By Francisco Salazar
If there is an "off" button on Ruslan Provodnikov, few people outside of his circle seem to know where it is. Or temporarily contain it, for that matter.
For boxing fans, they have no problem if that button remains on forever.
Provodnikov has improved his boxing skills a great deal since migrating from his native Russia. But it is the sheer will that has made him the popular and world champion that he is today.
But one has to wonder how many wars Provodnikov has left in him. Numerous wars between Mauricio Herrera, Timothy Bradley, and Mike Alvarado have thrilled fight fans, but at the same time shorten his career.
That is just how the boxing game is. Provodnikov has that style where he will get hit, yet he could do serious damage from the repeated punches he lands on his opponents.
An underdog in most fights, he finds himself the significant favorite when he steps inside the ring on Saturday night against Chris Algieri at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY.
The bout will headline a HBO "Boxing After Dark" telecast, which will begin at 10PM ET/ 7PM PT.
Provodnikov (23-2, 16 KOs) will be defending the WBO junior welterweight title he won by defeating Mike Alvarado by technical knockout after the seventh round on October 19 in suburban Denver, CO.
Chris Algieri may be unbeaten and looks like a slick boxer against modest opposition. But he is going into the Provodnikov fight as an underdog, where some even predict making it to the final bell would be a moral victory for Algieri.
Then again, the same could be said when Provodnikov faced Mauricio Herrera in January of 2011. Despite a broken orbital bone below his left eye, courtesy of repeated right hands from Provodnikov, the Mexican-American used his boxing skills to win by unanimous decision.
Chris Algieri may not be Herrera and Provodnikov is a better boxer now than three and a half years ago. Even for those reasons, Provodnikov is not taking Algieri lightly.
"To me, this fight is just like my previous fights," Provodnikov told Boxingscene.com through interpreter Vadim Kornilov, who is also his manager. "It's like I'm trying to win another title. I've had a really good training camp and I've had really good sparring partners that are better than me. They're beating on me. Some of them are heavier and better, but I know that I have to go through this again just like (I've) previously (done). I have to prove it again. it's like becoming a champion again because the first defense is very important. That's what motivates me."
It is not surprising Provodnikov would maintain that type of mentality, even after becoming a world title holder and making significantly higher purses than when he was fighting on ESPN2 telecasts. That mentality could be attributed to the humble upbringings Provodnikov had while growing up in the rural Siberian town of Beryozovo.
Boxing was Provodnikov's escape from the rough winters, few economics opportunities, and the street fights he would get into while living in the region.
Despite the losses to Herrera and Timothy Bradley in recent years, Provodnikov is right on the cusp of being an elite fighter, mixed with seeing an increase in his popularity in the sport.
It is evident by the abundant amounts of requests for autographs or pictures by boxing fans that he was arrived in the sport.
"Undoubtedly, I think it's one of the important factors because I stay very calm and very grounded," said Provodnikov after a recent training session at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood. "I think that's why people like me. I have a lot of fans now. To me, that's the way people should be. That's the way I was brought up. I was raised not to change a lot and it doesn't matter what we've achieved. It's all about who we are."
"It's a big honor and it feels great that there are so many people like Filipinos and Mexicans that they love me. It feels great that people that are not of the same nationality treat me like their own. It's an honor because I never thought that this would happen in my life. They've been very supportive. I'm very appreciative of that."
Provodnikov has a top promoter in Artie Pelullo, a stellar trainer in Freddie Roach, and a fan-friendly style and attitude that will not go away anytime soon. That combination seems to be a recipe towards greatness in a sport that will soon be void of great fighters such as Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, as early as soon as two or three years from now.
It will be interesting to see Provdnikov's progression as a fighter, especially since he could make for great fights against fighters at 140 and 147 pounds.
Even if Provodnikov runs the table and wins multiple titles against some of the elite fighters in both divisions, he would find it hard to consider himself a "great" fighter. Instead, he wishes to establish his own legacy
"I'm just making my own history," said Provodnikov, who will only be fighting for the second time east of the Mississippi River. "I don't think of myself as a great fighter. I don't think I've achieved greatness. I don't think I have enough time to get there. I will make my own history. I'll probably never be as great as Miguel Cotto, Manny Pacquiao, or Muhammad Ali, or other great fighters. I don't know if I can get there because it's been hard and it's been tough. I don't know how much more I can take of this. I know that I'll do everything I can to make my own history."
"I realize now of the hard work I had to put in and now it's paying off. I understand that it's not luck, it's just what I've put in I'm getting back. To get that, you have to be a hard achiever. You have to work hard and never give up. Sometimes people ask me if you had the opportunity, would you do all this again? I don't think I could do it again. Physically maybe, but mentally and morally, I can not do it because it's very tough."
Provodnikov has overcome a great deal to get to where he is now. Nothing has come easy for the 30 year old fighter and there is no evidence that he would want to change that.
His physical attributes are outweighed by his strong mental state to get through the worst of adversities.
Maybe Algieri gives him a severe test. Maybe not. But the attitude Provodnikov has to get him to where he wants to be in the short and long term is both motivational and inspiring.
While he may still have to pinch himself here and there to realize where he is at and what he still needs to accomplish, it is refreshing to see fighters like Provodnikov make the most of these opportunities.
"Sometimes i joke and say that to achieve greatness as a fighter, it's just bare luck, not faith. But now I know it's really faith and what you do for yourself and how you achieve that, and really what it's all about is hard work."
Seems fitting for a switch that will not turn "off" anytime soon.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. He also covers boxing for the Ventura County (CA) Star newspaper, RingTV, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing