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`Siberian Rocky’ Ready To Add a Little Apollo Creed To His Repertoire



Ruslan Provodnikov was smiling like the proverbial Cheshire cat that ate the canary at the 89th annual Boxing Writers Association of America Awards Dinner, at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand on May 1, 2014, where he was a recipient of the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier Award for having been a participant in 2013’s Fight of the Year.

But that wide grin masked an inner pain. The FOY Award was nice, sure, and a testament to the incredible two-way action he and Timothy Bradley Jr. had engaged in on March 16 of that year. But, although Providnikov registered a knockdown in the 12th and final round, a gassed Bradley retained his WBO welterweight championship on a razor-thin but unanimous decision at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. That left Provodnikov feeling like Miss Congeniality at the Miss Universe pageant, winner of nothing more than a very nice consolation prize.

It is a situation that is apt to be repeated at the 91st BWAA Awards Dinner, at a date and site yet to be announced in the spring of 2016. More than halfway through the current calendar year, it is highly likely that Provodnikov’s most recent ring appearance, against Argentina’s Lucas Matthysse on April 18 at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, N.Y., will be one of the five nominees for the Ali-Frazier Fight of the Year Award. But it was Matthysse who came away with the another close victory, by 12-round majority decision, and Provodnikov is less likely to smile for the cameras if he again is obliged to be the “B” side of the year’s best fight.

There is still time to flip the script, however, which is why Provodnikov, the 31-year-old known as the “Siberian Rocky,” was in Philadelphia Sunday night to meet with selected members of the media and to announce his plans for the remainder of 2015, and beyond.

Art Pelullo, Provodnikov’s Philly-based promoter, said that his fan-friendly fighter is a free agent who made this latest trip to America from his hometown of Beryozovo, Russia, to negotiate the best deal possible for his next bout. The preferred opponent is Matthysse, and if a rematch comes to pass – Pelullo is targeting November or December — it would not surprise anyone if Matthysse-Provodnikov II joined Matthysse-Provodnikov I on the BWAA ballot, as well as on the ballots of other boxing entities that select a Fight of the Year.

“He’s never done less than 1.1 million viewership (on premium cable),” Pelullo said of Provodnikov’s firm grasp on the loyalties of fight fans who see him as a reasonable facsimile of the late, great action hero Arturo Gatti. “Everybody wants to see Ruslan fight.”

But whether Provodnikov fights Matthysse, Brandon Rios, Adrien Broner or whomever, it’s possible his chief second will not be Freddie Roach, who was in his corner for the first Matthysse scrap and all fights since. And even if Roach, a seven-time BWAA Trainer of the Year honoree, is still a key member of Team Ruslan, it’s a good bet that the Provodnikov we see when next he steps inside the ropes will not be the same version that fight fans have come to love for his brawling, mauling ways.

Provodnikov, after finishing off a fine steak and his first-ever crème brulee at the Capital Grille in Center City Philadelphia, said he needs to make certain adjustments to his constantly-attacking style if he is to continue in a sport where those who take two or three to land one usually have short shelf lives. He has a wife and a young son whom he loves dearly, and he would like to be as undamaged as possible for them whenever it is that he decides to step away from the ring wars.

“I realized from the first fight (with Matthysse) it was coming to this,” Provodnikov, with his manager, Vadim Kornilov, translating, said of the realization that what has worked so well, all things considered, in the past might not be good enough moving forward. “Now I know I have progressed only to a certain level. Any opponent that comes into the ring with me knows I have the character, the determination and will do anything to win. But they also know exactly what I’m going to do. My progress has stopped. I haven’t been bringing anything new into my fights. People know if they’re going to fight me, they’re probably not going to survive. They know their only chance is to box and get away from me.

“Now, I have decided to either hang up my gloves or make significant changes, serious changes, in the way I fight, if I’m going to continue fighting. I very much believe the Matthysse rematch is going to happen because that’s what everybody wants to see. But the only way I can win is to make the changes that are necessary, which I’m working on right now.”

Could one of those “necessary” changes be a switch to a trainer other than Roach?

