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Azad Championship Report - Provodnikov Chases the Storm

(Photo © Chris Farina / Top Rank)
(Photo © Chris Farina / Top Rank)


Every fighter who steps into the ring deserves a shot at greatness. For most boxers, an entire life has been sacrificed for a taste of greatness. It doesn’t matter if it’s a long, slow, thirst-quenching drink from the river of fortune and glory or a fleeting sip on one special night against the right opponent at the right time. Not every fighter gets to exercise this right to pursue greatness nor is ready for it when it comes. Saturday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA (live on HBO, 10:15 p.m., ET/PT), Russian junior welterweight contender Ruslan Provodnikov, 22-1 (15), will take his swing in the direction of greatness when he challenges WBO welterweight titleholder and former junior welterweight champion Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley, 29-0 (12).
 
Provodnikov, promoted by Banner Promotions, could have stayed at junior welterweight where he is ranked highly by two sanctioning bodies. He could have easily complained that a move to 147 pounds, (surely a situation where the cards might be stacked against him, what with Top Rank promoting Bradley) was simply too much to ask. However, Provodnikov, always the warrior with only winning on his mind, was visited by his manager, Vadim Kornilov, in Russia with the Bradley offer and agreed without hesitation. The money didn’t matter and neither did the weight nor the condition that the fight be tested under the auspices of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (a provision Provodnikov would have asked for anyway). All he wanted was his shot at Tim Bradley and his world title.

“I said this at the beginning and all through training camp that this weight was not a problem for me,” Provodnikov told Maxboxing.com on Monday. “I feel 100% confident at this weight. I feel even better and I think I’ll be even stronger.”
 
“The training that Ruslan put in the last month-and-a-half has been very impressive,” said Kornilov. “I really don’t see how anything can stop him now. I’ve never seen Ruslan so focused. He’s always into training, even when he’s at home. I see him not distracted by anything right now. He’s maintained his focus. Some fighters get distracted when they come to a big fight like this with all the interviews and so on but he’s more focused than ever.”
 
For this camp, Provodnikov has pulled out all the stops. Despite a layoff that goes back to June of last year, Provodnikov arrived at training camp on weight with a few weeks of strength and conditioning under his belt. Trained by Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA, Provodnikov also added strength-and-conditioning coach Gavin MacMillan, founder of Sports Science Lab. MacMillan has worked with NBA player Tyson Chandler, NFL player Troy Polamalu and MMA champion Georges St. Pierre among many others from tennis to hockey to cycling.
 
“I’ve been very fortunate in the last 10 years to work with some of the best athletes in the world,” MacMillan told Maxboxing.com. “I would say that Ruslan is one of the most professional athletes I have ever known. He adapts to things very quickly. He is extremely coachable. So it’s really been a pleasure to be out here. I really think he is a true professional from his fitness to his diet to his training with Freddie Roach, everything. He takes it very seriously.”
 
The focus has mainly been on getting Provodnikov quicker on his feet without losing strength or power.
 
“I was working with [MacMillan] on my feet, on my balance, my movement,” said Provodnikov. “That’s what we concentrated on and I feel a lot of improvement in that area. My footwork is much better and I am cutting off the ring much better.”
 
“The adjustments throughout the camp were just making sure we kept the weight on him,” said MacMillan. “With Ruslan being used to having to drop to 140, it’s just a matter of making sure his diet is correct for the amount of work he is doing for someone like Bradley. The most important thing that we are worried about, number one, is making sure that he can go 12 rounds. Second to that is making him into the best athlete that we can in the time that we have. The idea is that most of the strength benefits are built around that. I’m interested in how well he moves and making sure that the muscles in his legs are balanced properly so he is ready to be able to implement the strategy that they want implemented.
 
MacMillan pointed out that while his conditioning program can take the athlete to the next level, this process is about team work. The trainer has his job. The fighter has his. MacMillan likened his role to that of a personal human mechanic helping both the fighter and the trainer achieve the highest level of performance together.
 
“Absolutely. You have to know your role and my role is to provide a better working car for the trainer to drive. That’s what a trainer is trying to do: to make Ruslan box as fast and as efficient as possible. My only role is to help his body do that better,” said MacMillan. “I’m a secondary role in that I’m not much help to anybody if I can’t help Freddie do what he wants the fighter to do and what we are trying to do is make sure that Ruslan is as athletic and as quick as possible,” said MacMillan.
 
In Bradley’s last fight, also last June, he bested Manny Pacquiao over 12 rounds that boxing fans have disagreed on since they ended. But the fight yielded two things: a title shot for Provodnikov and a wealth of knowledge about Bradley gleaned by Roach for Provodnikov to absorb.
 
“I definitely learned a lot about Bradley,” said Provodnikov. “One of the main reasons from that is Freddie having a lot of knowledge on the opponent. Working with Freddie, the work he had me do, I realized a lot. There were a lot of things about Bradley and how to neutralize Bradley and his style. That was helpful to me in training.”
 
When asked what aspect of Bradley’s game he felt he had to worry about most, Provodnikov deadpanned, “Probably for him not to knock me out with his head,” referring to Bradley’s oft-criticized come-forward, headfirst style.
 
You can tell how close a fight is by how short a fighter’s answers are. The closer the fight, the shorter the answers. Provodnikov kept media silent for much of this promotion, choosing to isolate and focus on this greatest of opportunities. While he was polite and gave clear answers about his preparation, when it came to the fight itself, he chose instead to leave the talking to his fists.
 
“We are only going to be able to see for sure March 16 in the fight,” said Provodnikov, when asked if he considered himself the puncher in this fight.
 
For many fans and some fight scribes, Provodnikov is not an elite fighter. He is fun to watch to be sure and his aggression and willingness to risk is always entertaining.
 
“I don’t care what he thinks or he says,” he said when asked if he felt Bradley was somehow overlooking him. “The only thing I care about is that this fight is going to make me a superstar.”
 
In order for that superstar status to be achieved, Provodnikov will have to do something spectacular. A knockout or a spirited effort that takes Bradley somewhere he has never been would be a start. The knockout would especially be helpful considering the much maligned Bradley-Pacquiao scorecards.
 
“For me, I don’t really think about that either,” said Provodnikov regarding a possible need for a knockout to avoid bad judging. “I know that when I win fights, it’s usually in entertaining fashion. So if I beat Bradley, it will be in entertaining fashion.”
 
Now is the moment of truth for young Ruslan Provodnikov. This is likely not his last attempt at a world title - but it certainly is his first and he has left nothing to chance.
 
“I don’t like to do prefight predictions. You never know how a fight is going to go. It can change any minute. I just wanted to make sure I am physically and psychologically ready for this fight and now I am,” said Provodnikov. “And that what concerns me. I don’t really envision it. I just want to make sure I am ready and now I am.”
 
On Saturday, Provodnikov will enter the proving grounds. The best thing you can be when that happens is prepared. Sometimes that is all you can ask.
 
“For this camp, I feel I got what I wanted and for that, I am glad,” said Provodnikov. “I am ready to prove to everyone that what I said was true and that is I can fight the most elite fighters.”


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You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PST.

 
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