VERONA, N.Y. – For a fight that was so right in a lot of ways, Lucas Matthysse’s 12-round, majority decision over Ruslan Provodnikov here Saturday night at the Turning Stone Resort Casino somehow seemed very wrong.
A throwback kind of fight with a definite 1950s feel shouldn’t have been contested in an antiseptic, smoke-free arena. Where were the men in fedoras, unfiltered cigarettes dangling from their lower lips, a bluish haze of smoke rising to the rafters like a rolling fog bank? Why weren’t the reporters on press row pecking away on manual typewriters instead of fancy, modernistic word processors? As capable as HBO’s Jim Lampley is as a blow-by-blow announcer, shouldn’t it have been Don Dunphy calling the action at ringside? And wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for the images on America’s television screens to have been in fuzzy black-and-white instead of high-definition color?
That’s what happens when one bloodied fighter (Provodnikov) charges ahead like he thinks he’s Jake LaMotta or Carmen Basilio, and the more skillful combatant (Matthysse) attempts to repel the Raging Russian as if he were an Argentine knockoff of Sugar Ray Robinson. Given the bop-’til-you-drop reputations of these super lightweight contenders, there was more than a little anticipation that Matthysse-Provodinkov would be an instant classic, and the early leader for designation as 2015’s Fight of the Year.
What took place might or might not have risen to that standard, but in any case it left a sellout crowd hoarse from cheering and set the bar high for two better fighters, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, to attempt to clear when they meet on May 2 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
“The fight was excellent. It exceeded everyone’s expectations,” gushed Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya, who promotes Matthysse.
“The best fight of the year by far, in my opinion,” offered Art Pelullo of Banner Promotions, who has Provodnikov. “Those two guys are warriors. They were both hurt at various points throughout the fight, but they kept fighting to the very end. That’s what boxing is all about.”
Well, at least it should be, but often isn’t. On the same night that Matthysse and, especially, Provodnikov ignored pain and near-exhaustion as if they were nothing more than minor distractions, another high-profile fighter, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., declined to come out for the 10th round of a bout he was losing badly to light heavyweight Andrzej Fonfara in Carson, Calif.
And on the non-televised undercard of Matthysse-Provodnikov, super welterweight Jonathan Batista begged out after five rounds of his scheduled 10-rounder with Eddie Gomez, although Batista did not appear to be in visible distress.
“Did you hear about Chavez? He quit on the stool,” Pelullo was telling someone before the postfight press conference at the Turning Stone began, as if such an occurrence would be unthinkable to the likes of Matthysse (37-3, 34 KOs) and, maybe even more so, Provodnikov (24-4, 17 KOs), who soaks up punishment like a sponge and keeps coming back for more.
Provodnikov’s left eye began to swell less than a minute into the first round, and by the third his face was a crazy-quilt of bumps, bruises and blood. He was not only losing, but taking a shellacking, and even his most ardent supporters had to believe that, big heart or not, he would simply be too battered to be allowed to continue much longer.
But like Basilio, LaMotta and a couple of updated versions of themselves, Matthew Saad Muhammad and Arturo Gatti, Provodnikov is allowed much leeway by referees and ring physicians because, well, he often is at his most dangerous when the outlook appears to be at its bleakest. He started to get close enough to Matthysse to land some telling blows of his own, and he somehow was able to rally to clearly win the 10th through 12th rounds, even staggering the Argentinian in Round 11. As it turned out, the fight probably would have ended in a majority draw had Matthysse gone down then; judges John McKaie and Glenn Feldman each scored it 115-113 for Matthysse while Don Ackerman submitted a scorecard dead-even at 114-all.
“Yeah, he hurt me,” Matthysse admitted of his 11th-round shimmy-shake. “But I was able to survive the onslaught. He’s a very strong fighter. He just keeps coming. It was very hard for me to keep him from coming forward.”
Pelullo has seen the “Siberian Rocky” do it again and again, so he was hardly surprised that Provodnikov succeeded in turning what was shaping up as a one-sided fight into something of a cliffhanger.
“He has the mentality that he’s never going to give up and he’s never going to give in,” Pelullo said. “That’s why he’s always in every fight, because he’s going to fight to the end. That’s just how he is. He got better in the 10th, 11th and 12th rounds. Can you believe it? The kid is amazing.”
Punch statistics compiled by CompuBox, never an indisputably accurate gauge of what the outcome of a particular fight should be, supported the notion that Matthysse had done enough to put more distance between himself and Provodnikov than was reflected by the scorecards. Matthysse landed 327 of 1,034 punches, including 133 of 625 jabs, while Provodnikov was 201 of 755, finding the range of just 45 of 194 jabs.
“I didn’t see the fight as close,” De La Hoya opined. “I gave Provodnikov maybe four rounds. Lucas had a great game plan and he fought a great fight.”
So what’s next for each man? Pelullo said an immediate rematch was warranted, and Provodnikov – who conceded that Matthysse deserved to win the fight – said he was amenable to a do-over. But De La Hoya doesn’t think that is the best course of action for Matthysse, who now finds himself with an array of attractive choices at 140 pounds as well as at 147. One could be a match with Terence Crawford, the Boxing Writers Association of America’s 2014 Fighter of the Year, whose first bout of 2015 saw him register a sixth-round stoppage of Thomas Dulorme for the vacant WBO super lightweight title in Arlington, Texas, the first half of HBO’s split-site doubleheader that preceded Matthysse-Provodnikov.
Then again …
“I said before this fight that Lucas deserves a big fight, a major fight, against Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather,” De La Hoya said. “Those are the biggest names out there – not necessary the toughest , because the toughest was Provodnikov. Provodikov has one the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen and we wish him all the best, but we’re moving on.”
Provodnikov will not be lacking work regardless of what Matthysse elects to do because, his admittedly limited skill set aside, he is the kind of action fighter that fans are drawn to. His gutty performance against Matthysse called to mind what St. Louis Cardinals manager Johnny Keane said about his ace righthander, Bob Gibson, when he left Gibson in to finish the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1964 World Series, despite the fact he had pitched a 10-inning complete game two days earlier and had given up two home runs.
“I made a commitment to his heart,” Keane said.
After what took place Saturday night in this central New York hamlet, that outlook seems perfectly reasonable.