Boxing is in the midst of a remarkable run that has seen major fights on HBO, Showtime, CBS, NBC, and/or Spike virtually every week. April 18 brought more of the same with HBO and Showtime competing directly against each other.
The HBO card featured two fights and four different promoters: Ruslan Provodnikov (Banner Promotions) vs. Lucas Matthysse (Golden Boy) and Terence Crawford (Top Rank) vs. Thomas Dulorme (Gary Shaw Productions).
Crawford had compiled a 25-0 (17 KOs) record and earned recognition as the best lightweight in the world with a ninth-round stoppage of Yuriorkis Gamboa last year. This was his first fight at 140 pounds.
Dulorme (22-1, 14 KOs) was considered a prospect until Luis Carlos Abregu exposed his deficiencies and knocked him out thirty months ago. Since then, Thomas had carefully picked his opponents.
Thirty seconds into round six of Crawford-Dulorme, Terence’s skills and Thomas‘s limitations coincided. A straight right wobbled Dulorme, who appeared to take a knee rather than be put down by two errant punches that followed. Thomas then went into survival mode, but failed to survive. Knockdowns #2 and #3 ended the bout at the 1:51 mark of the sixth stanza.
Crawford looks like a complete fighter. It wasn’t just that he beat Doulorme. The way he beat him was impressive. Some intriguing fights await at 140 and 147 pounds if Terence is willing to go in tough.
Provodnikov-Matthysse brought to mind the words of Jay Larkin (the architect of Showtime’s boxing program). Larkin had a simple way of describing his job. “It’s not rocket science,” he’d say. “It’s boxing on television.”
In other words, a fight that looks good on paper is more likely to look good in the ring than a fight that shapes up on paper as a dud.
Provodnikov-Matthysse didn’t look good on paper. It looked great.
Provodnikov (24-3, 17 KOs) had lost narrow decisions to Mauricio Herrera and Chris Algieri (a split verdict) as well as a one-point defeat at the hands of Tim Bradley. But the latter bout (honored as 2013’s “Fight of the Year”) saw Bradley out on his feet twice and on the canvas once. In his next outing, Provodnikov battered Mike Alvarado into submission.
Matthysse (34-3, 34 KOs) had suffered one-point split-decision losses to Zab Judah and Devon Alexander and a two-point defeat at the hands of Danny Garcia. But 32 of his 34 wins had come by knockout and, two years ago, he brutalized Lamont Peterson en route to a third-round stoppage.
Matthysse and Provodnikov can be outslicked. Neither of them outslicks opponents. They bludgeon their foes. One day before the bout, Jimmy Tobin summed up the anticipation when he wrote, “The ring in the Turning Stone Resort and Casino will have a diamond set in it on Saturday night when Lucas Matthysse and Ruslan Provodnikov reveal what beauty can be wrought from pressure and heat. It is impossible to imagine these men leaving the ring unchanged by the other’s mischief.”
Provodnikov-Matthysse lived up to expectations. Matthysse has better boxing skills than Provodnikov. And he can whack. Worse from Ruslan’s point of view, in the opening minute of round two, an accidental clash of heads opened an ugly gash on his left eyelid that bled throughout the fight.
There are fighters who crumble and fighters who don’t. Earlier in the evening, Doulorme had crumbled. Provodnikov didn’t.
Ruslan lost five of the first six rounds and took a pounding in most of them. But he came on strong at the end of each round and gathered steam as the fight wore on. Instead of calling him “the Siberian Rocky,” one might refer to him simply as “the Siberian Rock.” His face was a bruised, battered, bloody, swollen, mess. It must have been a shock for him to look into a mirror after the fight. But he showed incredible resolve and heart.
Matthysse had enough in his arsenal to emerge victorious by a 115-113, 115-113, 114-114 margin.
Showtime’s card was an Al Haymon venture. In the opening bout, 24-year-old super-lightweight Amir Imam (18-0, 14 KOs) fought Walter Castillo (25-2, 18 KOs), who’d been imported from Nicaragua as a measuring stick. Iman won a clear-cut 100-90, 99-91, 98-92 decision. That set the stage for Showtime’s main event: Julio Cesar Chavez Jr (48-1, 32 KOs) vs Andrzej Fonfara (26-3, 15 KOs).
Chavez (marketed as “son of the legend”) has his father’s DNA in his chin. He turned pro in 2003 and amassed a 48-1 (32 KOs) record while frustrating fans with an often-slovenly work ethic and inattention to such matters as making weight. Indeed, there were times (particularly prior to fighting Brian Vera in 2013) when Chavez seemed to be rewriting weight clauses in contracts to fit his eating and exercise habits rather than the other way around.
