, I was fighting a lot because I like to fight, and I used to get punished for it."
One day, Provodnikov got lucky.
"So there was a boxing trainer that started training kids in my town," he said. "My dad took me to train there and I realized that this is what I hope to do because I can fight, that's what I love and I can get rewarded for it.
"Today, I'm very happy I can be in the ring making substantial money, making substantial financial profits and doing what I love to do. I'm being rewarded for what I'm doing, instead of being punished."
This appears to be one mean hombre. He lives for the game. That much was obvious when he was asked how important it is for him to come from Russia and become a hot commodity here in America.
"To be honest with you, I don't think about that too much," he said. "It wasn't my goal. My goal in life, and my job is to do what I do best and do it well. And if I do become a star at the same time, definitely, it's something I'm going to like, and I'm liking it now.
"What I like to do is box and put my all in the ring; that's what's important to me."
Provodnikov is Mr. Objective
The hard-hitting Russian said that initially he was very disappointed in not getting the decision against Bradley. But he said he later had a change of heart.
"Yes, after the fight I was a little emotional," Provodnikov said. "I thought I was winning the fight at the end. It was very close, but I thought that I won. When I watched the fight on TV later, more calmly, I realized that maybe the judges gave a fair decision. And maybe Bradley deserved to stay champion, because he showed a lot of heart and he showed his fans he's a true champion and he deserved the decision."
Provodnikov (22-2, 15 KOs) displayed quite a bit himself.
"Most importantly that fight revealed me as a fighter to my fans in the boxing world and most importantly, to HBO," Provodnikov said.
Let's face it, if a fighter is not toiling on one of the big networks, he has not arrived. The effort against Bradley no doubt got Provodnikov a second gig on HBO because fans dig that vicious, fearless fighter. Of course, since that secret's out, Alvarado is almost certainly going to take the same avenue with Provodnikov as he took with Brandon Rios in their second fight - he's going to try and out-box Provodnikov.
Provodnikov, 29, wouldn't blame him.
"I'm pretty sure that he will try and box me, he's actually said that as well," Provodnikov said. "I would think it would not be smart for him to try and fight me knowing how I fight and knowing my power and knowing that I will fight until I die in the ring if I have to.
"We will be ready for anything he does, but I think he will be boxing me."
Alvarado's rise impressive, considering late start
Most boxers, by the time they've reached Alvarado's 33 years of age, have been boxing for 20 to 25 years. Alvarado's first day in the gym was at the age of 20, making his current place in the game even more impressive.
"I guess it was just the way I was living," Alvarado said via telephone, when asked what prompted him to take up the sweet science at that late stage. "I mean, after high school I wasn't really doing anything. You know, work or nothing. So one day I was figuring out what to do with myself and I went to the gym. I was just so determined to do something. I mean, I was multi-talented. I played every sport you can think of. I was a wrestler my whole life.
"I was just so curious what I could do with it, and it was just meant to be. I just went with it and stood with it and gave it my all and it blossomed."
Considering he got started much later than most, perhaps most noteworthy about Alvarado is his ability to adjust his style. That was so evident in his second fight with Rios. In their first go-round, Alvarado went toe-to-toe with Rios and was stopped in the seventh round of an even fight Oct. 13 at Home Depot Center. In the rematch March 30 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Alvarado changed directions and out-boxed Rios on his way to a narrow unanimous decision. It was the plan all along.
"I think I proved that you don't only have to fight one style," Alvarado, of Denver, said. "I proved that adjustments can be made to win a fight. That's what's going to win this next fight for me as well. Obviously, styles make fights, but switch your style up the way you want the fight to happen."
Alvarado said his attitude going into that second Rios bout was that he would bang if he had to, but only if he had to. Alvarado didn't mind praising himself for adjusting so well.
"You have to remember the fact as well that I'm a late starter into this boxing game," Alvarado said. "I'm still learning about myself, I'm still learning styles, I'm still learning different tactics. But switching it up like that is really not that hard for me."
You bet Alvarado will be boxing
When told Provodnikov expects him to box, Alvarado laughed.
"Yeah, he's right about that," Alvarado said.
To Alvarado, it seems like this is the only way he can beat Provodnikov.
"He's a warrior," Alvarado said. "I mean, he's a beast. He's tough, he gots heart. He could make this fight my worst nightmare ever. I know I'm going to have to switch the game up again. I know I'm going to have to box him. I'm going to have to make this fight hard for him and I'm going to have to use different tactics to win this fight."
Arreola training in hot Phoenix
It was Wednesday, about noon, and we reached Henry Ramirez on the phone. He's the good friend and longtime trainer of heavyweight contender Chris Arreola. It's no secret that Arreola hates to train, and that is likely why he has not become all he can be in the ring.
"I'll say this, there have been a couple of guys who have benefited from Chris having lackluster training camps and their names are Bermane Stiverne and Tomasz Adamek," Ramirez said, referring to two of Arreola's three losses. "Seth Mitchell is not going to be another one of them."
Arreola and Mitchell will square off in the main event Sept. 7 at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif. (on Showtime). Ramirez switched training camp from near Arreola's Riverside, Calif. roots, to Central Boxing Gym in Phoenix, Ariz. For good reason.
"I didnt move the training camp to Phoenix because we were having great training camps at home," Ramirez said from Phoenix. "He needed to get away from home."
Ramirez said that in 2 1/2 weeks there, Arreola has been on point from the first day.
"He's busting his ass down here like never before," Ramirez said.
Although the gym is in downtown Phoenix, Team Arreola is staying in Scotsdale.
"He has no access to a car, I drive everywhere we go," Ramirez said. "We're always under the same roof; we have one big rented house out here. So far, it's just kicking ass and going to work. We're here from about 10:30 (a.m.) to 1 (p.m.) Then we do conditioning at 7 p.m. when it's still 100 degrees outside.
"I mean, he's really working his ass off. I mean, busting his ass."
Arreola, 32, is 35-3 with 30 knockouts. His first loss was in a challenge to champion Vitali Klitschko. Chances are Arreola would have lost to Klitschko even if he was shape, but he came in very flabby and was stopped after 10 rounds. However, Ramirez and other experts believe Arreola could have and perhaps should have beaten Adamek in April 2010 and Stiverne in April of this year.
Arreola lost a majority decision to Adamek, a former light heavyweight and cruiserweight champion. Arreola lost a wide unanimous decision to Stiverne, who decked Arreola in the third round and broke his nose.
"Those are from a total lack of preparation, and you can go on record with that," Ramirez said of the those losses.
Now, Arreola is in a position where a loss to Mitchell almost seals his fate as far as the possibility of getting another shot at a major title.
"It's a valid point," Ramirez said. "I don't feel Seth Mitchell is on par with a Tomasz Adamek, I don't feel he's on par with Bermane Stiverne. But you know what?
We're treating this as if it's a world-title fight. Chris's back is against the wall. He's squandered two big opportunities, and it's been for no other reason than lack of preparation; there is no other way to say it.
"Like I said, Seth Mitchell is not going to benefit from an unprepared Chris Arreola. That I guarantee."
Robert Morales covers boxing for the LA Daily News and BoxingScene.com.