By Jake Donovan
Tim Bradley didn’t seem to care about having to move up in weight to face Manny Pacquiao, and that came at a time when Pacquiao was universally recognized as one of the two best fighters in the world.
Even with a win over Pacquiao, Bradley isn’t regarded as one of the two best fighters in the world. He’s barely even regarded as the true winner of that fight. Even in accepting the win, the move up in weight to tackle a fighter in his element is hardly unprecedented.
Ruslan Provodnikov has one eye on such history as he climbs the scales for this weekend’s title challenge against Bradley.
The fight marks a series of firsts for the Russian contender – his first title shot, first ever appearance on HBO and first fight at welterweight in well over two years as his career has been largely spent campaigning in the super lightweight division. He has all of the reason to be worried, but has nary a care in the world heading into this weekend’s festivities.
“I think everything is going to be fine. The training camp is great and I feel great at 147,” Provodnikov (22-1, 15KO) said earlier in the month regarding this weekend’s bout, which airs live from Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif (Saturday, HBO, 10:15PM ET/7:15PM PT). “I do weigh a little more and it is easier now than it normally is at this time two weeks out.”
Provodnikov was well on target to make weight at last check – 153 lb. with still 10 days to go. Also aiding his cause this weekend is a full training camp under the guidance of Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach. This fight will mark Provodnikov’s fourth fight under Roach’s tutelage, but just the first time the trainer will actually be able to serve instructions on fight night.
“I have trained him the last three fights, I just haven’t been able to get to the fight with him because of conflicts with Pacquiao and other fighters,” notes Roach. “I had my friend and assistant Eric Brown help me out a bit and he did a great job. Right now everything is falling into place and I’ll be in the corner this time also.”
Things have gone well for Provodnikov regardless of who is standing in his corner. The Russian export has won five straight – including four by knockout – since suffering the lone loss of his career. Most experts view his Jan. ’11 unanimous decision loss to Mauricio Herrera as suspect, as evidenced by the crowd reaction moments after the verdict was announced for their ESPN2-televised main event.
The fact that he heads into this weekend without the benefit of an unbeaten record hardly leaves him feeling like anything less than invincible. Even less concerning is the fact that Herrera was hired as a chief sparring partner for Bradley (29-0-0-1NC, 12KO) for this particular bout.”
“I heard that Bradley is using Herrera for sparring but they don’t know what kind of preparations I had for that fight or what kind of trainer I had. My training camp now is completely different and I don’t think I lost that fight anyway,” Provodnikov insists. “I have been improving and with my new trainer and strength-and-conditioning coach [Gavin MacMillan] working with me and I going to be even more different than I was in the last couple of fights.”
His corner is in full agreement.
“I think he is a different fighter than the one that lost,” Roach notes. “I think it is a smart thing for them to do. We got the best sparring partners we could to emulate Bradley. We spent a lot of money going out and getting the right guys and they did the same thing.
“The thing is when they get in the ring at match up on fight night it won’t be anything like the sparring. That’s how you get ready for big fights.”
The past several fights have gone well for Provodnikov, including a points win over former titlist DeMarcus Corley more than a year ago in his native Russia. The win is similar to most of his best accomplishments as a pro – notable victories over recognizable but faded names, though claiming the scalp of previously unbeaten Ivan Popoca turned a few heads.
Still, his pro career to date mirrors that of his days in the amateurs – an eye catching record (roughly 130 wins among approximately 150 fights), though no notable championships of which to speak.
This weekend could change all of that, which was precisely why his team pursued it. Even though it meant moving up in weight and on a stage where he doesn’t stand to make millions or perform in front of millions of viewers, Provodnikov is believed by his team to be in the best possible place given the circumstances.
“Ruslan is taking this fight because it is the biggest fight we could make,” says Matt Rowland of Banner Promotions, for whom Provodnikov fights during his time in the United States.
Another interesting point raised by his handlers is the fact that Bradley is still relatively new to the division as well. It’s not as if Provodnikov is giving away massive height and reach advantages to the unbeaten defending titlist.
“He is fighting Tim Bradley who has only fought welterweight twice,” Rowland notes. “So we are not dealing with a big welterweight and he wasn’t a big puncher at 140 so he shouldn’t be a big puncher at 147, so weight will definitely not be an issue.”
Experience could very well be, however. Provodnikov is now more than six years into the pro ranks, but has never come close to a fight boasting the magnitude of this weekend’s events. It also comes at an unfamiliar weight class, despite the fact that he and Bradley are relatively the same size.
The working theory, though, is that Provodnikov simply won’t know until he’s thrown into the deep end. He has no clue how this weekend will turn out. He has no clue what will be the next step. All he needs to know – or believe – is that he will be in a position to call his own shots once this weekend is through, and that it comes against a fighter who long ago appeared on his radar.
“I don’t know what my plans are going to be after this fight. Realistically I have always been waiting for a fight against Tim Bradley and I would have taken the fight with him at 140 or 147,” Provodnikov reveals. “I think I can beat him at any weight class.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox