Dan Rafael: Ruslan Provodnikov
It was a grueling slugfest that Rios won by seventh-round knockout, stopping a dazed Alvarado on his feet in one of the best fight in recent years.
Expectations are sky-high for them to produce another barnburner when they meet for a vacant interim junior welterweight belt Saturday in Las Vegas.
If Rios and Alvarado -- both of whom talk about their love for a tough fight -- are to once again challenge for fight of the year honors, they are going to have to outdo the March 16 dandy between welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley Jr. and Ruslan Provodnikov, who threw down in the same Home Depot Center ring in Carson, Calif., where Rios and Alvarado had their first fight.
Rios (31-0-1, 23 KOs) and Alvarado (33-1, 23 KOs) are both boxing fans, so they naturally watched Bradley and Provodnikov do their thing.
"I was watching the fight at home. I was almost jumping on the TV watching that fight," Rios said. "It brought back memories. I was like, 'Damn, they are showing the warrior spirit.' They were going at it. Like they said, Bradley came out with a different game plan and he proved that he's a warrior and a fighter."
Bradley won a tight unanimous decision to retain his title, but he was lucky to survive. Provodnikov nearly knocked him out in the first and second rounds, and then dropped him in the final 15 seconds of a highly dramatic fight.
"I thought Bradley got a good opportunity to prove himself, show that heart," Alvarado said. "He was knocked out on his feet pretty much. I thought the referee [Pat Russell] was fair, the more I saw it."
Not only do Rios and Alvarado like to take in a good slugfest, but both have enjoyed watching their own memorable clash multiple times.
"Even today I watched our match," Rios said recently. "I wake up in the morning and when I get back from my run, I watch our fight. After I go to the gym, I watch it. Before I go to bed, I watch it. I am a fan of our fight and I am a fan of that [Bradley-Provodnikov] fight."
Alvarado got stopped, so he's no fan of the conclusion, but he has still watched the bout.
"I have watched our fight a few times," he said. "I remember it like the back of my hand, so I don't have to go over it too much. It is going to be the same kind of fight, with a few adjustments. We are just going to go out there and do it again."
Former heavyweight title challenger and Cuban 2004 Olympic gold medalist Odlanier Solis (18-1, 12 KOs), welterweight contender Selcuk Aydin (23-2, 17 KOs) and former heavyweight titlist Ruslan Chagaev will all be featured on a card in Berlin, Germany on Friday. The card will be televised on Eurosport throughout Europe.
Solis will face Leif Larsen (17-0, 14 KOs) of Norway, Turkey's Aydin will meet Giuseppe Lauri (53-11, 31 KOs) of Italy, and Chagaev (30-2-1, 19 KOs), of Uzbekistan, will take on American Mike Sheppard (20-14-1, 9 KOs).
"It feels good to be back in Germany," said Solis, who defected there. "I started my pro career over here and still have lots of friends in Berlin. In my last fight in Germany [in March 2011], I suffered a bad [knee] injury when challenging [heavyweight titlist] Vitali Klitschko. But now my knee is well again. I am ready to go and want to prove that I am the best heavyweight fighter in the world."
Aydin is trying to get back on track after back-to-back decision losses to Robert Guerrero and Jesus Soto Karass. Chagaev is looking for his fourth consecutive victory since a decision loss to Alexander Povetkin for a vacant belt in August 2011.
• Ukraine junior middleweight Taras Shelestyuk, a 2012 Olympic bronze medalist, has signed with Banner Promotions, the company announced.
Shelestyuk was a three-time Ukrainian national champion, a 2010 bronze medalist in the European championships and a 2011 world amateur champion in the 152-pound weight division. As an amateur, Shelestyuk, 27, went 195-15. He is scheduled to make his pro debut March 29 in Verona, N.Y., on the ESPN/WatchESPN "Friday Night Fights" card headlined by middleweight Brian Vera against Donatas Bondoravas.
"We are very excited to add Taras to our roster," Banner Promotions chief Artie Pelullo said. "We have big plans for Taras and we feel he will become a world champion."
• According to the New York State Athletic Commission, the March 9 card at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which was headlined by Bernard Hopkins' win against Tavoris Cloud to break his own record for becoming the oldest fighter (48) to ever win a world title, generated a gate of $611,974 from 9,377 tickets sold. There were 826 complimentary tickets given away.
