Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Provodnikov will burn bright, but quickly
By Brian Campbell
If you followed the prefight build-up to Ruslan Provodnikov's all-action victory over junior welterweight titlist Mike Alvarado, a number of prefight foreshadowing quotes rang true in the aftermath.
Provodnikov promised that the bout would turn into a street fight and spoke intensely of his belief that technique and skill wouldn't play a part in deciding which fighter would impose his will on the other.
In both cases, Provodnikov's predictions were shrewd, helped along, of course, by his predisposition for going to war.
But there was one more statement from "The Siberian Rocky" that, frighteningly, hit home harder than all the others. In reference to his urgency to face the most dangerous opponents available for the simple glory of making memorable fights -- in lieu of traditional rewards such as money and titles -- Provodnikov said, "I don't have much time left in my career."
With a face-first style dependent on his absorbing punishment in exchange for inches of space that can be used to close the distance on his opponent, Provodnikov, who turns 30 in January and is as honest a fighter as the definition allows, is telling the truth.
A fighter of his ilk, one willing to go to such barbaric lengths to outlast his opponent and win a single fight, simply doesn't have a long shelf life at the top end of the sport. But the fact that he has a place among the sport's elite to begin with is remarkable enough on its own.
Provodnikov, who identifies himself of Mansi descent, an endangered indigenous people living in Western Siberia, grew up in the tiny Russian village of Beryozovo amid the ruthless climate that formed his dogged resolve. He had a nondescript amateur career and, until recently, was considered nothing more than a club fighter.
Yet, when taken with his performance in a March defeat against unbeaten Timothy Bradley Jr., this win appears to have launched Provodnikov into the rarified air of truly must-see action fighters. Those two fights also recalibrate expectations of what might be possible for him as he continues to seek out the toughest challenges available.
There are plenty of fighters who throw around clichéd variations of the notion that they are willing to die in the ring in order to win. But Provodnikov, even when compared to those savage few who are eager to give away large chunks of themselves for greater glory, is cut from a different cloth.
Skill and will in boxing aren't mutually exclusive, but it could be argued that fighters generally fall somewhere along a spectrum between the two. Provodnikov, in case you hadn't guessed, pushes the boundaries of the latter. He doesn't utilize his jab, his punches are wide and his defense nonexistent. But unlike those who rely on speed and technique or one-punch power, Provodnikov specializes in the maniacal pursuit and poaching of his opponent's willpower, a hunt that won't end until he runs out of time or his relentless pressure causes the pipes to burst.
There's little question about whether Provodnikov is a candidate to be controlled by an elite boxer who relies on movement, as was the case for half of his fight of the year candidate with Bradley. But that opponent had better be equipped with the backbone to withstand the storm.
Did Alvarado spend too much time trying to outbox Provodnikov by switching stances instead of trying to hurt him? It's possible. And might Alvarado, at 33, simply be broken down from the toll of an incredible fifth straight toe-to-toe slugfest in just a two-year span? Sure.
But let's not overlook Provodnikov's role in the outcome. He did more than score the biggest victory of his career on Saturday, securing an unlikely world title in the process. He broke the will of one of the sport's greatest action fighters in stunning fashion, and that is something truly special.
How high, exactly, Provodnikov will be able to elevate himself on sheer blood and guts remains to be seen, but history tells us that a firecracker of his kind will shine bright only briefly before spectacularly burning out.
No one knows that more than Provodnikov, who is set on emptying himself each time out, regardless of the consequences, in order to build his legend and discover just how good he can be.
It's a quality as unnerving as it is endearing, but it's why, at our deepest core, we watch: To see if a fearless fighter with the one skill that can't be taught is able to redefine what's possible for a fighter of his class by testing his manhood in the most unforgiving sport of them all.
Enjoy him while you can.