THE record books show that Russia produced its first world champion on January 2, 1925, when Louis 'Kid' Kaplan, who was born in Kiev, Russia but moved to the United States at age five, won the vacant world featherweight (126 pounds) championship with a ninth-round knockout of Danny Kramer in New York City. Kaplan’s reign was brief as he moved up to the lightweight (135 pounds) division after encountering difficulties meeting the featherweight limit. He was never the same fighter in his new weight class and retired in 1933 after losing to Cocoa Kid.
Historians described Kaplan as a rugged, pressing boxer who possessed tremendous stamina. Fast forward to the future: Exemplifying the Kaplan spirit, Ruslan Provodnikov became Russia’s latest world champion by stopping American Mike 'Mile High' Alvarado in 10 rounds for the World Boxing Organization (WBO) junior welterweight (140 pounds) diadem. In a fight that had as much action as there are expletives in a Guns and Roses song, Provodnikov pursued and relentlessly battered Alvarado in the entire duration of the fight. Make no mistake, Alvarado stood his ground early on by wisely mixing his assaults with lateral movement, but an unperturbed Provodnikov shrugged off all the blows coming his way like they were just pesky flies obscuring his vision. Cut over the right eye in the seventh round, Provodnikov came out in homicidal fashion and floored Alvarado twice in the eighth stanza. Alvarado was nothing but arms and legs in the next round as Provodnikov hammered away without remorse. After barely surviving the ninth round, Alvarado’s camp opted to throw in the white towel of surrender at the start of the 10th round.
Provodnikov cried unabashedly in the ring and it was understandable considering the ordeal he went through before finally becoming a world champion. Dubbed the 'Siberian Rocky,' Provodnikov was born 29 summers ago in the small island village of Beryozovo, Russia. To earn a living, Provodnikov worked in several oil rigs in Northern Siberia before deciding to lace on the gloves. Competing in the 105-pound class, he compiled an impressive amateur record of 170-10 before turning pro in December 2006 with a decision over countryman Kirill Artemiev. A year later, Provodnikov debuted in the United States with an impressive first-round knockout of Willie Diamond.
While he offered pulverizing power, Provodnikov’s one-dimensional style did not impress American trainers. Consequently, he bounced from one trainer to another and barely made minimum wage in his fights in the US. As if things cannot get any worse, Provodnikov suffered his first loss after 17 straight wins in 2011 when he was outboxed by Mauricio Herrera in 12 rounds.
Lady Luck finally smiled on Provodnikov when the fighter started training under the tutelage of Freddie Roach. Roach had Provodnikov sparring with Manny Pacquiao and came away impressed by the Russian’s ability to take the ‘Pacman’s’ punches and dish out his own brand of punishment. Roach showed up in Provodnikov’s corner when the Russian took on American Timothy Bradley Jr. in March 2013 for the WBO welterweight (147 pounds) crown. Despite moving up in weight, Provodnikov stood toe-to-toe with Bradley and came close to knocking out the American in the 12th and final round. Bradley still won on points, but it was Provodnikov who left the ring with a truckload of new followers.
The recent victory over Alvarado did not just give Provodnikov the WBO junior welterweight crown, but it also confirmed his status as one of the exciting bangers in the sport. Provodnikov, 23-2 with 16 knockouts, is a throwback to the fighters of old - boxers who showed up in the ring with a kill-or-be-killed mindset regardless of the purse involved. The Cold War may be over, but count on Provodnikov to raise the temperature every time he shows up in the ring. They call him the 'Siberian Rocky,' but this writer prefers the moniker ‘Slugfest Provocateur.’