Backgrounds often help shape boxing styles, and contrasting styles are said to make fights.
Ruslan Provodnikov, the World Boxing Organization’s junior welterweight champion, could not be any more different from Chris Algieri, the undefeated challenger who hopes to take Provodnikov’s title in their 12-round bout Saturday night at Barclays Center.
Provodnikov’s brawling, in-your-face demeanor reflects his rough-and-tumble upbringing in Beryozovo, Russia. He acknowledged he stole food to ease his hunger and put himself on a dangerous path as a teenager until he was guided into boxing.
Algieri, a careful tactician who prides himself on defense, attended St. Anthony’s High School in Huntington, N.Y., earned a bachelor’s degree from Stony Brook University and then a master’s degree in clinical nutrition from the New York Institute of Technology.
Other than their age and ambition, these two 30-year-olds are worlds apart.
“He’s a bull,” Algieri’s promoter, Joe DeGuardia, said of Provodnikov. “Chris is more like a matador. That is how the fight is going to pan out. It’s brawn versus brain.”
Provodnikov (23-2, 16 knockouts), who is known as the Siberian Rocky for all that he overcame, is renowned for his toughness. When he earned his title in October, he imposed his will on Mike Alvarado to such a degree that Alvarado, having already been decked twice, declined to answer the bell for the 11th round. Even when Provodnikov lost to Timothy Bradley in March 2013, he proved to be a dangerous foe. Near the end of the action-packed fight, the heavily favored Bradley was driven to one knee. He hung on in the final seconds to win by unanimous decision.
Algieri (19-0, 8 knockouts) has no nickname. He acknowledged that he could not even begin to understand the difficulties his opponent once faced.
“I grew up in the suburbs of Long Island,” Algieri said. “I went to Catholic school. I had a good education. I have a strong family structure. I had a different experience.”
To Algieri, it hardly matters how each of them reached this point. “Really, all I’m worried about is taking what he’s got,” he said.
For as much as boxing has meant to Provodnikov, Algieri knows that this contest can be a life-changing event for him. He compiled a 20-0 record in kickboxing and won world championships in the welterweight and super welterweight divisions. But he was disappointed by his lack of earning power.
“It just didn’t pay,” he said.
If he upsets Provodnikov, a huge payday will almost surely follow. The promoter Bob Arum has said he would be interested in having Algieri oppose Manny Pacquiao, the W.B.O. welterweight champion, who generates a financial blockbuster whenever he competes.
DeGuardia has considered the possibilities.
“If he wins the fight, it becomes a whole different world,” he said. “I’m not even sure Chris can fathom the doors it would open for him.”
Although a defeat could mean a long wait for another title shot — if one ever comes again — Algieri does not dwell on that possibility.
“The more I win, the longer the streak goes, every fight is make or break,” he said. “I’ve treated every fight like that since my first. There is no such thing as me thinking about losing or what would happen if I lose. I’m an optimistic person. I’m a confident person. I approach every fight as if I’m going to win. I don’t have anything in my mind past Saturday.”
Algieri is keenly aware of how devastating the long-term effects of repeated blows to the head can be. That went a long way toward shaping him as a boxer.
“There are very real risks involved in the sport,” he said. “But anyone who knows me and knows my style knows I limit those risks as much as possible. I stay in shape between fights. I come into each fight in peak condition. Defense is a major part of my style. I’m not taking too much punishment, and that is the name of the game.”
When Algieri was in camp for four weeks in Las Vegas, Tim Lane, his trainer, constantly reminded him of the craftsmanship of two boxers they both admire — Muhammad Ali and Floyd Mayweather. Lane said Ali “could mesmerize you with his movement and his defense.” He praised Mayweather for “his mental focus on being an artist under fire in the middle of warfare.”
Algieri, who tries to make up for what he lacks in power with the number of punches he throws, will need that kind of cool to withstand the immense pressure Provodnikov typically exerts. His training focused on controlling the space in the ring and dictating the pace of the fight.
“He’ll be three steps ahead of this guy the whole fight,” Lane said. “He is that sharp.”
As different as Algieri is from Provodnikov, he said he understands how difficult Provodnikov’s path to the top has been and how big a challenge it will be to take his title.
“It’s definitely a difficult task,” Algieri said. “I never thought winning a world championship would be easy. I really have to fight a fight with no mistakes, go out there and be perfect.”