By Alexey Sukachev
A manager from the former USSR – Russian-born/American-based Vadim Kornilov – made an impressive splash last year. His fighter Ruslan Provodnikov (23-2, 16 KOs) has done even more in terms of thrilling moments and adrenaline rush than the majority of Russian fighters combined. Having been treated as your average ESPN creation, the Siberian Rocky became the central part of the Murderous Trio, which also lists The Triple G (WBA/IBO middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin) and Krusher Kovalev – a new, ex-Soviet version of the famous Murderers’ Row of 40’s and 50’s.
Provodnikov turned both of his outings into Fight-of-the-Year candidates, firstly forcing WBO welterweight champion Timothy Bradley to go through hell to preserve his title via a close unanimous decision in the first real thriller of the year, then digging deep to stop tough-as-nails Mike Alvarado in a fight for the WBO 140lb title.
Standing behind the Siberian Rocky was Kornilov, who guided the American part of his career alongside his domestic colleague German Titov and Arthur Pellulo of Banner Promotions. Provodnikov wasn’t the only success for a softly-spoken but firm Kornilov. He also signed a managerial contract with an amateur superstar Egor Mekhontsev, 2012 London gold medalist and 2009 Milano world champion and a two-time European amateur champion. Mekhontsev was put into a nice company with 2011 world champion Taras Shelestyuk (6-0, 4 KOs) of Ukraine and several undefeated rising fighters from Russia – a strong team for a young manager.
The 28-year old manager looks like an alumnus of a business school (which he is) rather than your usual boxing manager. He speaks soft while his pride is unaffected; then he turns firm and caustic, showing his determination and strength where due. BoxingScene contacted Kornilov to learn more of him and his fighters.
- We know something of the fighters you guide. We don’t know much of you. Tell us where you are from and how you’ve got into the fight game.
- I always say that it’s all about the fighters, they are the fundamental part of a boxing team, if we didn’t have the great fighters we represent our guidance would not be as valued and respected. I was born in Nizhniy Tagil, it is a small industrial town in the Siberian part of Russia. That is where I had the opportunity to start boxing as an amateur and where my lifelong love for the sport began. I always had a dream of getting into a big professional ring, while my life had different plans for me, my parents sent me off to school in the US and I was only able to stay a boxer part time as I grew up. I am confident now that all of our dreams become a reality one way or another because now my dream of standing in the ring came true, but it’s even better, I’m standing there next to my fighters and they probably have much better chances of achieving boxing stardom than I did if I was a fighter.
- Your crown fighter is undeniably Ruslan Provodnikov. There are lots of thoughts, rumors and opinions surrounding his next fight. Tell us what is going on in reality.
- We’ve been in long negotiations for a possible Manny Paquiao fight where Ruslan was considered the top opponent right along Tim Bradley with whom Ruslan had a fight of the year in 2013. We were in very lengthy negotiations for over a month and that’s usually how long it takes to finalize a fight. Ruslan himself flew overseas to take his part in the discussions with our promoter Banner Promotions and I. And we were pretty close to strike a deal but then Manny, in my understanding after discussing it with his family and his team, chose to fight Timothy Bradley in a rematch instead. The whole outlook was changed over the last ten-to-fourteen days before the fight was made, until then Ruslan was the frontrunner for the fight.
I knew about Manny’s choice but we were just waiting for things to get worked out, initially Ruslan didn’t want the fight because he didn’t want Freddie in the other corner, later Freddie talked to Ruslan and gave him his approval and he decided he can’t pass on a fight like this, but at the end we just wanted for Manny to finalize his fight so we can go on with our career. …
As for the latest, we’ve been concentrating on Juan Manuel Marquez both before and after the negotiations with Manny Pacquiao. Marquez’s promotional team has made an impression that the fight might be possible, but we never got any concrete answer from them. It looks obvious to me that he just doesn’t want to fight Ruslan at this point of his career because it’s a very dangerous fight for him.
With all these things in consideration, the most viable candidate at this point is Brandon Rios. He is promoted by Top Rank, he is a fan-friendly fighter, he fights on HBO and they like his fights just as much as the fans do, and he is a pretty good fighter also. The only problem is that Brandon has huge issues with making weight.
