NEW YORK -- There’s a certain raw element to the way Ruslan Provodnikov fights -- call it unrefined brutality soaked in honesty -- that has made him such an attractive draw for fight fans since his arrival on the big stage.
The junior welterweight titlist is also the exact same way when it comes to fielding questions about his life, career and the difficult upbringing he endured in the tiny, remote Siberian village of Beryozovo.
So when Provodnikov (23-2, 16 KOs) was asked during a media luncheon in Manhattan to promote Saturday’s title defense against unbeaten Chris Algieri about where he would be today had he not found boxing, “the Siberian Rocky” was not about to pull punches.
“I think I would be in jail. That is 100 percent,” Provodnikov said. “It was going towards that. I was on the way. All my friends that I was growing up with, I don’t know where they are. Most of them are in jail. I was drinking, I was sniffing glue, I was stealing -- I was doing everything that leads a person to get to jail when I was a kid.”
Provodnikov, 30, credits amateur trainer Evgeniy Vakuev for helping provide the structure and discipline through boxing that has him “redirecting my life toward being a productive person.”
Despite being a changed man, it’s clear the realities of a desperate and impoverished youth under the backdrop of such an unforgiving climate have gone a long way in creating the devastating force fans have grown to adore.
Even in a barbaric sport overrun with tough guys who openly ignore the risks in front of them, it’s clear that Provodnikov is cut from a different cloth altogether.
He’s not a fighter who produces memorable sound bites in order to market himself or add gloss to his indomitable image. What you see is incredibly what you get, with Provodnikov the rare athlete whose motivation to simply compete overrides the obsession for typical vain rewards like titles, riches and fame.
The brutality of Provodnikov’s face-first style is derived from his longing to produce memorable fights while earning the respect of his fans. And he’s willing to literally leave it all in the ring as a means to protect that.
The question, however, is at what price? It’s a topic that continues to confront Provodnikov before each fight. With the potential for rapid decline and a short prime due, is there any concern about throwing more caution to the wind in regard to his damaging style?
“I haven’t given that much thought,” Provodnikov said. “But a lot of people have been asking me this question, so now I’m beginning to worry about that and think that there is a part of truth to it.
“In a way, I’ve always thought it’s better to have a short and very standout type of career instead of a long one. That’s kind of what I am focusing on. I would rather get into the big fights sooner and get through that.”
It’s that same willingness to persevere through an unthinkable amount of punishment that makes it equally hard to properly gauge his ceiling as a fighter. Despite having more skill than he’s often credited with as a puncher, he’s open about the fact that he doesn’t look at a fight through the mindset of X’s and O’s as much as one man breaking another man’s will.
It’s the mindset that helped Provodnikov win his first world title last October, when he forced all-action tough guy Mike Alvarado to throw in the towel after 10 rounds.
“I’m not one of the most talented boxers, and I think that I have to work double as hard as boxers who are talented to get into shape and win these fights,” Provodnikov said. “And my training camp is very difficult. That’s part of my character and that’s part of my life and what I have to go through to get to where I am.”
Provodnikov, who will have a talented boxer in front of him in Algieri (19-0, 8 KOs) on Saturday, is well aware of the belief that slick fighters have the potential to be his kryptonite. But the Russian says he’s never had an issue with this type of opponent, having defeated a litany of taller boxers throughout his run in the amateurs.
That doesn’t mean he enjoys these kinds of fights.
“I don’t get excited for fights like this because these fights are not exciting,” Provodnikov said. “I don’t like when the fighter is running away. It’s not part of my style. I am always very excited for a real toe-to-toe fight.
“If I have to chase and run after him it’s not as motivating. It makes for a boring fight. But it’s not true that it’s hard for me to fight these guys. For them, it’s hard to fight me, that’s why they are running away. They are trying to get away from me. I can do what I do best. I’ve been able to catch other guys, and you can’t run forever. I’ll be able to get there.”
One thing Provodnikov has proved in a short time is that he’s a man of his word. It’s that brutal honesty -- in spirit, word and performance -- that makes him so difficult to keep off of you and so addictively compelling to watch.