“For now, I’d like to leave that question at `no comment,’” Provodnikov responded. “Time will tell. But for right now, I’m with Freddie.”

Interestingly, Matthysse – a power puncher who usually is only too glad to engage in slugfests – came out sticking and moving against Provodnikov. He built an early points lead in that manner, although he was obliged to trade at close quarters from the middle rounds on as Provodnikov exerted so much pressure that the Argentine had no other option than to meet fire with fire. And Matthysse’s flame nearly was extinguished in the 11th round, when Provodnikov buckled his knees with a thudding shot.

“In the lobby of the hotel after the fight, Matthysse grabbed me,” Pelullo said. “He told me, `Artie, you know he had me out in the 11th, right? If I don’t hold on, I go down and I don’t get up.”

“That was a tactical loss,” Provodnikov continued. “(Matthysse) started quicker because his tactic was to box and jab. Mine was to break him down and get to him, which I started to do after a couple of rounds. But it was getting later and later, and I didn’t have enough time (to finish him off).”

But can an alteration of strategy, this deep into Provodnikov’s career, pay the envisioned dividends? It should be noted that Gatti, after he went with a new trainer, Buddy McGirt, added some stylistic nuances to his familiar full-frontal attacks. As it turned out, the ultimate warrior did have a few tricks up his sleeve that he hadn’t shown before. But when the heat was turned up, and cuteness wasn’t cutting it, it didn’t confuse Gatti in the least to return to what he knew best.

“No matter what, I think knowing how to box is a positive,” Provodnikov said. “But brawling is something that can’t be taken away from me, and it wasn’t taken away from Gatti either. The brawling part is always going to be there, but being able to adjust can only add to my ability to win fights.

“I know that I can box, but I never really train in that sense. I never really developed that. In none of my last several fights did I have a goal of trying to box, even though I think it could have worked. Obviously, I’m not going to become a boxer-boxer, but if I can move a little bit and add certain things, it’s going to add to my arsenal.”

If he fights Matthysse again, and wins, Provodnikov, a former WBO super lightweight champion, will be hotter than hot again. What does he envision happening in 2016 and possibly beyond? There was some talk of his possibly getting it on with Manny Pacquiao, but Pelullo doesn’t see that happening.

“Of course we would fight Pacquiao,” Pelullo said. “We’d fight him in a heartbeat. But in my opinion, (Bob) Arum is going to keep Pacquiao away from Ruslan. Ruslan would knock Pacquiao out. Everybody knows that. Pacquiao would be right in front of Ruslan, and that’s the right style for him. He murders Pacquiao.”

That is an opinion that is not universally shared, but it makes a nice conversation-starter. Who else might be on Provodnikov’s radar and has a big enough name to qualify that matchup as a must-see attraction?

“Danny Garcia,” Pelullo said of the former WBC/WBA super lightweight champion who moves up to welterweight to take on veteran former titlist Paulie Malignaggi Aug. 1 at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn. “We’ll give Garcia $2 million to fight Ruslan at 144, 145, 147, whatever he wants. But Danny wants no part of him, I don’t think. We’d even fight him in Philly. It’d be a megafight. It’d be unbelievable. Can you imagine that fight in Philadelphia? It would be incredible.”

Such is the stuff of which dreams are made. For now, the dream of Ruslan Provodnikov is not only to be in the Fight of the Year, but to win it.


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The Ali-Shavers Fight and the Ever-Present Open Scoring Debate



Ali defended

Saturday, Sept. 29, marks the 41st anniversary of Muhammad Ali’s last successful title defense. The 35-year-old Ali defended his WBA and WBC belts against Earnie Shavers, a devastating puncher, but otherwise limited, in Madison Square Garden. Those tuning in to the Thursday night fight on NBC, an estimated 70 million, were able to track the round-by-round scoring. And therein lies an interesting tale.