His recent VADA anti-doping results failure for a substance known to help make weight tells us he has big problems to tip not only the light welterweight limit but also the welterweight limit. On the other hand, Ruslan wants to defend his recently acquired WBO belt in the light welterweight division – under the WBO rules and regulations, with the WBO officials – which makes it difficult to make the fight with Rios who might never make the light welterweight limit ever again.
- I understand fighters aren’t exactly eager to fight Ruslan. But he has last fought in October. When shall we see him in the ring again?
- Our promoters have informed me that there is a reserved date in May on HBO Championship Boxing. The problem, however, isn’t the date but the opponent. Only a few fighters actually show a desire to fight Ruslan. One of them is Brandon Rios; putting aside his weight issues he is the perfect opponent, but we might just have to look for other options if his promoter doesn’t want to vouch for him making weight.
- Top Rank has other fighters in the light welterweight division. Khabib Allakhverdiev can be reached in the future but another option is Karim Mayfield (18-0-1, 11 KOs). Why not fight him?
- Mayfield’s name was mentioned. However, our trainer Freddie Roach doesn’t support the idea, and he has good reasons for it. Freddie knows the fighter very well because he has used him as a sparring partner for one of Manny’s fight camps. Both of the opponents can be considered if we have no other opponents that deserve this chance more, but they have to first fight somebody that means something, they are both currently off TV fighters pretty much and there are good reasons for it, mainly because they haven’t really taken any chances, and Ruslan had to take a lot of chances before he got to where he is, and that’s why he now only wants to fight the best out there and only give the chance to the fighters that deserve it most. Brandon Rios is being considered on the top of the list because the guy actually fights whoever and whenever…
- Is there a chance we can see Ruslan battling in Russia – at least, in a voluntary defense of the title?
- I know some people began mentioning Ruslan’s name in Russia recently. Mostly it is just conversation and it’s far from reality. Only our team in the US and Provodnikov’s Russian co-promoter German Titov together will decide if Ruslan fights in Russia or not, when and where if ever. As far as I know, HBO doesn’t mind a possible fight with Ruslan in Russia; it would be exciting because he is one of the most well-known boxers in Russia today. I think as of now we are far from a fight in Russia because of all the undone business Ruslan has in the United States right now, and even if it was to happen, Ruslan’s wish is that it happens in his homeland of Khanti-Mansiysk region.
- Where’s Ruslan now?
- Ruslan was getting some rest in his hometown in Russia recently. Currently he is in Sochi, visiting the Winter Olympics alongside the governor of his region. Even when he is not in training camp he is always doing some swimming and keeping in shape to make sure he’s ready to start camp when needed.
- You’ve signed a major amateur player recently. Egor Mekhontsev (1-0, 1 KO), 2012 heavyweight gold medalist, has recently made a pro debut. Obviously, big hopes surround this fighter. What is next for him?
- First of all, Egor is a truly great boxer, a real fighter with vast technical and physical skills. I have very much confidence in him, as does Top Rank, our promoter. Next for Egor is a fight which will occur in Macau at the “Ring Of Gold” event on February 22nd. Mekhontsev faces undefeated Thai Atthaporn Jaritram (4-0, 1 KO). We shall keep Mekhontsev busy and won’t rush him, I’m never in a rush with my fighters because at the end experience is everything and if you’re running ahead of yourself than you’re depending on luck at many times. We will see how things progress and move along to bigger fight as we see that he is ready for them.
Egor is a complete fighter; he just needs some pro experience and I think he will be a major player in the light heavyweight division in the next couple of years. We will see how this fight goes and we will talk with Bob Arum about a possible fight for Egor in April on the Pacquiao under card in Las Vegas or maybe another card around that time.
- Mekhontsev, a former amateur standout, is signed with Top Rank. Five and a half years ago they also signed a deal with another top-rated Russian amateur Matt (Matvey) Korobov. He is not an Olympic champion but hardly any less accomplished (2005 and 2007 WC gold medalist) at the unpaid ranks. He is still struggling to achieve anything as a pro. What should you do to avoid this rocky road with Egor?
