TEN years ago, almost to the day, Tim Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov stepped into a boxing ring in Carson, California, to face one another. What took place over those 12 incredible rounds became more than just the Fight Of The Year, it crystalized for many of us why we fell in love with this great sport in the first place.
For Bradley it was a chance to break free of the anguish he’d suffered at the hands of an incredulous sport following his hugely controversial win over Manny Pacquiao.
For Provodnikov the fight was as much about guaranteeing food for his family back home in Siberia as it was an opportunity at a world title.
Both men sat down with Boxing News to explain how this brutal war played out, what it took from them, but also what it provided them both with.
TIM BRADLEY: I was in a very dark place at that time, right before agreeing the fight with Ruslan Provodnikov. I would say it was partly myself and it was partly just the world, the public in general.
At that point I hated myself. I hated myself for many reasons. It was more that it (the fight with Manny Pacquiao) shouldn’t have been that close. I should have done more. And I kept saying this to myself constantly because my family and my kids had to deal with the turmoil as well, which hurt me, affected me, more than actually not winning. Just seeing my kids going to school and being laughed at and being talked about. People talking about their father.
It definitely played a huge part in why I endured that pain. It’s almost like I was I was fighting to prove to myself that I was a true champion. I was depressed. I was having suicidal thoughts at the time. I remember wanting to quit boxing and not be a part of it because I just felt that it was completely unfair.
I went up to my heaviest weight. I was 193lbs, the heaviest I’ve ever been in my entire career. And I remember having 8 weeks to train for Ruslan Provodnikov. I got the call and said, “No problem, eight weeks” and I remember struggling, trying to get motivated to get my weight down. Because, again, I hated myself. I hated the business.
And I paid the price for that. The week of the fight, it was on the Monday, I was still almost 20lbs overweight. By Friday, the day of the weigh-in, that morning I was 10lbs overweight still.
Although I did make the weight I did feel the effects. I felt lethargic, I felt heavy. My hands, my feet, my legs were feeling heavy. And there was always this test that I would do before every fight. I’m in the dressing room and I usually just hit the tip of my chin. That lets me know if I’m able to take a punch or not. It lets me know, because if my brain feels like it’s bouncing around, and I feel like I’m gonna lose consciousness just from me tapping my chin, then I know something is wrong. And that’s exactly what happened. But I didn’t care. It was weird. It was like I knew it happened but I ignored it. As fighters we lie all the time. And I ignored it.
RUSLAN PROVODNIKOV: It’s very simple. For every single fight that I stepped inside the ring I step inside for the last time in my life. For some it’s just boxing, for me it was the only way that I could provide for my family. And if I lose this fight I won’t be able to put food on the table for my family. I know a lot of people say that but for me this was the only way to put food on the table. So I was ready to die in any single fight that I was participating in. I was willing to do whatever it takes to provide for my family. That’s why I was fighting every single time like, “If I’m gonna lose I’ll die before I lose this fight.” Every single fight was like that, not because of me, it was because of the obstacles. I had to fight to feed my family.
At this point I was a 140-pounder, Tim was 147lbs. But, for me, it was like nothing mattered. I was a professional already for eight years. When my manager called me and told me that there was a proposal to fight Tim Bradley for a world championship I did not have a second thought. I just agreed right away because that was an opportunity for me to become a world champion, the opportunity that I’d been searching for, chasing, for my whole professional career. Most people said that I’ll never achieve anything. But it was an opportunity for me to prove them wrong. It was my chance. That was my opportunity for something unbelievable.
With the game plan, because he had a tough fight with Manny Pacquiao Freddie (Roach) felt that he has something to prove to people. They chose me as just an opponent for him to look good against, so he’s gonna come out and he’s gonna show the kid from Siberia who the champion is here. So, during the training camp we tried to provoke him a lot, to piss him off, to make sure that he will come to prove a point and he’ll come to fight. And Freddie said that that’s exactly what he’s going to do, because people were doubting him as a champion because of the great Manny Pacquiao. So, we wanted him to come to fight, we did everything possible for him to come to fight.