A bit of background. Technically, the first instance of open scoring, at least as it pertained to television, was to have been implemented by Ted Nathanson, producer for NBC Sports, which televised the May 11, 1977, heavyweight bout pitting Ken Norton against Duane Bobick in Madison Square Garden. Although on-site spectators would not have been privy to round-by-round scoring, the TV audience would have had such access. The grand experiment proved dead on arrival, however, when Norton needed only 58 seconds of the first round to blast out Bobick.

Nathanson was nothing if not determined, however, and he successfully lobbied for the same format to be used for the Ali-Shavers fight. As was the case for Norton-Bobick, spectators in the arena would not have the same access to the round-by-round scoring as would NBC viewers. The New York State Athletic Commission, then headed by former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, signed off on the arrangement with NBC with some hesitation.

John F.X. Condon, vice president of Garden Boxing, said he originally had planned to show the round-by-round scoring on the huge overhead screen to the 14,613 on-site spectators, but he decided against it. “We didn’t think it was wise,” Condon concluded. “Personally, I think it also detracts from the pleasure of watching at home. Fight fans like to get involved. They like the uncertainty of waiting for the final decision.”

Even more adamant in his opposition to open scoring, in any form, was legendary Garden matchmaker Teddy Brenner, who said he would do everything in his power to ensure that the NBC experiment would be a one-and-done, at least if he had anything to say about it. “I am against it,” Brenner stressed. “We at the Garden plan to do something about it.”

Unlike Norton-Bobick, Ali-Shavers would go the 15-round distance, with scoring on a round basis instead of the 10-point-must system now in place. Ali won by 9-5-1 on the card submitted by referee Johnny LoBianco and by 9-6 on the cards turned in by judges Tony Castellano and Eva Shain, the latter of who made history as the first woman ever to work a big-time fight. It was Ali’s 19th victorious title defense.

Garden officials were embarrassed, however, when a question of fairness was raised. The NBC telecast was shown in Ali’s dressing room, and a runner was assigned to keep Ali trainer Angelo Dundee informed of the judges’ evolving scores. The Shavers dressing room did not have similar access, which led his manager, Frank Luca, to complain of preferential treatment being granted to Ali. He said the NYSAC even attempted to obligate the fighters to use 10-ounce gloves instead of eight-ouncers, a change which was not approved but would have been detrimental to the harder-hitting challenger.

When informed of a playing field seemingly tilted to favor Ali, Patterson said the NYSAC never again would consent to open scoring at any venue in the state, be it for on-site spectators or just TV. “That will be stopped,” Patterson said. “I understand Angelo Dundee had someone running back to get him information and the other corner didn’t. That’s not fair. It could influence a fight, affect gambling in the arena with cheaters. It was not a success and it will never happen again.”

Shavers, who went into the Ali fight with a 54-5-1 record that included 52 wins inside the distance, said he might have fought differently – yeah, right – had he been apprised of the round-by-round scoring. “My corner told me I was ahead,” he lamented. “I didn’t go for the knockout. I would have put more pressure on him, taken more chances.”

Promoter Don King pushed for open scoring on May 5, 1994, at a Las Vegas press conference to hype the pay-per-view card two nights later at the MGM Grand headlined by WBC super lightweight champion Frankie Randall’s rematch with Julio Cesar Chavez, whom he had controversially outpointed nearly four months earlier.

“Progress can’t be stopped,” King said with his trademark bluster and hyperventilation. “It’s time for a change. Bring boxing out of the dark and into the light. People who go to football and basketball games know what the score is at all times. Why should boxing be the only sport where judges pass little scraps of paper back and forth and nobody else knows who’s winning until the end?”

King said he had been “excoriated and vilified” for having promoted two bouts during the previous eight months that ended in questionable decisions, and that open scoring could eliminate or reduce the problem.

“If anything controversial happens, people will be calling for (WBC president) Jose Sulaiman and me to be ridden out of town on a rail,” King continued. “One little controversy and these four great (rematches, the others being Simon Brown vs. Terry Norris, Gerald McClellan vs. Julian Jackson and Azumah Nelson vs. Jesse James Leija) suddenly become secondary. I don’t want that to happen.”