- It’s a tough question to answer. I know Matvey, and I don’t’ have a certain answer to why his pro career hasn’t really kicked off yet. Some experts say he hasn’t fully transitioned into being a pro boxer. Others think he lacks charisma, although his latest fight was a pure thriller and he looked spectacular knocking tough Ossie Duran out. Maybe something is missing. Maybe something is not there as far as his career is being handled, to be honest with you I don’t hear much about his fights anywhere in the US or in Russia. I spend a lot of time working with the press and on all the social media platforms for most of my fighters, it’s important… Just like in any business, in boxing you have to be at the right places with the right people.
My fighters are working with one of the best trainers in the world, in a boxing gym which is visited by more champions, promoters, and TV directors daily than some gyms are visited in a year. And I don’t manage any fighters unless they are training in Los Angeles where I live, I can’t imagine ever working with a fighter who lives in another state, what can I do for him if I’m thousands of miles away? . I think Matvey is a very good boxer. I cannot understand why he is struggling but I hope that he finds a reason and a solution in the near future because he deserves a lot more recognition.
- Indeed, Egor has some special appeal about him, and it’s not fully positive. I’m talking about a scandalous conflict with an aging boxer Rodion Pastukh (9-0, 9 KOs), who has called Egor out, using some barely legal language. It came unnoticed abroad but it looks like a big deal here, in Russia. What is your stance on that, and can this fight occur in the nearest future?
- Luckily professional boxing in the United States is a lot more PROFESSIONAL than it is in Russia right now, but Russia is gaining on experience. There are of course certain flaws everywhere, but there is a reason why once boxers become stars in the United States they are stars all over the world, and it’s because the US boxing scene is respected and the matchmaking in the US is a lot more meaningful and professional that many other countries. I try not to be a supporter of different acts of self-PR that boxers undertake outside of the ring, but it is everybody’s personal choice. In conclusion any fight can happen if it makes logical and financial sense, but it will be up to our team and Top Rank to decide. .
- Let’s get back to other fighters, guided by you. I have been told that your boxers are an important part of the deal regarding upcoming boxing tourneys on ESPN 2. Give us the insight.
- Yes, it was a deal long discussed, and it is true that my boxers – namely Fedor Papazov and Vitaliy Kopylenko – will be involved in both the lightweight and the middleweight Boxcino tournaments on ESPN. This tournament has a long history behind it. It was first organized in the late 90’s, and it marked the birth of a special fighter in Acelino “Popo” Freitas who won the tournament at the time. I hope one of my protégés will follow the path of the Brazilian superstar and take advantage of the opportunity given to them in this tournament. By the way, Freitas was promoted by no other than Banner Promotions throughout his career, and Banner is the exclusive promoter that together with ESPN have brought this great tournament back to life.
Fedor Papazov (14-0, 9 KOs) is our fighter taking part in the lightweight tournament. He faces experienced Spain-based Russian Petr Petrov (32-4-2, 15 KOs) in an all-Russian quarterfinal. I know there are rumors that I have something to do with the latter boxer, but those rumors are false – I have nothing to do with him. We thought about working with him but we have never come to finalizing a deal. As for Papazov, he is a 28-year old boxer-puncher, promoted co-jointly by Banner Promotions and Kirill Pchelnikov. Fedor is a real puncher-brawler that closely resembles his nickname: “Mr. Knockout”, a must-see fighter, whom I am confident to get the better of his opposition in this tournament.
Other lightweight pairs will feature:
Yakubu Amidu (21-4-2, 19 KOs) vs Chris Rudd (12-1, 8 KOs)
Miguel Gonzalez (22-3, 16 KOs) vs. Miguel Angel Mendoza (21-2-2, 21 KOs)
Fernando Carcamo (15-5, 12 KOs) vs. Samuel Kotey Neequaye (21-0, 15 KOs).
All quarterfinals are set for six rounds on February 21 in Laughlin, Nevada.
- Vitaliy Kopylenko (22-0, 12 KOs) is a new addition to your team. What about him?
- I have recently come to a managerial agreement with this Ukrainian fighter. I’ll co-guide his career alongside my partner Oleg Bogdanov (Denis Shafikov’s manager). Kopylenko has no European ties now and is signed by Banner Promotions. I think he will be a major frontrunner in the middleweight part of the tournament.
By the way, the whole idea of this tournament belongs to Arthur Pellulo of Banner Promotions and ESPN. It’s a big chance for all the fighters involved and, specifically, for my protégés. Personally, I think that getting to semifinals or the finals (let alone becoming a winner) will be a tremendous achievement.
