Upon Lucas Matthysse vs. Ruslan Provodnikov being so much as suggested, particularly sadistic corners of the pugilistic realm rubbed their hands together, greedily anticipating the carnage. When the fight was officially announced, the boxing world collectively stated, “Count me in.” Both Matthysse and Provodnikov are feeling the effect of that welcome, presently.
The strength and potential that entered the ring in Verona, N.Y. led most fans to dismiss the idea of a distance affair, but by some strange alignment of celestial bodies, that’s what happened, as Matthysse earned a thin decision over Provodnikov. Matthysse, (37-3, 34 KO and 1 No Contest), didn’t walk away unscathed in the HBO main event, however.
Predictably, Provodnikov, from Beryozovo, Russia, began the bout attacking Matthysse fairly one-dimensionally, while the latter chose to use his legs and better technique to avoid exchanges. The exchanges came regardless, but they were few, in a fight that the average fan expected pure fission from. And in round 2, the action sure hinted at the horror to come, as Matthysse uncorked his uppercut, and when the rest of his offensive repertoire unfolded, so essentially did the skin over Provodnikov’s left eye. A cut, wide and horrible, had opened up, threatening to stop the fight.
As if timed perfectly, Provodnikov’s pressure became absolutely stifling in round 3. Matthysse again landed his uppercut, but apart from the look of his skin, Provodnikov couldn’t be bothered. Instead, he managed to briefly affect Matthysse’s legs toward the bell.
After the 3rd, Matthysse noticeably walked to his corner slowly, and sat down even slower. Round 4 seemed to suggest that was for a reason, as Matthysse’s movement slowed and Provodnikov had more offensive success than any round prior. Matthysse’s walk to his corner was even worse this time.
Provodnikov, in true lunatic form, showed no slowing in round 5 and pressed to push back and rock a weary Matthysse. The Argentine’s defense had turned minimal, and if he had previously thought he could dispose of Provodnikov in short order, that notion had fled the ring.
Round 6 signaled a generalized slowing down from Provodnikov, whose swollen face ceased to look human as he absorbed punishment from Matthysse. And round 7 highlighted the speed difference between the two, as Provodnikov found it difficult to land anything at all, while eating everything thrown his way.
Just as earlier in the fight, though, Provodnikov refused to lose grip on all momentum, and he battled through to have Matthysse again tired and/or wobbled when the bell came for round 8. Whether it was from punches or exertion, again the fight had turned. Sensing this, Provodnikov pressed hard to start round 9, but fell back into the routine of getting his head popped back with jabs, though he connected with a couple of left hooks later.
While Provodnikov’s pressure stayed constant, Matthysse was able to again count on technique to pull him through most of the round. Until Provodnikov went animal again, that is. And again at the end of the 10th and through to the 11th Matthysse looked like a battle-worn man. In round 11, a series of punches appeared to badly hurt Matthysse, and Provodnikov capitalized by throwing and throwing — and landing.
To start the 12th round, Matthysse could barely muster a hard punch along the ropes and leaned in to clinch through much of the round. Likely also exhausted, Provodnikov’s offensive surges were no more, though he pressed and took an uneventful three minutes.
The unlikely moment came when the official scorecards between these two bruisers were read, and a 114-114 vote for a draw was outdone by two scores of 115-113 for Matthysse.
Matthysse, the world his oyster (or concha, if you will) for the evening, will likely move forward, never looking over his shoulder at the natural disaster that is Ruslan Provodnikov. With the bigger name, the more dedicated ethnic following and a style more likely to push him to a longer career than his foe, Matthysse, Trellew, Argentina, could potentially look to junior welterweight supremacy — if not for two other men also on the broadcast, Provodnikov and Terence Crawford. With Danny Garcia fleeing the division, Matthysse’s crown there could be within reach.
Whether or not Provodnikov, (24-4, 17 KO), reaches the apex of the sport or becomes an all-time great, what he will continue to be is an unbreakable nightmare, welcome to do his chopping and grinding on the television sets of the average boxing fan. So few characters in the sport consistently put forth a tremendous effort in losing, and remain beloved no matter the official outcome of their fights. But with Momma Provodnikov in his corner, anything is possible.
(Photo: Ed Mulholland/HBO)