His Hairness indisputably was on target in noting that the two referenced bouts, in which Pernell Whitaker retained his WBC welterweight title on a majority draw against Chavez on Sept. 10, 1993, and Randall nipped Chavez on a split decision in large part because JCC had been docked two penalty points by referee Richard Steele, were controversial. Most ringside observers had Whitaker winning eight to 10 of the 12 rounds in San Antonio, Texas, and were it not for the two penalty points Chavez would have won a split decision instead of losing by the same margin.

Although King advocated for open scoring to be instituted immediately, he had to know that the wheels of change do not move that swiftly in Nevada or any other jurisdiction. But Marc Ratner, the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, while expressing his own doubts as to the usefulness of open scoring, said such a proposal at least merited further scrutiny.

“For this particular card, there will be no open scoring,” Ratner said. “But we’re not ostriches. We don’t have our heads in the sand. This is an issue that should be studied.”

Studied and almost certainly likely to be rejected, as it later was by the NSAC, for reasons that to Ratner were even more glaringly obvious than those offered by King for the other course of action.

“What if two fighters accidentally butt heads in the fourth round and one of them suffers a cut?” hypothesized Ratner. “If the bleeding fighter is ahead on the scorecards, his corner might be tempted not to close the cut, thereby prompting the bout’s premature conclusion and a decision victory.”

An even more compelling reason to forever squash the notion of full-blown open scoring holds that a fighter, if he knows he is sufficiently ahead entering the late rounds to be uncatchable on the scorecards, would get on his bicycle and pedal around the ring to eliminate or at least reduce the risk of being knocked out. Such a safety-first approach would drain whatever measure of hope still existed for the losing fighter banking on a puncher’s-chance turnaround.

We haven’t heard the last of the open scoring debate. The subject came up again in the aftermath of the Golovkin-Alvarez rematch, a tightly contested bout which Alvarez won by majority decision, much to the displeasure of Golovkin and his supporters. But for now, fight fans must continue to live with the occasional scorecard that defies credulity. And while too much controversy is never a good thing, some of it helps sell the sport and keeps interest high up to and even beyond the final bell. The alternative is the elimination of uncertainty, and with it the magic that sometimes is produced when two fighters believe success hinges on giving maximum effort to the very last punch.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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George Groves and Callum Smith Finally Meet in the WBSS Capstone




The 168-pound tournament of the inaugural World Boxing Super Series, an 8-man invitational, kicked off on Sept. 16 of last year with a match between Callum Smith and Erik Skoglund at Liverpool, England. Tournaments of this nature in boxing almost never play out as planned and this tourney was no exception. But on Friday we will finally crown a winner when Smith meets George Groves at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, of all places. At stake will be the coveted Muhammad Ali Trophy and the bundle of cash that comes with it and Groves’ WBA “super” world super middleweight title.

Despite the odd location, this is a domestic affair. Groves, the top seed, and Smith, the #2 seed, are both Englishmen. And if the fight were on British soil, it would have certainly drawn well. In the UK, Groves is enormously popular. His second fight with Carl Froch attracted a crowd of 80,000 at Wembley Stadium, a British post-war record eventually broken by Joshua-Klitschko.

Groves (28-3, 20 KOs) suffered his lone defeats at the hands of Froch, who defeated him twice, and Badou Jack, and there’s no shame there. Carl Froch, in the minds of many, has a plaque waiting for him at the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Jack, a title-holder in two weight classes, is currently ranked #1 as a light heavyweight by the WBA and WBC.

Although both fights with Froch ended inside the distance, both were nip-and-tuck until Froch closed the curtain. Badou Jack defeated Groves by split decision in Las Vegas.

Groves has a high boxing IQ as he demonstrated on Feb 17 in Manchester where he scored a 12-round unanimous decision over Chris Eubank Jr. Groves, observed ringside reporter Gareth Davies, “was just a step too far, too strong and ultimately too technical and experienced in the championship rounds.” Eubank’s father and trainer Chris Eubank Sr. saluted Groves for fighting the perfect fight.