I have much belief in both Kopylenko and Papazov, who aren’t afraid to showcase their skills against really tough opponents and have been training at the Wild Card gym for 5 weeks now under the supervision of Freddie Roach and Marvin Somodio, and they are both going to be in top form once we get to the start date.
Middleweight tournament semifinals will take place on February 28 in Hammond, Indiana, and will be co-promoted by Art Pellulo and Bobby Hitz. The full roster reads as follows:
Brandon Adams (12-0, 8 KOs) vs. Daniel Edouard (23-4-2, 14 KOs)
Cerresso Fort (17-2-1, 11 KOs) vs. Vitaliy Kopylenko (22-0, 12 KOs)
Donatas Bondorovas (18-4-1, 6 KOs) vs. Willie Monroe Jr. (15-1, 6 KOs)
Raymond Gatica (13-2-1, 8 KOs) vs. Sena Agbeko (15-0, 15 KOs)
- Another fighter, who has successfully debuted under your banner, is former Ukrainian amateur star and 2011 world champion Taras Shelestyuk (6-0, 4 KOs). We haven’t heard about him for a while.
- Taras started pretty fast (going 5-0, with 3 KOs, in four months between March 2013 and July 2013) but then he took some time off in his native Ukraine and came back for a quick come back fight in November. He will fight next in a six-rounder on February 21 within the same show with Papazov. After this fight his schedule is going to get very busy again. He is back in March in an eight-rounder; then we’ve reserved a date in April and May for him. I have no doubts that Taras will be as active in 2014 as he was in 2013 with a hopeful ESPN televised bout towards the summer.
- You are also working with welterweight Sukhrab Shidaev (7-0, 6 KOs) and Russian super featherweight champion Evgueny Chuprakov (7-0, 3 KOs). What are their next plans?
- Evgueny Chuprakov is one of those fighters that live at the gym; I can’t describe him any other way. He is obviously not a thunderous puncher, he isn’t exceptionally fast but his determination and work ethics can hardly be underestimated. He is managed by both me and Andrey (Napolskikh), and he fights next this Saturday in Ekaterinburg, Russia against Ilyos Qayumov (2-0, 2 KOs).
Sukhrab Shidaev is a hidden gem. He reminds me of a young Ruslan (Provodnikov) – a hard hitter, who can go through a brick wall, very tough, very determined. He was involved in Manny Pacquiao’s sparring sessions many times and was taken out for good after a few of them – because sometimes he is just a little too much for fighters in his weight class. He has not yet fought any serious competition, but we shall gradually raise his level of opponents in 2014. He is fighting next on a Top Rank show this Saturday against Yosmany Abreu (4-7-2), the same fighter who held Khurshid Abdullaev to a draw in November. I think he will go through Abreu and will be very impressive in doing it.
- Are there any other fighters, you are involved with?
- Yes there are a couple more fighters that have recently arrived to Los Angeles and we’re beginning to work together. One of them is the WBA cruiserweight champion Denis Lebedev (25-1, 19 KOs) who has chosen to stage his camp in Los Angeles under my guidance. I’m helping him alongside one of my partners from Russia Sergey Bondar. Lebedev is presently training at the Wild Card Gym working with Freddie Roach and the well-known conditioning guru Gavin McMillan. I am very confident that once the rematch with Guillermo Jones occurs in April everybody will see a different Denis Lebedev. Denis is already showing vast progress in his skills while in sparring with some of the top cruiserweights and I am very confident that his improvements will be very impressive just after one training camp here with us.
- 2013 was a great year for Lithuanian manager Egis Klimas. Do you feel like there’s a rivalry between two best Eastern Euro-American managers?
- No, I wouldn’t say that there is a rivalry; it’s only natural that there is some competition, this is what the fight business is about: competition... But I know Egis very well, we are actually good friends in life. Obviously certain Soviet fighters will contact both of us and in certain instances we are competing since we are not managing any fighters together, but I think that our competition is absolutely good for boxing and for the Russian fighters. We are both doing great things for Russian boxing and boxing in general and that’s what counts…
- 2013 was a breakthrough year for you. Will 2014 be any different?
- It will be even greater!