Russian Ruslan Provodnikov's rep is in a high spot right now.
Walk over a bed of molten coals to get to his foe, and won't care if you make him sip napalm from his water bottle in between rounds.
If he gets past Chris Algieri (19-0) on June 14 at Barclays Center, and Juan Manuel Marquez plays mega-hardball with Top Rank over booking another fight against Manny Pacquiao, then Provo (23-0) is at the top of the list to get a Pacman lotto ticket, that $6 or so million buck scratchoff which solidifies a families' finances win lose or draw.
Provo chatted with media at Uncle Jack's Steakhouse in NYC, a couple blocks from the Garden, and the hitter said many of the same things that make him a new fan favorite. He told us he doesn't get as excited to fight a guy like Algieri, who told me he knows he needs to fight the perfect boxing match to win, because he thinks Algieri will run a lot. "It's not as motivating," Provo said, through interpreter and manager Vadim Kornilov, the baby faced dealmaker. He'd rather rumble is his basic stance, and god bless him for that. Skills pay the bills, but dancing is for the stars. The people want it like Wall Street…they want trading, ebb n flow, back and forth. Provo will give them that…Algieri, he's not as keen on that concept.
"He can't run forever," said Provo, the facial muscles not betraying any emotion beyond intensity. Yep, he'd prefer a toe to toe tangle, God bless him.
He also said, "I still feel like a challenger," and he trains like one. He wants to chase and hunt down Algieri. "This fight will show how many fans I can attract. Brooklyn feels like my second home and I hope to make it my second home, much like Cotto has Madison Square Garden."
The boxer also said he wants to make an impact, wants to fight only big bouts, and then wants to get out sooner rather than later.
Interestingly, he said his mom won't be here for this fight, and he didn't want her there for the last one.
He said he recites poetry in his head as he goes to the ring. Also, he craves the respect of the fans more than he loves the belt.
He said his amateur trainer saved his life, because otherwise he would have maybe followed in the footsteps of friends who stole food, drank, sniffed glue, etc.
He also said the governor in his region is helping build a sporting complex, which will be in his name.
Algieri, an immensely well spoken sort who has an advanced degree in nutrition, and held court on how to eat right for TSS's Thomas Hauser, and a few other tappers, has a good chance to win, according to Top Rank's Bob Arum. He said the other day that he'd love to make an Algieri-Pacquiao fight, and him being no fool, you can't take issue with that.
The marketing folks think they'd like to get around 8,000 customers in for the June 14 Barclays card, and are making the rounds of the Russian enclaves to introduce people to Provo, to lure them into buying a ticket to see the action hero in action. An Algieri win, he would sell himself to a demo that hasn't been all that well served of late, and over time. He described himself as part of the .1% in the boxing world, from a good middle class home, living in well-heeled Huntington, LI, not the sort of product fashioned in that proverbial ghetto, fashioning a fighter who fights out of necessity, not out of simple desire.
Promoter Joe DeGuardia told me he feels the same way he did before his guy fought then undefeated Roy Jones Jr., like the underdog is going to flip the script…and then, DeGuardia said, Team Algieri can request a re-write, and see the fat offers roll in.
A couple years ago, Provo was a Friday Night Fights staple, a quite-solid but unexceptional hitter. But he demanded a higher stature when he rumbled like a madman against Tim Bradley, and HBO fell in love with him because he represents what that braintrust desires to put on their cards…fighters. Rumblers. I asked Algieri after he chowed if he thinks Provo is a bit overrated, if we all over-hype his bad-assness. "We will know June 14. I won't know until June 14," he said, smartly. "Is he the killer, or the Friday Night Fights guy? I'm going to go out and be who I am no matter which guy shows up," he said. "This is a no mistakes kind of fight…I have to go out, and be perfect."
The Long Islander said both men need to stay focused, keep to their plan.
I noted that I sensed a deep confidence in him, that he breathes easily, and believes in himself. "Yes, I've heard that a lot of guys who have interviewed me, and coaches," he said. He said he has always been confident, and that has increased as he has kept on winning. He told me he does possess some doubt, not fear but doubt, when a fight is first signed. But, as his prep work plays out, that doubt diminishes.
The New Yorker joked with me, and asked, "How is it that I have stayed so handsome to this point in my career?" after I asked him to ask himself a question that no press has asked. He said in fact he thinks about that before every sparring match. Fighters possess courage, and go through more than any other athletes, he said, and thus deserve more press, more respect.
We talked more about being that .1%…and we agreed that usually, eight times out of ten, the guy who comes from less than nothing, from those beyond humble circumstances, usually wins the fight. Provo hails from a proverbial place of humility, and yep, he could be one of the eight out of ten.
"Back to Long Island," Algieri announced, as he exited the restaurant.
Promoter Pelullo was asked about Freddie Roach saying he'd work Pacman's corner over Provo's if the two gloved up in the fall. That is as it should be, the promoter said, because "he worked with him longest."
"The winner of this fight will be in line to fight Pacquiao. And if Algieri wins, that's a major upset, and that would help push toward a Pacquiao fight," he said. Pelullo also said the recent Golden Boy upheaval could result in some loosening up of possibles, as, he said, maybe a guy like Danny Garcia has more room to operate. "Maybe they could bring him to HBO," he said, as HBO exec Peter Nelson sat two seats away, chewing on a grilled veggie plate, and not taking the opportunity to chime in. I looked at him for a response, and he joked, "The music's too loud..didn't hear what he said."
A Provo win could easily mean that Russian gets invited back to Barclays, so but of course Pelullo is hoping he gets the job done June 14. "Hopefully I will be back. Winning will be a key factor." He said the Russian media has been taking to Russian, and win, lose or draw, he will do a press tour in Russia after the fight.
Nelson did weigh in when I asked about Provos' appeal. He called his style "the consummate telegenic style." He lauded the Russian, noted how Pelullo helped guide him, how he impressed everyone with efforts against Tim Bradley and Mike Alvarado.
Nelson, Pelullo, author Geoffrey Gray and others at the table talked a bit about how what sells, what style speaks to fans and draws buzz these days. Nelson said times are changing, that a guy doesn't get written off after a loss, that effort, and how you fight can mean as much as anything.
We talked some about what fighters transcend and Pelullo owes me a coke, after a bet him that the older gent on the first floor, who might be around 80, doesn't have a clue who Manny Pacquiao is.
As the gathering broke up, Pelullo hugged Provo, and promised to make it for Provo's annual boxing tourney back home. He said when he visits Russia, he has fun there without Provo, because Provo doesn't drink.
I followed Provo outside, asking him for his take on trainer Freddie Roach telling me he would be in Pacman's corner if Manny and Ruslan rumble. "I'm so focused on my June 14 fight," he told me, "after that we will see how it goes."
A young lady walking down the street with her guy saw Ruslan, and squealed. "You're my favorite fighter!" she said, before posing for a snapshot.
OK, so maybe the old guy didn't know Pacman, but a random lady on an NYC street had her heart flutter when she saw the Siberian Rocky. No, boxing ain't dead, it never was dead, it probably never will be dead, so anyone telling you that, dismiss them for the fools they are.
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