• Epix officially added two more fights to its schedule this week. It will air light heavyweight titlist Nathan Cleverly's mandatory defense against Robin Krasniqi from London on April 20 and heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko's defense against Francesco Pianeta from Mannheim, Germany on May 4. Cleverly-Krasniqi was originally supposed to be part of the March 16 card headlined by the lightweight unification match between Ricky Burns and Miguel Vazquez. But Burns-Vazquez was canceled and the rest of the card postponed. Besides the cable channel, the fights will also stream live and free on EpixHD.com and on the Epix app on Xbox consoles and Roku players.
• Last Saturday's epic battle between welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley Jr. and Ruslan Provodnikov was so good that HBO made the unprecedented move of scheduling a primetime replay on the main network. There will be an encore presentation Sunday night (10:35 ET/PT). It will be immediately followed by a replay of "Road to Rios-Alvarado II," which previews the much-anticipated March 30 rematch between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado.
According to HBO, the live broadcast of Bradley-Provodnikov -- a riveting fight of the year candidate in which Bradley won a tight decision after surviving nearly being knocked out in the first and second rounds and a knockdown in the final 15 seconds of the bout -- drew 1.2 million viewers (the same number that tuned in the previous week for Hopkins-Cloud). Bradley-Provodnikov peaked at 1.4 million viewers, HBO said. And then there were another 274,000 viewers who tuned into the Sunday morning replay, a 57 percent improvement over the comparable replay of Hopkins-Cloud. HBO said that its four boxing telecasts this year rank as the top four performing televised boxing events on cable for the year.
Welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley Jr. and challenger Ruslan Provodnikov have been respectful toward each other during the promotion for Saturday's fight.
They haven't had much to say to each other, although maybe part of that is because Provodnikov's primary language is Russian.
Their trainers? That's a different story.
It's pretty clear from what Joel Diaz, Bradley's trainer, has had to say that he doesn't much care for Hall of Famer Freddie Roach, Provodnikov's trainer. And after hearing what Diaz had to say about him, it turns out Roach isn't exactly a huge Diaz fan either.
Diaz got an official win against Roach in June when Bradley was handed a hugely controversial split decision against Manny Pacquiao, Roach's star pupil. When Diaz was asked recently what he thought Roach brought to the table for Provodnikov, he didn't hold back.
"Freddie Roach is not my concern. My concern is the fighter," Diaz said. "Freddie Roach was just a name that was created. I think Freddie Roach lost the love of the sport. He created a name and it's out there, but he doesn't have the passion for the sport that he had a few years ago. I've seen it in the last [Juan Manuel Marquez-Manny Pacquiao] fight. I've seen it in the fight before, the third fight with Marquez.
"Freddie Roach is the least of my concern for any fight. I just focus on the fighter. Freddie Roach is always trying to play mind games. Freddie says Tim is going to run. That is just Freddie playing mind games. They don't know how we are going to fight. He is trying to get under Tim's skin. At the end of the day, Tim is going to be a winner, and that's what matters."
Roach, who didn't have a bad word to say about Diaz during the lead-up to the Bradley-Pacquiao fight, didn't appreciate what Diaz had to say about him.
"I could tell him where to go, but he doesn't know me," said Roach, a five-time trainer of the year. "He doesn't know what I do every day. He doesn't see me in the gym working with these fighters. I know he's just saying it to get under my skin. I have a game plan and the right fighters to carry that game plan through, and on [Saturday] we'll see who's the better coach or who's the better man.
"I met the person [Diaz] maybe twice in my life. I see him around the boxing game. I know that he had a good record. He seems like he did a great job with his fighter. My fighter and I get along well. It's not about the trainers. My fighter is the one who's going to win the fight, not me. Whatever he says, I don't care. I don't have time to be mad at someone. I don't read anything he says. I just don't have time for that. I'm sure he is a nice person outside of the ring. This fight is very important for Ruslan and me and the entire camp, and we want to win the fight."
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."
Juan Manuel Marquez, nearly three months removed from his titanic sixth-round knockout of Manny Pacquiao in their fourth fight, is weighing his options for his next bout.
It's likely to be a fifth fight in the fall with Pacquiao, his great rival who still leads their legendary series 2-1-1. But Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who co-promotes Marquez with Zanfer Promotions' Fernando Beltran, said there are other possibilities as well, and that Marquez is going to look at them.
