'Siberian Rocky' adds title belt, keeps bruiser mentality

By Lyle Fitzsimmons | CBSSports.com

Those spending time with Ruslan Provodnikov can expect several things.

First, the ebullient Russian will more than meet his quota for smiles. Second, he'll reiterate often his belief that dreams can come true and that fate rewards those who work hard.

Oh, and third, if you're planning on stepping in a ring with him -- pack some aspirin.

In this case, Chris Algieri, that means you.

Because a newly earned reign as World Boxing Organization (WBO) champion at 140 pounds doesn't seem to have changed Provodnikov's blue-collar mindset when it comes to inflicting headaches.

“I was preparing for this fight like any other fight. I'm treating this fight as if I'm a challenger,” he said. “I'm not letting my belt take away motivation from me, because I'm very motivated to make sure my first defense is very spectacular. I'm where I need to be, I'm 200 percent ready. I'm ready to fight.”

He'll meet Algieri on Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn atop a two-bout HBO card that will also include a WBO title defense by 154-pound champion Demetrius Andrade against Brian Rose.

The broadcast begins at 10 p.m. and the live fights will be paired with a rebroadcast of new middleweight champion Miguel Cotto's TKO victory over Sergio Martinez, which aired on HBO's pay-per-view arm last weekend from Madison Square Garden.

Provodnikov is a heavy favorite -- he's listed as a 7-1 choice by Bet365.com -- thanks mainly to a pair of 2013 brawls that elevated him from an anonymous face in Freddie Roach's crowded Wild Card gym to a popular star whose mere appearance on in-house video screens elicits thunderous applause.

He lost a narrow decision to then-welterweight champ Timothy Bradley in a slugfest ultimately named Fight of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America, then returned seven months later and forced Mike Alvarado to surrender on his stool while ceding the WBO junior welterweight belt.

The Bradley fight left its winner with a concussion and yielded a chance for its star-struck runner-up to meet one of his childhood heroes, Mike Tyson, who just happened to be presenting the BWAA award to the two fighters at the group's annual celebratory dinner in early May.

“I had a big wish of one day meeting him and shaking his hand,” Provodnikov said. “That was a great honor. It was just something that was part of my lifelong dream and I never thought it would happen. But it did happen, and that's why I believe in fate and I believe that whatever you wish for will happen.”

The sudden fan adulation in his direction has been a similar dream come true.

“Obviously I dreamt of it. I wished for this to happen at some point,” he said. “But for me to expect it, no, I did not expect for everything to come out the way it is.

“The way my career developed with me losing a fight and then getting into a world title fight is something unexpected. But life is that way, you never know what's going to happen. I never thought that someday I would have to sometimes hide away from fans just to get out of an arena. And now this is what's happening to me. I'm glad that things worked out the way they did.”

Provodnikov is slotted eighth at 140 pounds by the Independent World Boxing Rankings (www.independentworldboxingrankings.com), which list all fighters in a given weight class regardless of what sanctioning belts they hold. The 30-year-old Algieri is ranked 22nd on that list and is the WBO's No. 13 contender on the eve of his first title fight.

He's never had a 12-round fight and never faced a foe ranked higher than No. 30 on the IWBR list.

His past, though, is of little concern to Provodnikov.

“I don't watch my opponents,” he said. “I watched a small clip just to see what kind of style of a fighter he is and who I'll be fighting. I don't watch or I don't study my opponents or anything like that. I just trust my trainer, Freddie Roach, to take care of that. He's a great strategy expert.

“He knows how to win these fights. I completely trust him in training camp to do that and take care of that, and I trust him and do what he tells me to do.”

Weekend Watch List

HBO -- Saturday, 10 p.m.

Ruslan Provodnikov vs. Chris Algieri -- WBO junior welterweight title

Demetrius Andrade vs. Brian Rose -- WBO junior middleweight title

UniMas -- Saturday, 11 p.m.

Glen Tapia vs. Keenan Collins -- 10 rounds, junior middleweights

Jesse Hart vs. Shujaa El Amin -- eight rounds, super middleweights

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