With the way the boxing world adores Ruslan Provodnikov, with the way he has demonstrated his excellence in two consecutive fights, and with Chris Algieri being so unproven, it was easy enough to envision Provodnikov crushing Algieri morally, devouring him like so much raw moose liver.
There was a small subset of observers, though, who found Algieri’s chances of pulling off the upset Saturday on HBO to be substantial. That subset got some validation. But what we got was not so conclusive an outcome on the scorecards for either man. What we did get, though, is more evidence that Provodnikov struggles with pure boxers, and that Algieri at minimum belongs on the world stage. The final verdict saw Algieri taking it by a narrow split decision, with any variety of outcomes — Provodnikov wide decision, Algieri wide decision, either man by close decision — viable.
Provodnikov has lived by the upset for a while, and Saturday he died by it.
After one round, it appeared no upset would be forthcoming — Provodnikov dropped his fellow 140-pounder twice with a left hand and then a right, the first swelling up Algieri’s eye instantly and the second more of a cuffing shot.
The thing about toughness is that it comes from more than one place. Provodnikov has used his unearthly brand of toughness, that Siberia snowstorm-triggered mania, to stay in fights against the more talented Timothy Bradley and to hunt down and eventually break the more accomplished Mike Alvarado. But Algieri, despite talking so frequently about how stupid it is to say you’d die in the ring, despite growing up in Long Island of all places, despite being a fancy college boy who wants to become a doctor, demonstrated that he does not lack for toughness himself. In the 2nd round, he outboxed and outhustled the animalistic Provodnikov.
And he’d do it for most of the remaining rounds, too. From the 2nd until the 12th, there were so many rounds that could’ve gone for either man that you could be forgiven for having it wide one way or the other. By my scorecard, Algieri rallied after the 1st, struggled a bit in the middle, rallied again late and gave away the 12th. Provodnikov was always landing the harder shots, Algieri was landing more shots overall, and the tenor of the fight for me was that in this battle of skill vs. will, Provodnikov had too much will and just enough skill to avoid succumbing on the scorecards to Algieri’s superior skill, which was laced with a dose of serious will (for real, that eye was shut like a venus fly trap). That round distribution added up to 115-111, Provodnikov. The scores of 114-112 for Algieri times two made complete sense, and not just because Algieri was fighting nearer his home turf in Brooklyn. So did the 117-110 for Provodnikov.
Provodnikov, who has won fans as much for his destructive ring heroics as much as for his personality, griped afterwards about opponents who “run.” To be sure, Algieri moved, but runners don’t usually throw 200 more punches than the brawlers they fight (993-776 by CompuBox count) and land more too (288-205). Provodnikov loses none of his in-ring lovability for getting the L in this fight. But his attitude could’ve been better. That said, he kind of had a point — from a match-up standpoint, Provodnikov-Algieri was a curious choice for his handlers. Unless Provodnikov blew through him, Algieri was bound to make him look bad one way or another and stood a chance of upsetting him. Which he did.
Algieri, in a charming interview, said he hasn’t spent one moment thinking beyond the final bell of the Provodnikov fight. He likewise joked about what a “big juicy steak” his grotesquely swollen eye must’ve looked like to the Russian. Algieri just knocked off one of HBO’s next-gen staples. But it’s worth remembering that Provodnikov only became a next-gen staple because he earned it. Maybe Algieri, with his toughness, skill and story can work his way into that category, too. It’s no longer hard to imagine him beating any number of modern day 140-pound elites.
Thank you oh so very much, alphabet gang, for delivering unto us Demetrius Andrade-Brian Rose. When the defenders of the WBO et al find a fight the alphabets ordered to their liking or a challenger they find deserving, they won’t shut up about what a great example it is of the good belts do. When we end up with a bout like Andrade-Rose — total mismatch, a mandatory contender who deserves nothing, a bad fight all around — they turn into ghosts. Again, the sanctioning organizations sometimes result in good outcomes; but they don’t do it reliably, at all, and they remain a negative for everyone in the sport and outside it on the whole, long-term.
Rose wasn’t in this fight for even a moment, getting dropped and bloodied in round 1, whooped most of the time thereafter and finally stopped in the 7th. The bout was a total waste of time for Andrade, a talented fighter who only recently has achieved HBO-level shine and apparently is going to get it no matter who he faces, because this fight was not worthy of HBO on the competitive merits. I don’t suppose it proved dispositive of Andrade as an up-and-coming junior middleweight talent, which is about the most you can say for what HBO got out of airing it.