by Kieran Mulvaney
When Timothy Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov squared off on HBO last March, much of the attention was on the American, fighting for the first time since being awarded a controversial decision against Manny Pacquiao the previous June.
By the time the final bell rang, it had shifted at least as much to the relatively little-known Siberian, who had taken Bradley to the precipice, rocking him early and very nearly stopping him in the final round. Seven months later, the donnybrook remains a leading contender for Fight of the Year; now, one week after Bradley stepped between the ropes for the first time since that bruising encounter—scoring a split decision win in Las Vegas over Juan Manuel Marquez—Provodnikov makes his own return. On Saturday, he enters what is sure to be hostile territory when he faces hometown favorite Mike Alvarado in junior welterweight action in Broomfield, Colorado.
Provodnikov is disarmingly honest in his assessment of the Bradley fight.
"I was a little bit surprised," he told InsideHBOBoxing about his immediate reaction to the judges' verdict. "I wasn't sure that I had won, but I was a little surprised that I didn't get the decision. But after I calmed down and watched the fight, I realized that maybe the decision was fair. I have a lot more respect for him after that fight. He is a true champion, and going through that was a show of a lot of championship heart. I thought that he was pretty much ready for a loss at the end of the fight. I think he was a little surprised he got the decision. But I think he deserved it."
He says he has learned from the experience, that when he had Bradley in trouble he lost his composure and allowed his opponent to fight his way back into the contest, and that he won't make the same mistake again.
"It's going to help me a lot with all my fights in the future," he said. "You can be sure that if I am able to catch Mike Alvarado, I will be able to control my emotions, stay more calm and finish the fight in the right fashion."
Later that day, when he is being put through his paces for a promo shoot for HBO's Epic Fall Boxing Schedule, he happily hams it up, screaming as he works out on a heavybag or stands beneath cascading water. In private, he speaks, through an interpreter, in a much more measured way, displaying the worldly mien of a man who has seen much in his short life.
His upbringing in a small Siberian town was, he concedes, a difficult one. Boxing provided him with an avenue of escape.
"Boxing saved my life, I think," he reflected. "It got me where I am today. My very first trainer, Evgeny Yakuev, is somebody who built me and built my character. I have to admit, as a kid, we were not doing smart things. To survive, we had to steal. We would drink, we would smoke. Boxing took me away from that, and today I am where I am because of boxing."
Now, as a newly-minted HBO regular, he is near the pinnacle of that life-saving profession; during the promo shoot in Los Angeles he mingled with peers such as Adonis Stevenson, Gennady Golovkin, Juan Manuel Marquez, and even his opponent Alvarado. But there is one boxer, he reveals, whom he has yet to meet, and who unwittingly played an outsized role in his life choices. When he was a young boy in Siberia, he explains, he would watch Mike Tyson fight and read about him; inspired as much by Tyson's life story – escaping the poverty of Brownsville to become the most famous boxer of his time – Provodnikov allowed himself to think of a similar future for himself.
"In a way, watching him and reading about him really changed my life," he acknowledged. "I've met a lot of stars in boxing, and I've shaken a lot of boxers' hands, but I still have a dream of shaking Mike Tyson's hand and telling him, 'Thank you,' because he helped me get where I am."