“I was very confident and very calm in this fight,” Provodnikov said through Kornilov, who translated. “I felt more confident in this fight than the Bradley fight. I was doing my fight plan that Freddie had set for me and it worked really well.”
The “Freddie” in question is his trainer, Hall of Fame coach Freddie Roach, who was in the Philippines on this particular night training Manny Pacquiao for his bout with Brandon Rios. In his stead was Marvin Somodio, Roach’s chief second, a young Filipino trainer who seems to echo Roach in demeanor and attitude. On this evening, he proved a calm commander, succinctly keeping Provodnikov on plan and on point.
Gavin MacMillan of Sports Science Lab was also there that night as he has been for the past two camps. He is becoming something of an incumbent there at the Wild Card Gym, conditioning Provodnikov, Zou Shiming, Miguel Cotto and now, Pacquiao for the Rios fight. Using their years of experience, calm intelligence and straightforward manner, Roach, Somodio, MacMillan and co-managers Kornilov and Andrei Napolskikh have helped Ruslan bring out his very best.
“Considering the way he finished him, I can’t really complain about anything,” MacMillan told Maxboxing.com as he readied to depart the next morning to report to Pacquiao Central. “To Ruslan’s credit, he had taken everything that Freddie and Marvin had been working on with him and he was applying it in his own way. There was clearly a difference in how aggressive he was in the end of the seventh round and specifically, the eighth. But the plan all along was that he was going to keep cutting [Alvarado] off and keep going to the body and wear him down. We felt like that’s where Ruslan had an advantage in that not only does he physically have more power but he could do it longer. And clearly that strategy paid off.”
Provodnikov applied intense pressure all night. From the word go, he leaped across at Alvarado, who squared up and moved to the side in retreat, looking for space to box.
“I think that Freddie had such a good game plan in terms how he wanted Ruslan to go after [Alvarado]. It really made a difference,” said MacMillan, “because every time Ruslan went to grab him, Ruslan just pushed him away and hit him. Especially, pushed him away and [swung] at the same time. It was really working for him. That and the fact that he hurt him in the first round right away. It showed what kind of power Ruslan brought to the table.”
“At the top of the first round, I hurt [Alvarado],” said Provodnikov. “I was able to start bringing the fight to him more. Mentally, I was winning the fight before I got in the ring.”
From the first bell, Alvarado seemed the tighter fighter, tentative. He switched from orthodox to southpaw and back again. He never settled into an identity whereas the longer the fight went, the more Provodnikov’s true self emerged. He smiled as he stalked Alvarado. He almost fell from missing a sweeping left hook as he came downhill on Alvarado and just smiled it off and kept coming.
But before all that, with “Face Off” on HBO and all the press coverage and hype, Provodnikov’s confidence shined through. And as the fight wore on, as everything he had professed came to fruition, Provodnikov’s confidence grew.
“Even before the fight, all the things I said just added up and [Alvarado] wasn’t too confident in himself,” assessed the “Siberian Rocky.” “I said that I would do anything to win this fight and all the words that I said, I think they all were to my advantage because he was kind of understanding that I was not coming to lose this fight. I’ll do anything. I think that really helped me.”
It was midway through the first round when Provodnikov caught Alvarado with a shot that seemed to shake his leg a bit. He retreated in his shell and Provodnikov hammered in with what would be a recurring left hook theme. In the second, however, Alvarado was able to get his box on and for a moment, Provodnikov was a little thrown.
“It was not part of the plan,” he said of saving his offense early on. “Maybe I was a little uncomfortable at certain points. There were a couple where I was less offensive and Alvarado started running around more. He was just moving around the first round. He gave me a little trouble with that but I was able to adjust.”
For many at ringside, the fight was close through six. To these eyes, Provodnikov set his posture early, stepping to Alvarado and challenging his claim to the title. In enemy territory, Alvarado’s hometown, where his promoter calls the shots, there was Provodnikov making his stand. Ring generalship, effective aggression, clean punching and better defense than in the Bradley fight (at the very least) were at the fore. In short, it was not the neck-and-neck fight many foresaw but a slow pressure cooker.
“I kind of agree with you. I saw the fight mostly in my favor,” said Provodnikov. “Maybe he took one or two rounds. All the other rounds I was winning and adding more and more to my advantage each round.”
As the rounds wore on, Alvarado wilted under the pressure, succumbing to body shots and a hematoma along his right side; the product of many left hooks. Alvarado was brave. He was tough. He was everything a champion defending at home should be. On this night, though, Ruslan was simply everything a title challenger should be.
“The fact that Ruslan came forward the entire fight, sooner or later, you have to fight him,” said MacMillan. “He’s not going to just let you get away the whole time.”
For once, Provodnikov didn’t go through pure hell to win. In the Bradley fight, he looked like he had been hit by a Mack truck. Beyond a cut over his eye (that was never a problem) and minor swelling, Provodnikov was fine after this bout.
“It’s hard to compare these fights,” said Provodnikov when I asked him to compare the damage taken between the two fights. “This fight was obviously good for me. [The Bradley fight], there was a lot of drama. It went both ways. Either one of us could have been down on the ground any minute. Sometimes I took the punishment and sometimes he did. Fights like that happen once in a decade. Those fights will stay in my head and as part of my life. I’ll always remember them. It’s something I can’t compare to this fight.”