TB: The plan was to box. That was the plan going into the fight. I trained to box this guy, to outbox this guy. I was boxing beautifully in the gym. I was doing everything right.
And then I get a phone call. And it’s Ray Lewis. He was a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, and I had a conversation with him. I remember him saying that it’s my time to show the world who I am on the inside. That it’s my duty. It’s my duty to show the world what I’m made of on the inside. If I want anything to change, anyone’s perspective about me as a fighter or as a champion, I have to show them what I’m made of. He’s an ultimate motivator. He’s a guy that wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s a guy that has that football mind set; ‘No retreat, no surrender.’ Basically, “I’m gonna go through you, I’m gonna destroy you to get to what I want.” And it just added fuel to the fire.
The game plan automatically switched from there. Having that conversation with him, it switched my game plan. At the time I know my trainer, Joel Diaz, I know he saw it. I know he saw it in my eyes immediately as I walked out. It was like I was torn between both. I was like, “I know I’ve gotta box but, dammit, I want to fight! I want to fight this guy! I want to show everybody what I’m made of!” And that’s pretty much how the fight turned out to be.
My style, my nature, is to fight. That’s my nature. I’ve always fought against my nature. All the time when I fought. I didn’t have the punching power but I always wanted to rumble.
RP: Sometimes you’re able to do in the ring only what your opponent allows you to, and our goal was not to allow him to box, just to be in front of him, cut off the ring and make him make it a fight. But, of course, kudos to him, he came to fight and as soon as I touched him a couple of times in the first round I felt like, “OK, I can actually touch him, I can actually punch him.” And then I started hurting him with pretty much every shot that I would land. For me it was like, “OK, he’s a human being, even though he’s a champion. I can punch him, I can hurt him. I can not just hurt him, I can drop him, I can wipe the canvas with him!” He’s just a human being, that was my feeling in the first rounds when I hurt him, when I dropped him. But I should have relaxed, stepped back and just finished him. I was over-excited in the moment.
TB: I made the decision to fight Ruslan. I made the decision to endure whatever I needed to endure to get the point across to the world that I am a true champion. That I am somebody. And I deserve respect. That’s what that fight was all about for me.
When you’re in a fight like that you’re not thinking, you’re reacting. In a fight like this, it’s when you’re most alive. I literally felt like time was just sped up.
I lost track of time. I had no clue what round it was, I had no clue. I had no clue that I went down. I would lose track of the rounds. I would lose track of what happened during the course of the flight. I was basically on autopilot. I just felt almost lost in a trance. It’s so hard to explain. Just lost in a trance and just fully focused and dialled in, into that moment.
There were moments when I was in the corner and I could see my trainer talking to me but I didn’t understand what he was saying. It was like a big blur. I didn’t understand what Joel was saying. But then 30 seconds in I would come to life and I’m there again in reality. It just depended on the punches that I took. The big punches that landed put me back in that trance to where I was just fighting on autopilot, just reacting to how I trained. That’s it. Reacting.
RP: To understand what I was feeling, I knew I only had this chance right now. The things that I went through and how things were difficult for me in life, I knew that I only had this opportunity. I felt every single second of the fight. It was something I truly wanted for those eight years sitting at Freddie’s gym. Sometimes I would sit, I would get wrapped, and then I would sit there for two or three hours, just waiting to spar, to get in the ring and to spar with someone. And no one knows my name. No one knows who I am. They would just tell me, “Hey, Russian! Go spar!” Being nobody, sitting there for 3 hours just to have an opportunity to get inside the ring and to spar someone. Having nothing in life. When I got this opportunity it was a moment of happiness in my life.
Walking into the ring for some people, they’re nervous. I was happy walking into that ring because I knew that I got my opportunity and, right now, all I have to do is what I’ve been doing all my life. Fight. Earn respect, earn my name and for people to recognise me. The future of my family, everything depends on this fight. That’s why I was so over-emotional and fought on emotions, on spirit. Sometimes I couldn’t even hear what the corner was telling me. They would open their mouths, they would seem like they were talking, but I wouldn’t be able to hear them. I was so over-emotional and exhausted.
