Could Ruslan Provodnikov be on a collision course with Manny Pacquiao?
Provodnikov takes on Chris Algieri this Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The junior welterweight showdown is the featured bout of HBO’s Boxing After Dark telecast set to start at 10 p.m. ET.
Nicknamed “The Siberian Rocky” by his handlers, Provodnikov has become must-watch television for fight fans. He’s a hard puncher who uses a brutal, come-forward style to beat his opponents into submission.
That’s fun stuff. The dude can fight, and he puts his heart and soul into every combination he throws.
Provodnikov has made his mark in boxing the right way, too. He’s taken on tough competitors, and he’s fought exceptionally hard against them to earn credibility as a marketable commodity in the sport.
And that’s what prizefighting is about, isn’t it?
Fighters don’t just want to be the best at what they do. Or, at least, they shouldn’t. Ask Guillermo Rigondeaux, a talent without equal who can’t seem to get fight fans or television networks behind him.
No, fighters want to be both elite and marketable enough to make millions of dollars fighting the biggest stars in the sport.
For Provodnikov, that means making a potential showdown with Pacquiao something fight fans not only salivate for but demand.
If you follow the fight game closely, you know the two men share some history together. Provodnikov served as a sparring partner for Pacquiao as recently as 2011, and both are trained by Freddie Roach.
But things have changed since those days. Pacquiao suffered consecutive losses in 2012 to Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez to make him seem less invincible than the few years prior.
At the same time, Provodnikov earned his stripes as an elite-level performer. In 2013, Provodnikov came oh so close to upsetting Bradley in a Fight of the Year candidate before knocking out Mike Alvarado in Round 10 of what was supposed to be an Alvarado homecoming party.
Instead, it was a coming out party for Provodnikov. The bout was a display of sheer brutality, a win highlighted by Alvarado, a gallant warrior himself, quitting on his stool.
There’s a lot to like about Provodnikov. But before he earns the type of fortune and fame that comes with fighting a megastar like Pacquiao, several things would need to be worked out.
First, Provodnikov needs to stay in the win column. On Saturday, he faces a solid fighter in Algieri, who won’t be coming to the ring to give his undefeated record up without a fight. Provodnikov needs to take care of business against Algieri if he harbors any hopes of a Pacquiao fight.
Next, Provodnikov would need to be comfortable going into the biggest fight of his career without his trainer. While Provodnikov and Roach have a close bond, no one would expect Roach to pick Provodnikov’s corner over that of his best and brightest pupil, Pacquiao, should the two fighters ever meet each other.
Finally, Provodnikov needs to continue to make his case for being one of Pacquiao’s most marketable promotion options. That means he doesn’t just need to win, but he needs to be explosive enough for promoters to believe they can sell fight fans the idea of the two men going toe-to-toe.
Provodnikov will play second fiddle in historical context to the likes of other Pacquiao fight candidates, such as Marquez, but he might be able to make a case for being the most brutally mesmerizing matchup for Pacquiao because of his face-first style.
Think about it. How interesting would it be to see Provodnikov stalking the quick-handed Pacquiao around the ring? Would Pacquiao’s combination of strength and speed be too much for him? Would Provodnikov’s hard right hand put Pacquiao to the canvas?
The fight would be a barnburner for however long it lasted.
But before getting too terribly excited about it, think about this: Provodnikov will have to fight his way to Pacquiao through all these different obstacles.
Hey, that part sounds fun to watch, too.