Michael Buffer is unflappable. On fight night, the greatest ring announcer in boxing history is the epitome of cool . . . Composed, collected, imperturbable. Choose your adjective.
Thus, the shock on Buffer’s face was telling as he stood in the ring at Barclays Center and reviewed the judges’ scorecards one last time before announcing the decision at the end of twelve rounds of action between Ruslan Provodnikov and Chris Algieri.
Provodnikov, a 6-to-1 betting favorite, had scored two first-round knockdowns and been the aggressor throughout the fight. Algieri had spent much of the evening in retreat as a one-eyed fighter. The widespread assumption at ringside was that “The Siberian Rocky” had retained his 140-pound WBO title by a comfortable margin.
It was the end of a long night. Earlier in the evening, the June 14 card had featured both the good and the bad.
Local favorite Heather Hardy was awarded a horrible decision over Jackie Trivilino in a fight that went to the scorecards after seven rounds due to a severe cut suffered by Hardy as a consequence of an accidental head butt. FIght fans want their fighter to win. But they also have a sense of fairness. There were a lot of boos when Hardy’s victory was announced by a 68-65, 67-66, 66-67 margin.
Then, in round three of a junior-welterweight bout, Fedor Papazov decked Miguel Angel Mendoza with a picture perfect right hand. Mendoza rose on wobbly legs. Everything else about him was wobbling too. It’s unclear what referee Gary Rosato was watching at the time. But it didn’t appear to be Mendoza, because Rosato motioned for the action to continue. Fortunately, ring doctor Avery Browne climbed onto the ring apron and stopped the fight.
After that, unbeaten light-heavyweight Seanie Monaghan continued his maturation by pounding out a lopsided ten-round decision over 35-year-old Elvir Muriqi. Muriqi is now a respectable 40-and-7 with 24 knockouts and only 1 KO by. But over the course of sixteen years, his career has gone from prospect to journeyman without much in between.
Next up was Demetrius Andrade vs. Brian Rose, another of boxing’s unfortunate “mandatory” title defenses (in this instance, for the WBO 154-pound belt).
Andrade-Rose was a woeful mismatch from beginning to end. There wasn’t one moment when the outcome of the fight was in doubt. Demetrius circled his opponent throughout the bout, knocking him down in the first and third rounds and pounding on him like he was a heavy bag. Rose wasn’t good enough to make things boring (let alone, interesting). It was just plain ugly. The challenger’s corner correctly stopped the carnage at 1:19 of round seven when the usually reliable referee Mike Griffin failed to do so.
That set the stage for Provodnikov-Algieri.
Fans want to see exciting fights. Provodnikov, age thirty, is an exciting fighter. He attacks with ferocity, hits and gets hit, and engages in wars of attrition.
“To be honest, I am not one of the most talented boxers,” Ruslan acknowledged at a June 7 media sitdown. “But I fight my hardest for every minute of every round.”
Provodnikov’s non-stop aggression and brawling swarming style had led him to a 23-and-2 record with 16 knockouts. The losses were by decision to Tim Bradley and Mauricio Herrera. His most recent victory was a tenth-round stoppage of Mike Alvarado that brought him the WBO belt.
“The championship and the belt are not as important to me as the respect of the fans,” Ruslan told the media.
“Provodnikov,” Tom Gerbasi wrote, “is what we hope a prizefighter will be. He gives his all in the ring, entertains. And when it’s over, he’s the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind shooting the breeze with over a plate of raw moose liver.”
Algieri is as different from Provodnikov as Huntington, Long Island, is different from Siberia.
Boxing fans can count on one finger the number of fighters who have an undergraduate degree from Stony Brook College and a masters in nutrition from New York Institute of Technology. Algieri is the one.
“I don’t fight because I have to,” Chris says. “I fight because I want to fight.”
Algieri looks younger than his thirty years and has a nice way about him. He’s articulate and smart and, in addition to pursuing his boxing career, works as a nutritionist.
“The best thing about being a fighter,” Algieri notes, “is the incentive I get to stay fit, work out, focus on what I eat, and stay healthy. I eat the same whether I’m in training for a fight or not.”