But Chavez is a ratings magnet. Also, over time, he became a legitimate contender, beating opponents like John Duddy, Andy Lee, and Marco Antonio Rubio, in large measure because of his superior physical gifts.
In theory, Chavez also briefly held the WBC middleweight championship after the sanctioning body shamelessly lifted Sergio Martinez’s crown to accommodate Julio. But Martinez ended that fiction by winning eleven of twelve rounds en route to a unanimous-decision triumph over “son of the legend” three years ago.
Fonfara (a natural light-heavyweight) had been chosen as Chavez’s opponent on the theory that Andrzej is there to be hit, doesn’t hit too hard, and would make Chavez look good. Also, Julio hoped that the 172-pound contract weight would add to Fonfara’s limitations by depleting Andrzej’s strength.
Chavez didn’t look to be in particularly good shape when Chavez-Fonfara began; a suspicion that was confirmed as the bout wore on. His technique (which has never been particularly good) fell apart. And his body work didn’t have the same effect on Fonfara that it has had on smaller men in the past.
By round six, there was bruising and swelling beneath both of Julio’s eyes, and he was only fighting in spurts. Fifty-five seconds into round nine, Fonfara (an orthodox fighter) shifted position and threw what in effect was a straight left that put Chavez on the canvas for the first time in Julio’s career. At the end of the round, Chavez went back to his corner, where trainer Joe Goossen asked, “How do you feel?”
“Stop it,” Chavez told him. “Stop the fight. I’m done. Stop it. I want it stopped.”
Fonfara had an 89-80, 88-81, 88-81 lead on the judges’ scorecards at the time of the stoppage and outlanded Chavez by a 285-to-118 margin.
After the bout, Chavez put the blame for his defeat on fighting at a contract weight of 172 pounds. “The guy is too heavy for me,” he said. “172 is too much for me.”
Question: Whose fault was that?
That said; Chavez is still marketable. He’s a good fighter with an aggressive ring style and defensive deficiencies that make for entertaining fights. He also still has his name, although Saturday night tarnished it a bit.
When Chavez lost to Sergio Martinez, he was treated in some circles as though he’d won because of a dramatic last-round effort that saw him floor Martinez twice. After losing to Fonfara in abysmal fashion, Julio will be treated as though he lost.
* * *
Earlier this year, Andre Ward signed a promotional contract with Roc Nation, which tried unsuccessfully to land a date for him on HBO or Showtime. The problem is that Ward wants big-fight money for a tune-up bout. His excuse is that he hasn’t fought since November, 19, 2013, and needs a soft-touch opponent to work off the ring rust.
Ward has fought twice since 2011. His inactivity is largely is consequence of his own making. And while Andre is a very good fighter, he doesn’t engender strong ratings.
It now appears as though Ward will get his soft touch. He’s tentatively scheduled to fight on June 20 in his hometown of Oakland against TBA in a bout that most likely will be televised by BET. That means Ward will get a smaller purse than anticipated, Roc Nation will take a bath, or both.
Sugar Ray Leonard had been out of the ring for three years when he returned to action in 1987, went up two weight classes, and fought Marvin Hagler. Vitali Klitschko came back after four years of inactivity and faced WBC heavyweight champion Samuel Peter in his comeback fight.
There’s no reason for HBO or anyone else to pay big money for an Andre Ward tune-up fight.
* * *
To their credit, both Ruslan Provodnikov and Lucas Matthysse agreed to be tested for performance enhancing drugs by VADA during the lead-in to their fight. Vadim Komilov (Provodnikov’s manager) explained how that came about.
“When we fought Tim Bradley,” Kornilov said at a fight-week press conference in New York, “Bradley’s people insisted on VADA testing, and we agreed to it. I liked the way VADA conducted the testing. So this time, we asked for VADA. Matthysse didn’t want to pay for it, so we agreed to pay for all of the testing. The important thing is that VADA is good. They are known for doing things the right way.”
* * *
Boxing fans have been reading for weeks that Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao will generate a live gate of $74,000,000 with tickets priced as follows: $10,000 (1,100 tickets), $7,500 (2,500 tix), $5,000 (2,500 tix), $3,500 (4,000 tix), $2,500 (2,500 tix), and $1,500 (2,500 tix).
I might be old-fashioned. But the way I was taught math, that comes to a live gate of $66,250,000.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book – Thomas Hauser on Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press.