The two promoters and Marquez, 39, spent time together in Mexico City last week discussing the possibilities -- and partying together.
"Marquez said he will continue to fight. That's what he wants to do," Arum said. "He thought about it after the Pacquiao fight and decided he wants to keep fighting. We had a lovely time together. They had to carry me to my room. A little too much tequila. Juan Manuel was a little loopy, too, but Fernando is like a lion. He drinks that s--- like it's water."
Before the liquid refreshments kicked in, they talked business.
"We discussed all of his options before we got drunk," Arum said with a laugh.
Arum said Marquez, who still holds a junior welterweight belt (although he beat Pacquiao at welterweight), said he will attend welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley Jr.'s defense against Ruslan Provodnikov on March 16 in Carson, Calif., and then also be ringside for the interim junior welterweight title bout between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado, who meet in a rematch on March 30 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
"He wants to see Bradley with Provodnikov and he wants to see Rios and Alvarado," Arum said of Marquez. "And then we'll have a discussion on what his options are."
After watching those fights, Marquez and his wife will travel to Macau for an April 6 card, Arum said. According to Arum, Pacquiao is also planning to attend the show. If Marquez decides that he wants another Pacquiao fight, there's a good chance the fighters can work out the outline of a deal while in Macau, Arum said, even though the fight probably wouldn't take place until September.
"Marquez said he's interested in fighting all of them, but he'll know who he is interested in more after watching them fight," Arum said. "We never discussed money. All he said was, 'I know I can make more money fighting Pacquiao than against the other guys,' and that was the extent of the monetary discussions.
"We had a nice evening together. Whatever he and Manny want to do, I'm for it. If it's another Pacquiao-Marquez fight, fine. If it's that they fight somebody else, fine."
Trainer Freddie Roach is always motivated to see his guys win their fights. All of those victories he has been involved in as a trainer have helped make Roach a multi-millionaire, a five-time trainer of the year and a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
But Roach has perhaps just a bit more motivation to see his man, Ruslan Provodnikov of Russia, take down welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley Jr. when they meet March 16 (HBO, 10:15 p.m. ET/PT) at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
Last time Roach opposed Bradley, he was in Manny Pacquiao’s corner in June when Bradley got a split decision win -- one of the biggest robberies and most controversial decisions in boxing history. Alas, Bradley got the ‘W’ and the belt.
Bradley (29-0, 12 KOs) has not fought since and will return against Provodnikov (22-1, 15 KOs), a junior welterweight moving up in weight. Roach, of course, would love to see Provodnikov beat Bradley not only to win the title but also as a little payback for the Pacquiao fight.
Provodnikov, a Pacquiao sparring partner, has been training with Roach at his Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, Calif., and Roach has liked what he’s seen.
"We are having an outstanding camp," Roach said. “Ruslan has given me everything I have asked for in training. The fact that Ruslan has been Manny Pacquiao's lead sparring partner his past two camps has given Ruslan an outstanding foundation from which to work. When Manny was preparing to defend his title against Bradley last spring I said any of Manny's sparring partners could beat Bradley. Ruslan will prove that on March 16.
"I've heard Bradley say he's going to take the fight to Ruslan. He said the same thing before his fight with Manny. And when he feels Ruslan's power, like when he felt Manny's, it's going to be a remake of Forrest Gump. 'Run, Timmy, run!' This isn't about Ruslan finishing what Manny started. It's about duplicating it. Bradley is going to run from Ruslan just like he did against Manny.”
Provodnikov has won five fights in a row (four by knockout) since dropping a decision to Mauricio Herrera in January 2011 on ESPN2.”
"I'm very happy and very satisfied with everything I have been doing with Freddie," he said. “I know my fans have seen me on ESPN ‘Friday Night Fights’ fighting a certain way, but on March 16, they will see a different Ruslan inside the ring. My work with conditioning coach Gavin MacMillan has made me stronger and faster and my endurance is tremendous. I have never felt so good.”
A few updates on some upcoming fights:
• American fans will have a chance to see the rematch between junior lightweight titlist Juan Carlos Salgado (26-1-1, 16 KOs) and Argenis Mendez (20-2, 10 KOs). HBO bought the rights to the March 9 bout and will air it on HBO Latino (8:30 p.m. ET).