TB: Ruslan Provodnikov, he showed everybody, including myself, what he’s made of. People have always talked to me, all the time they say, “Man, would you do a rematch? Would you do a rematch?”. And I’m like, “Man, you’re crazy! You’re crazy! A rematch with this guy?! Are you nuts?! Absolutely not!”
That’s a guy that definitely brings me nightmares still. I got all the respect and admiration for Ruslan Provodnikov. He was a tremendous champion. A fighter. And we don’t have a lot of guys like him.
I look back on the fight now and there’s times where I wish that I could have it back and I wish that I could do it all over again. I think going through what I went through and then my family having to deal with the aftermath of going through that fight, although it was fantastic for the fans, it wasn’t fantastic for my health.
RP: Probably after the first six rounds me and Bradley, we both fought just on our spirits. It was a war of the characters, not of the strength, because we were fully exhausted after 6 rounds of the fight. That’s why I respect him so much. And that’s why I take my hat off to him. I’m proud sharing the ring with this warrior, with this champion, because he was tired, maybe tired more than I was, but he never stopped fighting and he was fighting no matter how he was hurt. He just kept coming. He just kept throwing. He would get hurt again, he would buckle down. He was getting knocked down, he would get up. He would keep fighting. It was unbelievable. It was back and forth. No one wanted to quit.
I didn’t struggle after the fight. I didn’t get hurt in that fight. There were no physical issues with me. Probably Bradley got much more damage but I had no issues. I even was on-the-up after the fight. I got so much confidence, such a boost in my energy and everything. Because I knew that I can beat anyone in my weight division. But, emotionally, with every fight you’re going through some emotional things and after a fight like that you’re losing a little bit of the fire.
TB: I remember countless hours of therapy. I remember having slurred speech for months, eight months or so. Certain words I couldn’t get out. I remember laying down in bed and feeling this electrical current go up and down my body, from my brain down to my feet and back up to my head. Unexplainable. Still today I have no idea what that was but it just would happen. It would just pulsate down my body and back up. And I remember light being almost like an enemy. I wanted to be in the dark, I didn’t want to be in the light.
I hate the fight. I hate the fact that I went in there and took that type of abuse. At the same time, it’s respected. That’s what I hear everybody talking about. It also inspired people and it also helped people that needed to overcome an obstacle or whatever they were dealing with in their life. Because I’ve had people say that, “Hey, man, you changed my life after watching that fight. You showed me”. Fighters like Shawn Porter telling me, “You showed me what it meant to win. You showed me what it meant to really give it your all after watching you.”
So, although the fans may have loved the fight and although it provided me with more opportunities still today I deal with the aftermath of the effects from that fight. It’s been 10 years, which is unbelievable to me. But I needed this, I needed this type of fight to re-ensure my status as a champion and as a real pro in the game. It was redemption. Redemption with myself and redemption with the entire world.
RP: It was only about providing for my family. So, when my family wasn’t hungry anymore I wasn’t hungry anymore. I lost that fire, and with my style of fighting without fire there is no fight. That’s the reason why I hung up my gloves, not because of any physical issues. I’m enjoying life every single day. I’m happy. I’m healthy. I’m weighing in 147lbs right now, walking around, and I’m enjoying waking up early, reading books, enjoying time with my family, working out, reading poetry. I’m just enjoying life, I’m in great physical condition, and mentally I’m very pleased. I’m a very happy person in my life.
It was a great experience and I’m very proud of what I achieved. It’s an unbelievable miracle for me that it even happened, for the poor kid from North Siberia, to be able to get to that level. Even though my path was real short, I’m happy that it was that bright. That people 10 years later are still sharing those videos, highlights, and tagging me in it and saying, “it’s one of the best ever.” It’s been special for me. Of course, it was a little bit upsetting after, but it is what it is, it’s part of history and without that fight and without that loss, who knows what would’ve been?