Provodnikov had his best moments in the eighth when he dropped Alvarado twice and nearly finished him off. But it was following the 10th when Alvarado’s corner wisely decided to end things. Despite referee Tony Weeks stepping in to ask Alvarado if he wanted to continue fighting, his corner already made the decision. Ruslan had entered Alvarado’s house and taken the title. He had traveled the world, sacrificed it all and taken his destiny by force.
“I’ve been really lucky with people that I’ve trained. Being at a Super Bowl with someone that has had their knee reconstructed three times and seeing them win that,” said MacMillan, who also trains Pittsburgh Steelers’ Troy Polamalu and UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. “This is as exciting as it possibly gets for me, personally. To see where Ruslan come from and he’s now a world champion. No matter what happens the rest of his life, nobody’s taking this. Doesn’t matter now. He changed things for himself, his town, his people. This isn’t just talk for him. The people that showed up there for him, you just can’t believe the amount of support he is getting. Not just for his town but what that is going to do for him long term. It’s amazing.”
The moment could not have been more perfect. At ringside, resplendent with a smile as pure as you’ve ever seen was Provodnikov’s mother, seeing her son fight for the very first time. The moment the fight was over, he turned the bloody savages who are fight fans into a cuddly bunch as he yelled for his mother to join him in his moment. Moments like that are why we watch because they are precisely why we are alive. It is one thing to travel the globe far from family in pursuit of a dream so few realize. It is quite another realize that dream. And to have his mother there on top of it? Dreams aren’t this good.
“I’ve probably never felt anything like this before. It’s unlike anything. I couldn’t describe it,” said Provodnikov.
Knowing both men as I do for as long as I have, I could see Ruslan and Vadim were a little tired - but never happier. It was the fatigue of those who have sweat and bled this dream for years from the very beginning and were now quietly sipping the sweet champagne of success.
The options are plentiful for Provodnikov and his affable promoter, Artie Pelullo of Banner Promotions. Provodnikov is not technically part of the “Cold War” between Top Rank Promotions and Golden Boy Promotions though he does owe the former a fight after this.
To MacMillan, it’s hard to gauge how much further up the elite ladder Provodnikov can go. Many used to discard him as an ESPN2 - level fighter. No one does that anymore. They don’t call him out either. Hard work and dedication have refined “Rocky’s” game over the years and now he’s coming home to roost.
“I think that he has gotten so much better in the fact that he was assumed to be this brawler; right?” asked MacMillan. “He also has gotten so much better technically. He is cutting the ring off now so people can’t really escape him that easily. That makes the fight significantly different for anyone he faces because if they want to keep boxing, sooner or later, they have to fight. And obviously, that’s to our advantage. And for sure that was what Freddie was implementing and that’s what he followed with Marvin in the ring. It obviously would change with whatever opponent you are facing. But I really think that Ruslan has improved so much in so many areas in the last nine months that I am not really sure what the limit is for him. Because he is a student of it, he learns; he works his ass off. I think there is still things physically that hopefully I can improve on him. I know that Freddie feels that there a lot of things that he wants to instill in him. We’re really thrilled with him because he brings people to the stands. You want to watch this guy. Boxing needs that excitement back. That’s what’s so exciting about working with Manny. He is an offensive fighter. I think Floyd Mayweather is an unbelievable fighter but he doesn’t provide necessarily a ton of excitement to watch him.”
The sky is potentially the limit for Provodnikov - but for now, home and rest…and the inevitable wait for Kornilov’s customary call to glory.
“Right now, I don’t want to think about it too much,” Provodnikov said of the future. “We’ll just wait and see.”
About That Pacquiao Guy…
Though it had been reported that Justin Fortune, original co-trainer of Manny Pacquiao (second assist to Freddie Roach), was going to join Pacquiao’s team once again, in fact, Sport Science Lab’s Gavin MacMillan is Team Pacquiao’s newest member. With a fighter client list that includes UFC welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre, WBO junior welterweight champion Ruslan Provodnikov, Zou Shiming, Miguel Cotto and now, Pacquiao, MacMillan is becoming (if he isn’t already) the go-to guy at the Wild Card Gym.
“I’ve been asked by Freddie to help as much as I can,” MacMillan told Maxboxing.com earlier this week before departing for the Philippines to join Roach and Pacquiao. “It is going to be a new experience for me. We only have a month but we are talking about, without a doubt, one of the best fighters that’s ever existed. And so I think that he knows a lot about what his body needs. We just want to give him the right information to achieve what he needs in the ring and make sure that there are no injuries in camp at all. I am looking forward to seeing how he works up close and personal. I’ve been a longtime fan of his. He’s somebody that is exciting to watch.”
MacMillan hopes to address the long-term problem Pacquiao has with his calves. The multi-division champion often complained about cramping up. “I think with Manny, it’s just making sure that his legs feel good. In the past, he has dealt with calf cramps and things like that, to be honest, are really simple to solve,” said MacMillan. “So it’s just matter of making sure you have the right minerals in you and making sure that stretching is done properly. I’ve had a lot of success fixing that, so I am not worried about it.”
MacMillan is a clean sport advocate and with Provodnikov, St. Pierre and Pacquiao, he has three athletes all currently being tested by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA). In Provodnikov’s case, his testing just ended with the Mike Alvarado fight but likely, his next fight will include testing. It’s a rare distinction in the sport.
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