The fight takes place in Costa Mesa, Calif., on the undercard of the heavyweight eliminator between Cristobal Arreola and Bermane Stiverne. Arreola-Stiverne is part of an HBO-split site tripleheader that also includes light heavyweight titlist Tavoris Cloud against Bernard Hopkins and welterweight Keith Thurman against Jan Zaveck from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. HBO did not have room for a fourth fight on its telecast, but made a deal for Salgado-Mendez II to air on its Spanish-language channel. I hope we will see more of this sort of thing from HBO, sort of like how Showtime Extreme has done a great job televising preliminary bouts for Showtime cards.
March 9 is a big night for HBO -- a live title fight on HBO Latino followed by the network tripleheader and then, immediately following the tripleheader on HBO, there will be a new edition of “The Fight Game with Jim Lampley.”
• Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer said that the return of former junior welterweight titlist Amir Khan, slated for April 20, will move to April 27 (Showtime). Nothing official yet with regard to the site or opponent, although he is likely to fight in his native England.
• Polish light heavyweight Andrzej Fonfara suffered a hand fracture, forcing him to withdraw from the main event of the March 22 ESPN “Friday Night Fights” card. He was due to face Nicholson Poulard. Fonfara will be out for at least four weeks, but if he needs surgery he could be sidelined for three to six months. ESPN2 is working with the promoters to put together a new main event, but still has a quality co-feature that could possibly move up to the main event spot -- Donovan George, who is moving down to middleweight, against David Lopez.
• An injury has knocked light heavyweight prospect Mike Lee off the March 16 Timothy Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov card. Top Rank has also added hot junior featherweight prospect Jessie Magdaleno to the card in an eight-rounder.
ESPN boxing programmer Doug Loughrey is in the process of putting together the early part of the schedule, but the season premiere will take place in Miami and be headlined by a scheduled 10-round junior lightweight bout between prospect Rances Barthelemy (17-0, 11 KOs), a Miami-based Cuban defector, against Arash Usmanee (20-0, 10 KOs), a native of Afghanistan based in Montreal.
The scheduled 10-round co-feature is slated to be junior middleweight Jonathan Gonzalez (15-0-1, 13 KOs) of Puerto Rico against Derrick Ennis (23-3-1, 13 KOs) of Philadelphia. Gonzalez is coming off a terrible performance in a terrible fight against former titlist Sergiy Dzinziruk in September, a fight for which Gonzalez showed up at 163 pounds -- nine pounds over the 154-pound contract limit.
The Jan. 11 show is still being put together, and there is no card on Jan. 18. The site for the Jan. 25 show will take place at a site that hasn't been finalized. It will be headlined by the always-exciting Russian junior welterweight contender Ruslan Provodnikov (22-1, 15 KOs), an FNF regular for the past few years. His opponent hasn't been finalized, but one possibility is the Philippines' Jason Pagara (30-2, 19 KOs).
So Bradley will instead be back on Dec. 15 to headline an HBO "World Championship Boxing" card from Marlins Park in Miami, Fla.
Bradley has a date and a site but no opponent yet. Top Rank promoter Bob Arum has mentioned several names in recent weeks, including interim titlist Robert Guerrero and former titleholder Andre Berto. Both have fairly big names, but there are issues to work through before making a bout with either.
Another fighter Arum has mentioned -- and one that HBO would be fine with -- is Russian junior welterweight Ruslan Provodnikov (22-1, 15 KOs), who is well known to ESPN's "Friday Night Fights" audience. He has been on the show many times and is usually in good fights.
Provodnikov has heard his name mentioned and would love the opportunity to move up in weight and challenge Bradley.
"I am ready for this type of fight," he said. "I would be grateful for the opportunity and I have trained my whole life for this. Bradley is a great fighter, but not only do I know I can win, but I will bring the best out of him and our fight will be one to remember."
Naturally, Banner Promotions' Artie Pelullo would also love to make the fight.
"We feel that Ruslan is ready for this fight and he will beat Bradley," Pelullo said. "Based on all the feedback we get after Ruslan's fights, he is one of, if not the most television friendly fighter out there, and a fight with Bradley would be a great fight for the fans."
Provodnikov, 28, who has worked with Pacquiao as one of his top sparring partners, suffered his only loss in January 2011 in an FNF main event. He dropped a debatable decision to Mauricio Herrera, but has won five fights in a row since.