If anyone thinks that winning a junior welterweight world title has made Ruslan Provodnikov soft as he heads into his first defense, against Chris Algieri, then that person doesn't know what the "Siberian Rocky" is all about.
"If I have to die in the ring to win, that is what I will do," Provodnikov said through interpreter and manager Vadim Kornilov. "Is Algieri willing to do the same? He had better or he will not defeat me."
Provodnikov, the all-action brawler from Siberia in Russia, and Algieri, of Huntington, New York, will square off for the 140-pound belt on Saturday night (HBO, 10 ET/PT) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. While Provodnikov is a prohibitive favorite, he is not taking anything for granted.
"Despite winning the title, I still feel like a challenger and I train like one," Provodnikov said. "The only thing that has changed for me now that I am a world champion is that I now have more responsibilities, like interviews and appearances."
In the co-feature, 26-year-old junior middleweight titlist Demetrius Andrade (20-0, 13 KOs), of Providence, Rhode Island, will make the first defense when he faces mandatory challenger Brian Rose (25-1-1, 7 KOs), 29, of England. The telecast will open with a replay of Miguel Cotto's 10th-round knockout of Sergio Martinez to win the middleweight championship last Saturday night at New York's Madison Square Garden.
Title or not, newfound riches or not (he will earn a career-high $750,000 for Saturday's fight), Provodnikov remembers where he came from. He's a hard man. Fighting is the easy part.
"I know suffering; I grew up in it," said Provodnikov, who likes to recite Russian poetry on his walk to the ring. "All we had to eat was what grew from the soil -- anything that grew from the soil -- and raw fish and moose. I still eat raw moose liver. It makes me strong.
"I do not like fighting boxers who do not engage, like Algieri, but I am used to it. I will chase him and hunt him down. I am a hunter when I am in the ring."
It is that fighting style that helped Provodnikov (23-2, 16 KOs) go from "Friday Night Fights" regular to HBO darling in a big 2013, when he engaged in two memorable fights and won the title in a mild upset.
First he challenged then-welterweight titleholder Timothy Bradley Jr. in March. Although Provodnikov badly hurt Bradley in the early rounds and knocked him down in the 12th, he lost a close unanimous decision. But he made fans for life because of how epic the fight was and how hard he fought.
The bout was voted 2013 fight of the year by several outlets, including ESPN.com and the Boxing Writers Association of America.
"I think he has the right nickname, the Siberian Rocky, because everybody can relate to the underdog," promoter Artie Pelullo said. "And everybody can relate to a guy fighting his way out of less-than-ideal conditions -- whether it's poverty or a low-income environment -- to reach a better level financially in their life, a better life in general. When he fought Bradley, he was considered just the opponent and it was a payday. And what he did was he rose to the occasion. People like that.
"People can identify with somebody who's a working class person. There were a lot of great fighters in history that were considered working class guys and everybody wanted to be a part of their bandwagons, and they attracted fans because they were the people's guy. And Ruslan's a people's champion. He's a tough guy. And he's straight; he tells you the way it is. After he reviewed the tape he said, 'Listen, I could see how people thought Bradley won the fight.' People like that."
Following that dramatic slugfest, Provodnikov, perhaps boxing's most crowd-pleasing fighter, dropped back down to his more natural junior welterweight division and challenged Mike Alvarado for his world title in October.
Provodnikov went to Alvarado's hometown of Denver and relentlessly pressured him in another exciting fight. Provodnikov put so much pressure on him -- and dropped him twice in the eighth round -- that Alvarado couldn't take it any longer. He retired on his stool after the 10th round, realizing he was in a no-win situation against an opponent who simply would not be denied.
Between the fight of the year and winning a title, Provodnikov accomplished what he had set out to do in boxing, besides providing for his family.
"Most of my original goals have been achieved," he said. "When I was younger I would watch Mike Tyson fight. It was my dream to meet him and I finally realized that dream at the BWAA awards dinner (in May) when he shook my hand and presented me with the fight of the year award. Now it is time to set new goals where I can help others."
Given the way Provodnikov fights -- all-out, all the time -- it would go against the norm if he has a long career at the top. But that is OK with the 30-year-old.
"I am focusing on a shorter, more prominent career; I only want the big fights, the fights the fans want to see," he said. "I want to make an impact and leave. I do not want to outstay my welcome in boxing. Money has never been my primary goal. I want to make the most out of my abilities to be my best in the ring. The respect of the fans and my achievements mean more to me than a title belt."
That's about as honest as a fighter gets, but there's more as he reflected on his difficult upbringing.
"I did not have an easy time growing up in Siberia," he said. "I don't know where my childhood friends are now. Most are probably in jail. I stole food, sniffed glue, smoked and drank. My amateur boxing coach saved my life and helped to redirect my life toward being a productive person."
His dedication to boxing paid off with the title and financial security.
"I don't like to spend my money on frivolous things, and I haven't," he said. "My family is secure and our life has improved since I have become a champion. The governor of my region is having a sports complex built dedicated in my name."
Algieri (19-0, 8 KOs), 30, will be facing his most accomplished opponent. He's in a similar situation to the one Provodnikov faced was when he fought Bradley: opponent and heavy underdog. In addition, the former kickboxer is not much of a puncher, but his movement and speed could trouble the straight-ahead Provodnikov.
Algieri, who will earn a career-high $100,000, is not offended in the least by his underdog status. In fact, he embraces it.
"No, I don't take any offense to it; it's just the nature of the game in this situation," said Algieri, a 2007 graduate of Stony Brook University who received a master's degree from the New York Institute of Technology in 2010 and aspires to attend medical school after boxing. "I haven't had those big-name fights yet. I've only been on TV a couple of times. But I have been working very hard throughout my entire career and getting ready for this opportunity, and on [Saturday] everybody's going to see who I am and see what I bring to the table."
Fighting so close to his Long Island home is a "dream come true" for Algieri, who said he has no fear of Provodnikov's power.
"Ruslan has this great power in his punches, but if you can't land them, the power really doesn't matter," said Algieri, who has sparred with similarly aggressive fighters like Marcos Maidana and Brandon Rios. "I have been preparing for the power by not getting hit. I am not much into predictions, but all I can say on Saturday, 'And the new ...'"
Freddie Roach, Provodnikov's Hall of Fame trainer, is not too impressed by Algieri.
"He may be undefeated, but Chris Algieri has never faced anyone like Ruslan," Roach said. "He may be a good student in school, but Ruslan will be teaching Algieri a crash course on how to lose on Saturday night. Ruslan is going to pour everything he has into this fight. His sole mission is to turn out Algieri's lights.
"Algieri has a degree in nutrition and claims to be on a healthy diet. We'll see how well he digests the rights and lefts Ruslan serves up to him on Saturday."
That is what Provodnikov plans to do. He is not about to alter the pressure style that has thrilled fans and brought him to the top.
"I have to fight like a world champion," he said. "I will try to finish the fight in a great fashion, as always, because I always do."