By Alexey Sukachev
His fight versus Timothy Bradley (29-0, 12 KOs and 1 NC) on March 16 will mark the highest point in Ruslan Provodnikov’s professional career. Not only will it be his own personal achievement but also the epitome of a wild Russian month, which started on February 23rd with the Glazkov vs. Scott event and finishes in two weeks with Sasha Bakhtin’s next defense of the IBO belt in Balashikha. But it will be Provodnikov (22-1, 15 KOs), who will face the toughest opponent among all of them (including Evgueny Gradovich, Denis Grachev, Denis Shafikov and Khabib Allakhverdiev) – the WBO welterweight champion and the P4P stalwart Timothy Bradley. On HBO. In the main event.
Over the last few years, Provodnikov established a tiny fan base among the hardcore junkies – not only in Russia but also in America. He has fought numerous times on the ESPN, delivering blood in pints and punches in bunches, adding thrill and will every time he laced up the gloves. Yet, for many fans he was and he is an unknown hero.
BoxingScene spoke to the WBO #3 ranked welterweight about his upcoming challenge of Bradley, him being a huge underdog, his past and his origin.
- Ruslan, a week before the biggest day in your career as a prizefighter, how do you feel? How has been your training camp up to this point?
- Thank God, I’m feeling perfect. There are no problems to talk about, and my camp is slowly nearing its end. I’m in great physical shape – thanks to my conditioning guru Gavin McMillan. And I’m also in a perfect mental and boxing shape – the fact I owe to my head coach Freddie Roach.
- Joel Diaz told us that, from his standpoint, Freddie Roach has emptied his tank of emotions, that he is no longer hungry enough, and all what is really left of Roach of the past is his name. It seems like you disagree…
- Indeed I do! Freddie [Roach] is in his prime. He is positive, fully determined to bring me roaring back and up to the limit. He wishes only the best for me, he motivates me at the very same time, and he works really hard; he doesn’t shirk his work. I cannot say his attitude to boxing is different in comparison with our previous camps and fights. Freddie lives boxing.
- Have you seen Bradley’s fights?
- The only one, which I saw, was his collision with Manny Pacquiao. Manny invited me to visit the show. I was his chief sparring partner during the training camp, helping him to get ready for Tim Bradley. I haven’t seen any other fights of Bradley. I don’t need it just because I have great faith in [Freddie] Roach. I trust him with all the strategy and tactics for the Bradley fight. I’m sure we shall get through. It’ll be tough in the opening rounds but I feel the crucial moments will be ahead of them, in the second half of the contest. And I will prove I am no worse than the champion.
- Speaking of Bradley vs. Pacquiao… How have you scored it?
- Manny has pulled it off. At least, he didn’t lose the fight. What else can I say?! It was obvious for everyone.
- Tell us more about your opponent, about his manner of fighting.
- He is always supremely conditioned, he is tough and his workrate is also fascinating. Jesus, he is dirty too. Bradley often walks forward with his head dangerously protruding, hence gashes and cuts. And, you know, I’m ready. My coach told me about a lot of these old-school tricks so I am well prepared.
- Who have you sparred with in preparation for Bradley?
- Forgive me, but I don’t recall the name. Porter?
Vadim Kornilov, Ruslan’s American co-manager and adviser: “Ruslan did spar with Shawn Porter but it was quite a time ago”.
- You should have known better (smiles).
- Indeed, I should have. Well, I think it was Steve Forbes. He has a great jab and he is quick, although he is a veteran. When I stayed in Las Vegas I trained in the same gym with Mayweather family, his sparring partners.
- You are moving up in weight specifically for this fight. What does it mean for you? Will it be to Bradley’s advantage?
- Well, truth be told, Tim has just moved up in weight too. And for me it’s a positive move. I will not have to drain myself or to starve in order to make the weight limit. And it sounds perfect for me. Plus Bradley will have to lose some pounds too. I am well conditioned, a few pounds and I’ll be right there in a supreme shape.
- How have you decided to take this opportunity and to fight for the welterweight title?
- I was first told about this possibility in December. But then various opportunities occurred. I was offered a fight with Lamont Peterson, then with the winner of the Brandon Rios vs. Mike Alvarado showdown. But there’s always boxing politics. It was one of the reasons why I haven’t fought either Rios or Alvarado. I was just an obstacle on their collision road, and I should have been removed.
- Do you consider yourself an underdog in the upcoming fight?
- I have always been one. People often said I was a dummy. I just don’t care about them and their thoughts. I have already carried out a big body of work. The fact I have received a chance to fight for the world title, needs no other explanations.
- You have a very special look about you. Though you have a Russian name and Russian surname, you don’t even remotely resemble a Russian. What is your origin? We thought you are of Khant origin.
- No, I’m not. I’m Mansi. People often confuse our peoples, as they really close to each other but as for me – I’m a proud Mansi. Well, my father is Russian while my mother is Mansi, but my ethnic identity is clear. I have always been Mansi, and that’s the way I feel.
My nation isn’t large. There’s only 8 000 Mansi left. However, I expect about 20 Khants and Mansi to fly overseas right from the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Region to support me against Bradley. They will lead me to the ring with all that stuff – shamans, tambourines and dancing. I even hope to wear my national dress on my way to the ring. Vadim (Kornilov) does his best to arrange everything perfectly.
According to 2010 census, there’s about 12,500 Mansi in the world. The tiny Siberian nation makes its living of reindeer herding. It’s most proximate relatives are Khants and… Hungarians, who had split from the rest of the group about 1300 years ago.
- Were you a successful amateur?
- No, I wasn't a star. I was taught well by my child hoodtrainer Evgueny Alekseevich Vakuev but I didn’t win anything serious, and my amateur record is 130-20 or something like that. Since 10 I was a part of my region’s youth teams; at 16 I had won European Cadet Championship at 105 pounds. I also boxed with Alexey Tischenko (a two-time Olympic gold medalist). Unfortunately, you need not only your ambitions and power but also some political support to graze your way into the Russian national amateur boxing squad.
- Who was your toughest career opponent?
- Definitely it was Mauricio Herrera. I know a majority of the fans (specifically my own fans) still think it was a robbery. It wasn’t. That loss was very logical. The way I trained for the fight was improper. I had been training for a long time relying solely on my amateur experience. That was wrong. I was the top dog in that fight, the one to shine, but Team Herrera had wisely resolved my problem. They fooled me in and tricked me out. And my team worked badly on that night – one of the reasons why I lost. And I thank God for that loss. Right after that I had been picked up by Buddy McGirt and it was all up from that point, until the moment where I stand now.
- Your closing thoughts?
- I want to ask every Russian fight fan to root for me. Just turn on your monitors and TV sets and support me as much as you can. I’ll be doing my job but I’ll feel and hear your support. That’s priceless for me.