- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Russian brawler Ruslan Provodnikov has spent the past few years making exciting fights against second-tier opposition in the junior welterweight division. On Saturday, he will enter the big leagues at welterweight in a shot at titleholder Timothy Bradley Jr.
Provodnikov is a big underdog, to be sure, but, hey, who knows? It's not as though Bradley looked very good in his most recent fight, when he got a gift split decision victory against Manny Pacquiao in June to claim a belt in one of the most controversial results in recent history.
Provodnikov has fought almost all of his career at 140 pounds, with the exception of a few fights at slightly above the weight. Once, in a six-rounder in 2010 in Russia against a 9-8 opponent, he weighed 148½ pounds.
But Provodnikov (22-1, 15 KOs), strong and stocky, said the weight switch is no big deal.
"I think everything is going to be fine," he said through a translator. "The training camp is great and I feel great at 147. I do weigh a little more and it is easier now [making weight]."
Bradley (29-0, 12 KOs), 29, of Palm Springs, Calif., is not a big welterweight. He was a unified junior welterweight titleholder who moved up in weight for the shot at Pacquiao, so weight probably won't be much of an issue.
Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, who trains the 29-year-old Provodnikov and is quite familiar with Bradley because, of course, he also trains Pacquiao, said Provodnikov will be strong at 147.
"Ruslan is a very good 147-pounder who happens to be able to make 140," Roach said. "One-forty-seven is easier to make, but it is still no walk in the park. We have to watch his diet."
Added Matt Rowland of Banner Promotions, Provodnikov's promoter, "Ruslan is taking this fight because it is the biggest fight we could make. He is fighting Tim Bradley, who has only fought welterweight twice. So we are not dealing with a big welterweight and he wasn't a big puncher at 140, so he shouldn't be a big puncher at 147. So weight will definitely not be an issue."
Roach said Provodnikov weighed 153 pounds about two weeks ago, so getting down in time for Friday's weigh-in shouldn't be problematic.
"He feels pretty strong at the weight, and I think he will be a better puncher at the weight," Roach said. "I like him at 147 more than I like him at 140."
This will be the fourth fight that Roach has trained Provodnikov for, but it will be the first in his corner on fight night. Roach couldn't be in the corner for the others because of conflicts with other fights, so he sent his assistant, Eric Brown, in his stead. But Roach got to know Provodnikov and his fighting style well because the Russian fighter has served as one of Pacquiao's main sparring partners.
"Ruslan is becoming a better fighter all the time," Roach said. "When he sparred with Pacquiao, he learned Pacquiao's style. He knows how to fight and he knows the art of boxing. He is looking pretty good and we're doing what we need to get ready for this fight. We are fighting a very good boxer who can move if he needs to move. Ruslan's working the jab and cutting the ring off. Everything is in place right now. The game plan is there."
The fight is also one that Provodnikov said he has wanted.
"I have always been waiting for a fight against Tim Bradley and I would have taken the fight with him at 140 or 147," he said. "I think I can beat him at any weight class."