MACAU, China – Having been the sport’s premier trainer for the past decade, Freddie Roach knows what it’s like to have to choose between his fighters. Yet with Top Rank boss Bob Arum keen on a future showdown between Manny Pacquiao and Ruslan Provodnikov – Roach’s two top pupils – Roach’s loyalties are being stretched to the limits.
Roach, who is in Macau gearing up for Pacquiao’s first fight in close to a year against Brandon Rios on Sunday morning (Saturday night in America), says that the fight is one that he hopes remains relegated forever to fantasy fight debates.
“I hope that fight doesn’t happen because I don’t want to lose either one of them because they’re both good friends and hard workers in my stable,” said the 53-year-old trainer. “Sometimes these things happen, it’s part of sports.”
Arum says that he believes the fight is a “real good possibility” should Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 knockouts) get through Rios (31-1-1, 23 KOs).
“If you ask people who they would want to see Manny fight next, everybody would say Mayweather, but next to Mayweather, they would probably say Provodnikov,” said Arum. “He’s the next logical fight. Who else would you want Pacquiao to fight? [Juan Manuel] Marquez again, but then Marquez isn’t willing to fight.”
Provodnikov (23-2, 16 KOs), of Beryozovo, Russia, raised his profile considerably in 2013 thanks to a close loss to Timothy Bradley in one of the year’s best fights, and a knockout victory over Rios-conqueror Mike Alvarado last month.
Provodnikov is promoted by the Philadelphia-based Banner Promotions, but Top Rank holds an option to promote his next bout.
Roach revealed that Provodnikov was offered $10 million to face Pacquiao for a fight next year, which Roach concedes is a hard offer to turn down.
“I put myself in Ruslan’s shoes: If he’s offered 10 million dollars to fight Manny Pacquiao, can you really say no?” asked Roach. “It could set him for the rest of his life and his family would be financially secure. It’s something fighters have to worry about.
“I wouldn’t be mad at him if he accepted the fight.”
Provodnikov had served as Pacquiao’s chief sparring partner prior to Pacquiao’s 2011 bout with Timothy Bradley, which Pacquiao lost controversially on points. The two spent a few months up in the mountains of the Baguio, Philippines together, engaging in often-brutal sessions.
“The first day they sparred, Ruslan wore his regular headgear and he just got marked up so badly that I had to buy him one with the bar on it to protect him,” said Roach. “He has that really light skin that bruises pretty easily.”
For Provodnikov’s most recent fight, Roach’s chief assistant Marvin Somodio – a Filipino trainer Roach has taken under his wing – had assumed head trainer duties while Roach worked with Miguel Cotto and Pacquiao separately.
Having Roach train Pacquiao while Somodio trains Provodnikov, as Arum had suggested, is not as simple as it sounds, Roach cautions.
“Marvin can’t train a Russian to fight a Filipino,” he said. “It doesn’t work out that well.”
When asked to compare the two, Roach says that Pacquiao has superior speed and combination punching, while Provodnikov is the heavier puncher with a single blow.
Roach says he understands that business is business, however, and that sometimes fighting someone close to you is a part of the game.
“I fought my brother once,” he said. “My Dad put us in together. I got my ass kicked.”
Photo / Kevork Djansezian-Getty Images
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.