The victory was bittersweet as Groves dislocated his left shoulder in the final round. It required surgery, pushing back the finale until this Friday, a full two months after the conclusion of the other WBSS tourney, for cruiserweights, the finale of which was also pushed back from the originally scheduled date. For a time the promoters seriously considered bumping Eubank into the finals in place of the incapacitated Groves but eventually thought better of it. (Eubank will appear on the undercard in a stay-busy fight against Ireland’s J.J. McDonagh.)

Callum Smith (24-0, 18 KOs) is the youngest of four fighting brothers, each of whom captured one or more regional titles. In the family, the relationship between talent and birth order is inverse, which is to say that Paul Smith, the oldest of the foursome, wasn’t as good as his younger brother Stephen and Stephen wasn’t as good as younger brother Liam.

Liam “Beefy” Smith accomplished what his two older brothers could not, winning a world title. He won the WBO 154-pound diadem in his twenty-second fight and successfully defended the belt twice before it was sheared from him by Canelo Alvarez who knocked him out in the ninth round.

If Callum Smith wins on Friday, he will be recognized by hardcore fans as a more legitimate champion than was the case with his brother Liam. That’s because Callum, who stands six-foot-three (none of his brothers is taller than 5’11”), was touted from the very onset of his career as the most gifted of the fighting Smith brothers. He solidified that opinion in November of 2015 when he knocked out Liverpool rival Rocky Fielding in the opening round. Fielding went on to win the “regular” version of the WBA 168-pound title and that remains the only blemish on his record.

In recent bouts, however, Smith hasn’t looked that sharp. His last two opponents, the aforementioned Skoglund and Neiky Holzken, lasted the full 12 rounds. The obscure Holzken, a converted kickboxer from the Netherlands, was a late sub for Juergen Braehmer who was forced to bow out of the tournament with an illness.

George Groves was a slight underdog to Eubank. On Friday, the odds favor him, but only slightly. At last look it was 13/10 which portends a very close fight. Groves has the edge in experience and in ring savvy and has fought tougher opposition, but Smith will have a three-and-a-half inch height advantage and is judged to be the harder puncher.

Fight fans in the U.S. can access the fight on the new DAZN app. Keep in mind that Saudi Arabia is seven hours ahead of New York and other precincts in the Eastern Time Zone and adjust accordingly.

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Three Punch Combo: A Bouquet for “ShoBox” and More



new television

THREE PUNCH COMBO — We are embarking into a new age in boxing. There are new television contracts and digital platforms available that are making the sport more visible than ever before to the masses. But with all these new deals and platforms, it is important not to forget some of the consistent programming that has been around for some time. There is no better example of this than the ShoBox series on Showtime.

ShoBox, more formally ShoBox: The New Generation, began with a simple premise of matching young prospects in with tough opposition. To get their fighters on this series, promoters would have to find credible opponents who could potentially test and maybe even upset their prized prospect. This premise has led to consistently competitive and entertaining fights in the more than 200 broadcasts since the inception of the series in 2001.

This past Friday, we saw just how this premise works once again. There was a four fight card that featured competitive fights on paper in all the matches. However, in two of those matches there did seem to be clear favorites though each of the respective fighters was being matched with their toughest foe to date.

James Wilkins and Misael Lopez opened the telecast in a 130-pound contest. Wilkins was featured in a documentary that aired on Showtime just prior to the card and was expected to make a smashing television debut. He was a knockout artist and the thought was that he would put on a show to open the telecast. But instead, Wilkins got a boxing lesson from Lopez who was busier from the outside and managed to mostly avoid the power of Wilkins throughout the contest in winning an eight round unanimous decision.

The main event featured Jon Fernandez facing O’Shaquie Foster in another 130-pound contest. Fernandez had been getting a lot of buzz and many in the sport considered the Spaniard a future star. This was supposed to be a test for Fernandez as Foster (pictured on the right) represented a step up in class, but nonetheless many expected Fernandez to pass the test with flying colors. Instead, the power punching Fernandez was clearly out-boxed by Foster for ten rounds in an entertaining fight.

