Before Ruslan Provodnikov came within a few seconds of stopping Timothy Bradley in an all-out war last March, relatively few American fight fans had heard of him. Now, his hard-hitting, all-action style is a secret no longer. But what about the man behind the fists? Provodnikov recently opened up to us (through an interpreter) about his tough Siberian upbringing, Mike Tyson, and Russian poetry.
What can you tell us about your background, how you became a boxer, what got you started? Do you remember your very first fight, perhaps as a child?
I didn't have the easiest upbringing. I grew up in the small town of Beryozovo in Siberia. I had some tough times. I had to fight sometimes to get people to respect me. In the area where I lived, there were a lot of kids who were older than me, and they picked on me a lot of the time because I was smaller. My first boxing match was at 28 kilos [61.2 pounds], so I wasn't a big guy, but I always liked it. I liked to fight. My father took me into a gym and I started boxing and I realized this was a good way to fight without getting punished for it. This is why I'm fighting right now, because I'm doing what I like, what I've liked since I was a kid, and I get rewarded for it.
How big is Beryozovo? Can you describe the surroundings and what the town was like?
It's a little bit bigger than a village, a little smaller than a city. The population is about 8,000. It's like a half-island, basically surrounded by water. To get out of there, you have to fly out. In the summer, you can go by boat. In the winter, when the water freezes, you can drive across the ice. There are a lot of forests, and there isn't much manufacturing or industry, so there's a lot of fresh air. It's very relaxing and I like to go back there after my fights. It's a great area to reconnect with nature.
Do you ever have the opportunity to look back at historical fighters? Is there anyone you really admire? Anyone you would have liked to have fought?
There are a lot of boxers that I look at and I enjoy watching, but what always motivated me was the story of Mike Tyson more than anybody else. Where he came from and what he was able to get to, a lot of us had a similar situation. When I was a kid, I would read about him, where he started and where he was able to get to, and I thought about it and I thought, 'I could probably do the same.' In a way, watching him and reading about him really changed my life. I've met a lot of stars in boxing, and I've shaken a lot of boxers' hands, but I still have a dream of shaking Mike Tyson's hand and telling him, 'Thank you,' because he helped me get where I am.
Can you imagine where you'd be without boxing?
I can say 100 percent that it would not be good, where I'd be. It's hard to explain, but you have to understand where I'm from. In that area, most of the people I was growing up with, a lot of them are in jail, drinking, or not alive. Boxing saved my life, I think. It got me where I am today. My very first trainer, Evgeny Yakuev, is somebody who built me and built my character. I have to admit, as a kid, we were not doing smart things. To survive, we had to steal. We would drink, we would smoke. Boxing took me away from that, and today I am where I am because of boxing.
Boxing has put you in a position to take care of your child. What would you like for your child in the future?
Boxing was my road to a different life. I didn't have a lot of choices. My most important thing for my son and my future children is to have a choice. I want them to be able to choose what they want to do, and right now my job is to support them and give him that choice. I could have had him move to the city or live anywhere I wanted to, but I'm having my child grow up in the place where I was born and where I grew up. I want him to see how I lived, to run on the same streets. I tell him right now to do sports, to ride the bike, go swimming and try everything. I want him to be able to make his own choices. But at the same time, I want to separate him from the distractions of life: I want him to use less Internet, watch less television, and have more activity in sports. I think kids should grow up as we used to grow up.
Are there other sports you like to play or watch, or any other hobbies you have?
I like to watch swimming a lot. Sometimes I watch triathlon. I like these sports because you never know who's going to be faster, better. I like to watch gymnastics sometimes. As for myself, I like to play basketball or soccer, but I don't watch them that much. As for hobbies, lately, I've been reading a lot of poems from such poets as Sergey Yesenin. I enjoy that.
Is there anything your fans might be surprised to learn about you? Perhaps the fact you enjoy poetry? Any secrets in the life of Ruslan Provodnikov?
I'm a very open person. I don't really have a lot of secrets. I usually try to be really open with my fans. But probably yes, the fact that I'm a boxer and I read a lot of poems, a lot of people probably don't believe it. But if you look at my fan pages, you'll see I post a lot of poems that I like there, and a lot of people discuss them. Good poems, and sometimes good music.
Finally, although you're at the peak of your career, can you complete this sentence? I will retire when ....
I will retire when I realize I did everything that I ever wanted, that I gave it all I had, and I achieved everything that I wanted to achieve.