In six years as a pro, Chris had posted a 19-and-0 record. But the opposition had been udistinguished and he’d scored only eight knockouts.
“I can beat Provodnikov,” Algieri said at the same media sitdown. “Boxing is a rhythm sport. If I can keep him from establishing his rhythm, I win the fight. I plan to box, use my legs and jab. I’m an endurance guy. I get stronger as a fight goes on. Everyone I’ve fought had a game plan to get inside, punch, push me around, break me down. No one has been able to do it yet.”
“Home-run hitters strike out more than regular guys,” Chris added.
But in boxing, it only takes one home run to win the game.
When fight night came, Provodnikov-Algieri appeared to be over in the first round.
Provodnikov came out agressively, and Algieri simply couldn’t keep him off. Just past the midway point of the first stanza, a left hook up top put Chris on the canvas for the first time in his career and raised an ugly swelling around his right eye. Later in the round, Algieri took a knee (scored as a second knockdown) to collect himself.
Thereafter, Algieri fought as well as he could; moving, jabbing, and landing sharp crisp punches. Often, he used his speed and four-inch height advantage to outbox Provodnikov. But Chris’s blows lacked power, and Ruslan kept coming forward. It seemed to be just a matter of time before body shots took Algieri’s legs away from him and he’d be unable to move out of harm’s way.
By the late rounds, the right side of Algieri’s face was black and blue, purple, and a few other colors in addition to being grotesquely swollen. His eye was shut and it looked as though an alien creature was trapped inside the mess, struggling to get out. But Chris kept moving and throwing punches. He didn’t crumble physically or mentally in the face of Provodnikov’s pressure assault. Like Ruslan, he fought the fight he wanted to fight. Pride, guts, courage; Algieri showed them all.
Then came the decision of the judges: Max DeLuca 117-109 in favor of Provodnikov . . . Tom Schreck and Don Trella 114-112 in favor of Algieri.
Since then, the decision has been widely criticized. I was among the early critics. On fight night, I scored the bout 116-111 (7-4-1 in rounds) for Provodnikov.
After the fact, I learned that CompuBox recorded Algieri outlanding Provodnikov by a 288-to-205 margin. That didn’t sway me. Further to that point, according to CompuBox, Algieri outlanded Provodnikov in every round but the twelfth (when Ruslan had a 13-to-11 margin). But “punches landed” aren’t dispositive of scoring issues. This is professional boxing, not amateur competition. Like knockdowns, hard punches should be weighted more heavily than pitty-pats.
For example, in round one, Algieri had an 18-to-14 edge in punches landed. And everyone in the arena scored that round 10-7 in favor of Provodnikov.
One of the first people I discussed Provodnikov-Algieri with afterward was Paulie Malignaggi (who’d been at ringside covering the bout for British television). Paulie scored it for Algieri. That wasn’t entirely unpredictable. In some respects, the fight had resembled the June 10, 2006, confrontation between Malignaggi and Miguel Cotto.
“Provodnikov won the first round big,” Paulie told me. “But after the first round, you can’t score the damage on Chris’s face. You give Provodnikov credit for busting Chris up and knocking him down twice in the first round, but that’s it. After that, you score it round by round, each round individually, as though Chris’s face was clean.”
Eighteen hours later, I watched a replay of Provodnikov-Algieri on television. This was one of those rare occasions when watching a fight a day later caused me to adjust my scorecard. Viewing the replay, it seemed to me that Provodnikov was less effective after round one than I’d originally thought. I still think Ruslan won the fight. But it was close.
Meanwhile, Algieri came to the post-fight press conferences wearing dark glasses and holding an icepack to his forehead.
“I could see pretty well until the eighth round,” Chris told the media. “By the time we hit round twelve, I was blind in that eye. But I was able to anticipate his left hook throughout the fight. I was able to figure out his rhythm. That was the key to my success. The big thing was getting out of the first round.”
Algieri had fought so valiantly and through such adversity that even those who thought Provodnikov had won found it hard to begrudge Chris his triumph.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book (Reflections: Conversations, Essays, and Other Writings) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.
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Who will win? Wladimir Klitschko or Tyson Fury?