These two fights showed once again that when young fighters are matched tough we often get better than expected fights that can sometimes deliver surprises. This coming Friday, the series returns with highly touted lightweight prospect Devin Haney (19-0, 13 KO’s) in the main event taking on former world title challenger Juan Carlos Burgos (33-2-2, 21 KO’s). This is a fight in which Haney is favored but one in which he is facing the toughest challenge of his young career. At the very least, this should be a test for the highly touted 19-year-old Haney and I am certain we get a compelling fight.

ShoBox is boxing’s most consistent series and one that just continues to provide fight fans with high caliber, competitive fights.

10 Percent or 10 Pounds – How To Combat Fighters Who Blow Up In Weight

It is time to address the issue of fighters gaining an absurd amount of weight following the weigh-in. There is a reason why we have weight classes in boxing. If one fighter enters the ring weighing significantly more than his opponent, it gives the bigger fighter a big advantage. This can make for not only non-competitive fights but potentially dangerous situations. I have a simple solution that I think can combat this problem.

In past articles, I have touched on the issue of fighters who miss the contracted weight. My argument has always been to implement a system with stiff financial penalties. So in a similar aspect, I think stiff financial penalties can combat the continued problem of fighters blowing up in weight after the official weigh-in.

What I propose is second day weigh-ins where fighters would not be permitted to put on more than ten pounds or 10 percent (whichever is more) of the contracted weight limit. If they are over, the fight still goes on but the fighter who misses the second day weight limit pays a substantial fine. This simple adjunct can be easily administered by the various state commissions in the United States (or any other commissions worldwide).

Here is an example:  Let’s say we have a fight contracted at 130 pounds and each fighter weighs in at 129 pounds. The second day limit would be 10 percent of 130 pounds which was the contracted weight. So each fighter could come in at a maximum of 143 pounds. Now let’s say one fighter comes in at 146 pounds. The penalty I propose would be 20 percent of that fighter’s purse per pound over the weight. And this money goes directly to their opponent. Under this example, the fighter over weight would lose 60 percent of his purse.

Zero Shouldn’t Mean That Much

We are in an era, largely due to The Floyd Mayweather Jr. Factor, where fighters are often overly protected to keep that precious zero in the loss column. But to do so, they are frequently matched with soft opposition and learn little from dismantling their overmatched foes. There is little to no growth in their career during this period and though the record may get glossy, the development of the fighter may be stunted.

Setbacks can humble fighters and make them see what needs to be done so as not to experience that feeling again. They become better overall fighters and put themselves in a better long term position in their career.

This past weekend, we saw two once promising prospects bounce back with career defining wins after suffering an early unexpected defeat. They are both now in prime position to have their respective careers blossom which may not have otherwise been the case.

Earlier I mentioned O’Shaquie Foster’s upset win against Jon Fernandez. Three years ago, Foster was a highly touted prospect. He had a good amateur background and was blessed athletically with dynamic speed. After building up an 8-0 record against less than formidable opposition, he lost in a dreadful performance to Samuel Teah. Another loss would follow several months later to Rolando Chinea. But Foster clearly learned from his mistakes in these fights and bounced back, layering his natural athletic ability with much improved skills in frankly outclassing Fernandez. Foster’s losses made him take a step back and re-evaluate what needed to be done inside the ring. He is now in prime position to become a contender in the 130-pound weight division.

Luke Campbell was a 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist and considered a can’t-miss future star in boxing. But in his 13th pro fight, in a rather shocking development, he was put on the canvas and lost a split decision to veteran Yvan Mendy. Another loss followed two years later against Jorge Linares but Campbell performed well while losing a split decision and flashed signs of improvement from the Mendy setback.

The rematch with Mendy for Campbell took place this past weekend and Campbell did what many expected him to do in their first encounter. He boxed effectively from the outside and mixed in precision combination punching to easily avenge the defeat. It was a dynamic performance by Campbell and put him in line for a big fight at lightweight.

Luke Campbell is a vastly different fighter from the one who lost to Mendy three years earlier and appears primed to potentially live up to the once high expectations. He is in a better spot today in his career due to what he learned from that first loss to Mendy.

Photo credit: Dave Mandel / SHOWTIME

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