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MATTHYSSE-PROVODNIKOV HAD 1950S THROWBACK FEEL

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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.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

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ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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Bob Arum Hails Terence Crawford (not Lomachenko) as Boxing’s Next Superstar

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Arum says Terence

Top Rank’s Bob Arum says Terence Crawford will become this generation’s Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao–elite boxers who became worldwide celebrity sensations. Arum, who promoted both Mayweather and Pacquiao on the way to their historic crossover statuses expects big things from the undefeated Crawford over the next few years.

“He’s the best fighter in the United States, and he’s so charismatic,” said Arum. “He comes from middle America, and In the next year or so, he will be huge.”

Arum’s assertion is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Arum is also the promoter for Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. More importantly, Lomachenko seems to have a groundswell of support behind him both in the media and among fight fans.

Lomachenko has also been heavily featured through Top Rank’s television partnership with ESPN. While Crawford has achieved more in his career than Lomachenko (at least in my eyes) and, as noted by Arum, is a homegrown American talent, Lomachenko seems to be considered the more marketable commodity to that network judging by the amount of promotional materials ESPN has pumped out about the fighter over the last year.

The other reason Arum’s claim about Crawford is interesting is the performance of Canelo Alvarez over the weekend in his majority decision rematch win over Gennady Golovkin. Besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, Alvarez is the clear PPV leader among all of boxing’s current commodities, and his status as boxing’s new money fighter should only grow stronger after the best win of his career.

Still, Crawford is one of the few very elite fighters in all of boxing. He’s ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

While Lomachenko and Alvarez are also candidates to become boxing’s next big thing, there’s no doubt Crawford is also one of the few boxers in the sport right now with the right things in place to become the next Mayweather or Pacquiao.

Omaha’s Crawford is in the midst of an historic run. When he stopped Jeff Horn in round 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June, Crawford captured a world title in his third different weight class, welterweight. This after Crawford had already captured two lineal boxing championships, as well as multiple alphabet titles, in both the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions.

By any measure, Crawford is truly one of the best boxers in the sport. Not only does he look the part in the ring on fight night (something more and more writers seem to value most when voting for pound-for-pound lists), but the fighter has already accomplished so much in his career that it seems Arum is doing more than the fiduciary duty of promoting his fighter when he ascribes to Crawford such lofty praise.

Crawford, still just 30 years old, is already halfway to matching Mayweather and Pacquiao’s shared record of most lineal championships. Over the course of his career, Mayweather captured lineal championships at junior lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Pacquiao won his as a flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight.

In order for Crawford to grab lineal championship No. 3, most believe he’ll have to go through welterweight phenom Errol Spence. While promotional entanglements might keep this superfight on the shelf for a while, Arum said he had no problem pitting Crawford against Spence in what would be one of the best matchups in recent memory.

“Absolutely,” said Arum when asked about working with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, who represents Spence, to make the fight. Could any response from him be more exciting? Crawford vs. Spence might be the next superfight in boxing. Both fighters are among the very elite, and unlike what ultimately happened with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, who fought each other well past their peak years, both would be in the prime of their careers.

Winning that fight would certainly go a long way to making Arum’s vision of Crawford’s future come true. And who knows? Maybe Crawford really is the next Mayweather or Pacquiao. Heck, for all we know, he could even be on his way to doing something more.

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