“The first thought that came into my mind when I heard about the fight was we gave a lot of interviews in the last year that we were ready to fight anybody at the top,” Provodnikov told Maxboxing.com Tuesday at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA. “I don’t like to say things that I don’t mean in my interviews. So this is one of those times where I want to answer for what I said before. So when I was offered the fight and I had said before I would fight Bradley or Amir Khan or Marquez or Rios or whoever, the first thing that came to mind was ’This is what I asked for’ so I didn’t even have to think about it. I said ’Yes, I want the fight.’ I was ready.”
Kornilov has been working with Provodnikov for roughly five years. In that time, the relationship between himself, Ruslan and Napolskikh has grown from business to friendship. This fight is the culmination of a lot of hard work. But before Kornilov could be sure that this fight was the right one to take at the right time for his friend and fighter, he flew to Russia to meet with him face to face.
“This has been our goal. We’re not doing this for money,” said Kornilov, who does not rely solely on fight managing to make his living. That financial independence allows him to make the right decision rather than a financially desperate one for his fighter. “It’s not a payday for us. We are coming to win. That makes a big difference. I flew to Russia to meet with Ruslan about the deal. And when I was flying there, in my mind I thought if Ruslan asks me ‘How much am I getting’ or the details of the fight, I would think twice about taking the fight because we have other options at 140. We could stay there and wait for our title shot there. But when I came to Ruslan and I told him that Top Rank had offered the Bradley fight and that our promoter had pretty much come to an agreement ,he said ‘When do I sign?’ He said ‘I’ve been wanting to fight Bradley. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity.’ Until we saw the contract he didn’t ask me how much he was getting paid. For me, that’s what made the difference in choosing this route instead of staying at 140.”
A day earlier, at a late afternoon workout at the Wild Card where he has trained under the tutelage of Freddie Roach for his past two fights (as well being the chief sparring partner during Manny Pacquiao’s preparation for Bradley), Provodnikov was getting in the camp’s first four rounds of sparring.
The move up from a division can be risky, especially in the fight of your life. But Kornilov is confident in his fighter and the moves the team is making.
“We don’t think it is a risk,” Kornilov told Maxboxing.com as we watched Provodnikov go through his early paces. “Bradley went up from 140 to 147 as well. We wanted to take the opportunity of this fight. We can always go back to 140 later if we need to. Ruslan can fight at both. He’s a pretty big guy for 140. 147 will be a good weight for him. I don’t think it will be much of a problem at all.”
Watching Provodnikov shake off what is roughly six months of ring rust he appeared to be in solid shape already. Having covered a couple of his camps, this was the first time I had seen him at the start of one following a long layoff. I had not realized what a big junior welter he is.
Kornilov told me they had done a mini-camp of a few weeks focusing on building strength but with boxing work mixed in. The fight is six weeks away which is not an optimum training camp length however Roach feels it is sufficient, according to Kornilov. If anything, the long layoff allowed Provodnikov, who has a history of cutting and swelling easily, a chance to heal.
“That’s 100 true,” said Kornilov, who took the opportunity to bring up a topic that will inevitably become a bigger story once the fight draws closer: Tim Bradley’s head butts. “We are a little worried about Bradley coming forward with his head. There are a lot of opponents that have gotten cut that way. So we want to make sure as part of training that we work on things where Ruslan is protecting himself. Hopefully he will go forward. We will have to protect ourselves from his head and fight his fight.”
As for the layoff, Provodnikov saw it as a nice, long vacation that allowed him to not only heal but to get excited about fighting and training again.
“Realistically, it was a positive as much as it was a negative,” he said. “I have been in the situation where I have been training so much and I was waiting for my break. Now I am hungry. I have been wanting a fight for the last four or five months. So now, if you call it peaking, I can be peaking a lot more for this fight because I think I can prepare for this fight a lot better. I think the way we are set up in this camp is going to be a lot better through Freddie’s planning. If I come through this training camp with no problems, I think that you guys will see in the ring I can be a lot better than the Reynoso fight.”
