Ruslan Provodnikov is a "fan-friendly" fighter, a guy who charges forward, likes to bang, takes a few while trying to dish out a few more than the other guy. But he'd like to change that perception. He has been working at the famed Wild Card in Hollywood with Freddie Roach on moving more, working smarter (not harder) and being less of a "fan-friendly" fighter.
I hope his mission to change styles fails.
OK, I'm kidding. Mostly.
For his career longevity, for his long-term health, becoming more of a boxer as opposed to a puncher-banger benefits the just-turned-28-year-old Russian. But selfishly speaking, I'd prefer we see the "old" Provodnikov on display against fellow junior welterweight David Torres in the main event of this week's edition of "Friday Night Fights," which takes place at the Northern Quest Casino in Airway Heights, Wash. (ESPN2/ESPN3 at 9 p.m. ET).
I suspect, actually, that we will see both sets of elements from the five-year pro, some of the concentration on defense, using the ring more, as well as the aggressive-attacker mode. Reason being because Torres, a Mexican-born Washington resident, basically knows only one direction in the ring: forward. This fight should be a good style clash, featuring two aggressive sorts looking to break the will of the other man.
Speaking by phone Wednesday, Provodnikov (20-1, 13 KOs; the loss coming to Mauricio Herrera last Jaunary) said Roach is now with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., readying the fighter for a Feb. 4 title defense against Marco Antonio Rubio, so Eric Brown of Wild Card will be in the Russian's corner instead. Provodnikov was with Buddy McGirt in his previous fight and with Roach for a grand total of about three weeks leading up to FNF. So as a work in progress, as an athlete trying to tweak his skill set, he hasn't had as much repetition as needed to fully ingrain new habits. I expect he'll prevail nevertheless, as Torres (1-2-2 in his past five) appears to perhaps be an "old" 33.
Provodnikov, through interpreter/manager Vadim Kornilov, offered a scouting report on Torres (21-2-2, 13 KOs): "He fights a typical Mexican style. I like to fight the fighters who fight in that style, who come to fight, and not run around the ring. It creates exciting fights. This will be two boxers that come together to make an exciting fight."
So is Torres on the downside, nearing the end of the line? "You never know," Provodnikov said. "You don't know how he prepared for recent fights. On 'Friday Night Fights,' it's a big chance for these guys. I expect him to be 200 percent ready. Those losses and draws don't mean anything."
Torres, for his part, attributes his tough stretch to his working through personal issues. A difficult breakup with his ex hung over his head, but he said in a phoner that his head is screwed on tight now.
"I'm in good shape, mentally and physically," he said. "I'm well prepared for this fight and cannot wait to get into the ring with him." Torres, too, has been working on moving laterally more, trying to stick and move instead of wading in, guns always blazing.
So is this a must win situation for Torres?
"Hopefully this goes our way," he said. "We will talk after this fight [if he loses]."
Provodnikov is coming off a disputed decision win Dec. 5 against "Chop Chop" Corley, which looks a bit better after the 37-year-old Corley handed 18-0 Gabriel Bracero his first loss last week. Torres hasn't fought in 11 months. I expect Provodnikov to be the sharper athlete and to win by stoppage in or around Round 6.
• Speedbag Ji-Hoon Kim will be making his fourth appearance on FNF, and this time he really needs a win. The 25-year-old South Korean lightweight, who turned pro in 2004 with zero amateur experience, lost back-to-back fights, against Miguel Vazquez (UD12) and Lenny Zappavigna (TKO1), before getting a W in his most recent bout (SD10) against 3-0 Dong Hyuk-Kim a year ago.
Ji-Hoon had surgery on a detached retina in May 2011, and confessed in a phoner, through interpreter/manager Paul Lee, that he got down after the Lenny Z loss. "That's natural," he said. "But I never gave up."
In fact, the day after the defeat, having traveled back from Australia to South Korea, Ji-Hoon went to the gym.
He accentuated the positive in our session, but Lee allows that the stakes are quite high going into Friday's clash with 20-2-1 Yakubu Amidu, a Ghanian who is managed by actor Vince Vaughn. "This time, we really cannot lose. Ji-Hoon cannot lose this time. It could be the last one."