About two and a half year ago I had a friend call me up. He was a professional boxer. He said that he had just signed to fight on ESPN against a guy named Ruslan Provodnikov. Nick Casal was his name. I didn’t know much about Provodnikov back then. In fact, I knew nothing about him. I remember watching some YouTube video’s when I first heard his name. As I watched his style of fighting I thought to myself, “This is one bad dude.” Casal ended up pulling out of the fight due to an injury. Still though, I watched the fight against his replacement Jose Reynoso because of my intrigue. I watched Provodnikov as he buried Jose Reynoso in two rounds on ESPN.
I remember thinking to myself that I didn’t think it would be the last time I saw Provodnikov fight. Indeed I was correct. Two years have passed, and now he is fighting on HBO as his own Main Event. Have you ever sat back and thought about how long ago two years was? Think about what you were doing two years ago. A lot can stay the same, a lot can change. For some it could feel like a lifetime ago, for some it could feel like yesterday.
For Ruslan Provodnikov, two years was a lifetime ago. He was fighting on ESPN not sure of where his career was heading. Taking the stage on ESPN is a big step to what every fighter wants, a shot to be on HBO or Showtime, and a chance at a world title. It doesn’t happen for everyone. Most never even get to ESPN, and those that do have a hard time getting past that level. Provodnikov wasn’t known to the fans when he defeated Reynoso in two rounds in June of 2012. It wasn’t until almost one year later when he would square off against Timothy Bradley that Provodnikov would get his chance to shine.
Going up against Timothy Bradley someone like Ruslan Provodnikov was seen as an opponent that Bradley could outbox easily but one that would bring the fight to him. Top Rank had a lot invested in Timothy Bradley so putting him into a fight that he would lose was not in the cards, especially after the nightmare that Bradley had experienced after winning his first fight against Manny Pacquiao. Little did they know, and little did Provodnikov know, that everyone would come out a winner after that fight.
I don’t have to sit here and go through what happened in that fight. Everyone knows. The 2013 Bradley-Provodnikov fight won every boxing media outlets 2013 Fight of the Year. Timothy Bradley had gained back the respect he lost but it was Ruslan Provodnikov who had also won that night. He didn't win on the scorecard but he attained something that every upcoming boxer strives for, to be loved by the fans. Winning fans these days means getting big fights. Provodnikov was deemed must see television after the Bradley fight for at least one more fight. His name swirled around social media. When people didn’t know his exact name, they would ask, when is that Russian guy fighting again? The one that Bradley fought? That’s how buzz around a fighter starts. That is how stars are born.
HBO listened to the media and fans as they demanded to see Provodnikov again. In fact, HBO realized that they maybe had a star in the making with him. Banner Promotions saw that they had scored big, and a fight against Top Rank’s Mike Alvarado who was coming off a huge victory over Brandon Rios, was just something that the fans needed to see. The fight would be a test for both of them and a fight that many thought could be a Fight of the Year candidate. For Provodnikov, is was just about winning. Winning meant another big fight and more fans to add to his way to the top.
I picked against Provodnikov against Timothy Bradley. To my credit I did expect him to put up a good fight and he did. I also thought that Mike Alvarado would get the better of him. I was wrong. Provodnikov ceased an opportunity that needed to be ceased. His second fight on HBO he needed to keep the fans interested in him. By beating Mike Alvarado he would be one of boxing’s most dangerous fighters in the game and someone that the fans would not be able to get enough of. In a great fight against Alvarado, Provodnikov did just that. He punished Alvarado in his hometown of Denver on HBO making the media and fans true believers that this Provodnikov kid is the real deal. It took about two seconds after the Alvarado win for the social media outlets and media to start naming off opponents for Provodnikov’s next fight. Even the great names of Pacquiao and Mayweather were mentioned.
Two big fights in 2013, one a loss and one a win, but both victories in the eyes of Provodnikov and Banner Promotions. HBO can’t get enough of him, featuring him in what many say was the best 2 Days series to date. The fans demand to see him fight so much so that his fight against the relatively unknown Chris Algieri this weekend is still a worthy of a watch. No fight is easy for Provodnikov because he has a style that deems punishment, either for himself or for his opponent. But that’s what keeps the sport of boxing going. Guys like Provodnikov bring excitement every time they step into the ring. It’s what the fans drool over. It’s what they call “Must see TV”.
Chris Algieri will be no walk in the park for Provodnikov. He’s tall, a good boxer, and he has a nice reach advantage. That won’t stop Provodnikov from pressing the fight though. That won’t stop the fight from being exciting. Two years ago the name Ruslan Provodnikov was unknown. Now, almost two years to the date since his ESPN win over Jose Reynoso his name has been mentioned as a possible opponent for guys like Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. That’s a pretty long way to come for any fighter. As long as he doesn’t fall victim to an upset this weekend, which I don’t think he will, Provodnikov is going to continue to be star in the sport with many opportunities to await him. That’s great for him but even better for the fans that have come to love the man they call the “Siberian Rocky”.