In terms of height, Provodnikov appeared taller than Bradley at the press conference though they are listed as the same height. In the ring on Tuesday, facing Denis Shafikov, a rugged 31-0-1 with 17 knockouts junior welter, Ruslan appeared the bigger man and not off his game, scoring with a sneaky right hand and digging well to the body as usual. That attack, which is a talent of Provodnikov’s, will be a key versus Bradley who can shuffle the deck and move as well as stand and trade. Beating down Bradley’s body will limit his options and increase Provodnikov’s.
“Ruslan has been working to the body less in his last four or five fights but that’s definitely not something that we want,” said Kornilov. “I’m not the trainer but I think Freddie might want to concentrate on more body punching. I think that can be helpful in this fight as well.”
This moment could not be more special for Kornilov, Napolskikh and Provodnikov.
“I think it started as a work relationship and it grew into a friend relationship,” said Napolskikh. “Myself, Vadim and Ruslan, we are very close. We are great friends. And now we our goal is for Ruslan to become world champion. That’s all that matters. Everything else is not important. I think where we are getting to right now is because of how badly we all want it.”
For Napolskikh, the road has been a little bit longer. He has been watching and working with Provodnikov since the beginning.
“I saw his will to go professional. I saw his boxing manner. Most importantly, he was perfect for professional boxing,” explained Napolskikh of what he saw in Provodnikov at the start. “In the amateurs, he was known as a strong puncher. So in the amateurs, he wasn’t given a lot of advantages. But I knew that it would be perfect for the professionals. And as soon as he turned pro, he starting attacking people from the first fight and he just started knocking people out.”
When asked how Provodnikov had most changed Napolskikh said “Most importantly, the biggest change is psychologically. He changed, he grew. When he was training in Russia, all of this happening here was like a different world. When he came [to the Wild Card] and especially when he got to train with the great trainers here. To be able to spar with Manny and see how world champions train, he realized that we are all made out of the same thing. We are all the same. He realized he can fight at their level.”
That self-realization was never more evident than last June when Provodnikov, fresh out of the camp with Pacquiao, took on Jose Reynoso and blew him out in two rounds. While Reynoso is not on the level of Bradley, it was how Provodnikov looked doing it, his fluidity of movement, the sneaky shots and the relentless energy he brought to the fight that was impressive. Whatever he unlocked within himself in the Pacquiao camp, it showed there.
To be successful, the team understands they will have to be even better this time out.
“I think that we are going to fighting Bradley and we are going to have to be two times more focused and two more prepared than we were for Reynoso,” said Napolskikh. “Even though that was an important fight that [goal] is what we are going to aim for with this fight.”
In Bradley, we have a fighter who is an all-around, versatile boxer that always finds a way to win, has excellent conditioning and possesses a willingness to adapt in the fight that stems from an above average intelligence in the ring. However, Provodnikov is not particularly blown away by any one facet of Bradley’s game.
“I was at the Manny vs. Bradley fight live. We were invited by Manny. I saw the fight in detail. All I can say is: I don’t think anything special of [Bradley]. He is just another boxer just like I am. He has his advantages and I have mine,” said Provodnikov. “For me, this is just a dream come true and I am going to come from my dream into the fight. I am going to come to win. I am not afraid of anybody.”
“I think it is going to be all about tactics and strategy. If we get him to fight our fight I think we can have an advantage. But if he is able to get us to follow his tactics and his strategies, we will have problems,” said Napolskikh looking forward at the fight.
Title shot secure, now begins the road towards potential victory. Their shared dream is so close to happening, the overall focus has narrowed. Provodnikov will go into isolation for the camp and everything that Kornilov and Napolskikh do from here until fight time will be in support of their friend and fighter. Dreams do not become reality on their own.
“For me this fight is like a big reward. Even going to the press conference tomorrow and knowing the fight is on is a big reward already,” Provodnikov told me, his eyes lighting up, a smile on his face as he watches his dream turn real in telling his story. “I remember when we came here we didn’t have a lot of financial support. And I am very thankful to my team. They were able to help me. It’s my work. It’s their work. And a lot of people don’t know what we have to go through, all of us, to get where we are. A lot of people see me going into the fight. But they don’t know all the problems we had to go through to actually get here. This is a big reward for our team getting this chance because this been a lot of hard work.”