When Tim Bradley won the most important fight of his career versus Manny Pacquiao in June 2012, he thought the biggest fighters and paydays would soon follow. Ruslan Provodnikov is not the top-level opponent Bradley had in mind, and for this reason, Bradley could be in store for a letdown and a loss on March 16.
For one reason or another, notable boxers such as Miguel Cotto, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Manny Pacquiao have decided to steer clear of Tim Bradley, which means that the first man to take the challenge—Ruslan Provodnikov—has the best shot at taking the WBO welterweight title.
So how exactly did Ruslan Provodnikov become the next challenger for Bradley's title? Well, as Bradley himself said recently (per Leighton Ginn of MyDesert.com), “there is no logic in boxing.” In a sport where "what have you done for me lately" is the motto, Bradley's inactivity has effectively lost him any steam he gained with the win over Pacquiao.
But, not to be overlooked as an opponent with no chance to win, Ruslan Provodnikov and trainer Freddie Roach will try to follow the blueprint Manny Pacquiao laid out when he fought Bradley last year. Provodnikov hopes to benefit from being relatively unknown and will look to capitalize on the fact that Bradley is returning to the ring for the first time since suffering ligament damage in both feet almost nine months ago.
Who is Ruslan Provodnikov?
29-year-old Ruslan Provodnikov has a solid record of 22-1 with 15 knockouts. The knock on him is that many of the name opponents he's faced have been at the tail end of their careers, like Javier Jauregui, Emanuel Augustus and DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley.
Provodnikov is trained by Freddie Roach and will be moving up in weight class to challenge Bradley. Because of his broad shoulders and big frame, the change in weight classes may not affect Provodnikov all that much.
Though he hasn't been sternly tested, Provodnikov has shown that he's not a complete stiff in the ring and has enough athleticism to attack Bradley at angles. In his last fight, Provodnikov continually stalked his opponent, Jose Reynoso, en route to an impressive knockout in Round 2.
As FightNews.com reported, Freddie Roach stated in a recent interview that Provodnikov has benefited from being the lead sparring partner for Manny Pacquiao for his past two training camps. The level of sparring he's gotten at the Wild Card Gym can only help Ruslan in his first showcase on the big stage.
Provodnikov has some good pop, recording 15 knockouts in 23 bouts. For Ruslan to have a serious shot at winning the WBO title, he will have to make Bradley feel his power early and often.
Keys to a Ruslan Provodnikov Victory
According to Roach, once Bradley feels Provodnikov's power, Tim will go into retreat mode. The biggest question seems to be, how many punches will Ruslan have to eat before getting off his own?
In his only loss versus Mauricio Herrera, Provodnikov was often caught with straight punches as he lunged in to do his work. His movement was timed well by Herrera, which led to a close, but unanimous decision loss for Ruslan.
Even though Tim Bradley isn't a huge puncher, if Ruslan takes too many clean shots, it may be a short night for him. But, if Ruslan can show good enough head movement and get into Tim's chest, he may make Bradley work harder than he would like to in his return to the ring.
And although Provodnikov promised "a new Ruslan" come March 16 (per The Ring), he would be smart to simply fine-tune his normal strategy and plan to aggressively attack Bradley on the inside.
Even if Ruslan Provodnikov has a perfect night, he still may need some help from Tim Bradley. Bradley has faced some monumental adversity outside of the ring following his hotly contested victory over Manny Pacquiao. Is Tim’s focus really on Provodnikov, or is he setting his sights on a bigger matchup in the near future?
Everyone from Freddie Roach to Bob Arum—who is supposed to help promote Tim— bashed Bradley after he beat Pacquiao. Bradley lashed out at Arum, claiming Bob was taking the loss hard because Pacquiao was Top Rank’s “cash cow” (per Yahoo! News).
Not a typical conversation between fighter and promoter, especially after a big-time win. Per MyDesert.com, Bradley even received death threats after the win, taking the backlash to a despicable new level.
To make matters worse, Bradley’s manager—Cameron Dunkin—has admitted that rival promotional company Golden Boy Promotions has made things tougher by signing a majority of fighters at Tim’s weight class:
They've gone out and signed about every 140- and 147-pound guy who can take a breath. They have a lot of opponents, they have a lot of fighters. ... That limits our pool to a few guys. That’s going to hurt, but the way to overcome that is to fight who’s available. They can’t sign everyone and they can’t stop everything.
If any of these factors are interfering with Tim's concentration, Ruslan Provodnikov may have a mental advantage going into his March 16 matchup with Bradley. Coupled with the tips that Freddie Roach can provide—having already trained for Bradley once with Pacquiao—Provodnikov may indeed be ready to take the title.