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Chris Algieri: An Unlikely Champion

Thomas Hauser

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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 thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (Reflections: Conversations, Essays, and Other Writings) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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Fast Results from Las Vegas: Shakur Wins a Snoozer; Pedraza Stops Rodriguez

Arne K. Lang

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Shakur Stevenson, the 23-year-old Newark native and 2016 Olympic silver medalist, had the distinction of headlining the first of Top Rank’s two dozen MGM “Bubble” shows, an event that marked the return of boxing to Las Vegas after a 101-day absence. Tonight, he headlined the first true post-pandemic boxing show in Nevada, the first show that allowed full capacity.

Stevenson was matched against Jeremiah Nakathila at the Virgin Hotels (an awkward plural). A 31-year-old policeman, Nakathila hailed from the same town in Namibia that produced Julius Indongo, fodder for Terence Crawford in 2017.

Indongo lasted into the third round vs Crawford; Nakathila went the distance vs Shakur and lost every round on all three scorecards.

In common with virtually all of Stevenson’s former opponents, Nakathila found Shakur almost impossible to hit. But Stevenson respected Nakathila’s big right hand and kept the fight at a distance, pot-shotting the Namibian rather than throwing combinations. He knocked Nakathila down in the final seconds of the fourth round with a right hook that landed high on the head, but Nakathila wasn’t badly hurt.

Stevenson (16-0, 8 KOs) pitched a shutout but yet lost luster in a monotonous fight. This was the U.S. debut for Nakathila (21-2) who had won 10 straight, all inside the distance, since traveling to Ekaterinburg, Russia, and losing a majority decision in a 12-round fight with a local man.

Shakur is expected to fight WBO 130-pound champion Jamel Herring next but also has his eye on Oscar Valdez. A match against Herring wouldn’t get the juices flowing, but Valdez may bring out the best in him.

Co-Feature

Junior welterweight Julian Rodriguez stepped up in class and suffered his first pro defeat at the hands of Puerto Rican veteran Jose “Sniper” Pedraza. Rodriguez’s corner stopped the fight after nine rounds owing to severe swelling over both of Rodriguez’s eyes.

Pedraza switched from southpaw to orthodox effectively while repeatedly peppering his opponent with an effective jab. New Jersey’s Rodriguez entered the contest 21-0. Pedraza, a 2008 Olympian and former 130-pound world title-holder, improved to 29-3 with his 14th knockout.

Other Bouts

In a mild upset, Dallas junior lightweight Manuel Rey Rojas (21-5, 6 KOs) won a unanimous 8-round decision over Toledo’s Tyler McCreary (16-2-1). McCreary, who had a strong amateur background, was making his first appearance since being widely outpointed by Carl Frampton in November of 2019. The judges had it 79-73 and 80-72 twice.

Welterweight John Bauza, in his first outing since joining David McWater’s stable, had a laugher vs. Houston’s Christon Edwards who left his corner without his mouthpiece and likely would have been easy meat without this oversight. Bauza knocked him down three times before the bout was halted at the 0:40 mark of round two. From North Bergen, New Jersey via Puerto Rico, Bauza (15-0, 6 KOs) was purportedly 178-8 as an amateur. Edwards (12-3) entered the contest riding a 6-fight winning streak.

Welterweight Xander Zayas, an 18-year-old rising star from Sunrise, Florida, via San Juan, improved to 9-0 (7) with a third-round stoppage of Larry Fryers (11-4). As a pro, Zayas has answered the bell for only 21 rounds. It was the third straight loss for Fryers, originally from Clones, Ireland, who was making his first start with new trainer Wayne McCullough.

In his final fight before the Tokyo Summer Olympics, middleweight Troy Isley (2-0, 2 KOs) scored a fourth-round stoppage of Philadelphia’s LaQuan Evans (4-2). Evans was losing but didn’t appear hurt when referee Russell Mora waived it off with 34 seconds to go in the fourth and final round.

Photo credit: Miket Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Marco Antonio Barrera and More at the First SoCal Club Show in More Than a Year

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RINGSIDE REPORT by special correspondent Tarrah Zael — MarvNation Promotions hosted “Return of the Legends” on Friday, June 11, at the Pico Rivera Sports Arena in Whittier, CA. Along with a pro card, there was an exhibition featuring the legendary Mexican warrior Marco Antonio Barrera.

It was the first club show in more than a year in Southern California. Local celebrities eager to watch live boxing were everywhere.

In what seems to be a trend of former boxers entering the ring after their retirement, the “Baby-faced Assassin” Marco Antonio Barrera (67-7, 44 KOs) boxed with retired brawler Jesus Soto Karass (29-13-4, 18 KOs) in a six-round bout with two-minute rounds. It was Barrera’s first fight in a decade. He last fought in 2011 when he TKOed Jose Arias in the second round. This win came not too long after a bloody defeat from the heavy puncher Amir Khan, leaving Barrera fans worried that he may have lost his fire.

Soto Karass’s last fight saw him win a majority decision over undefeated Neeco Macias in a 10-round super welterweight contest in 2018. The win would be his first in five years and last of his professional career. But he was competitive in virtually all of his defeats.

Barrera and Soto Karass battled with big 16-ounce gloves in an exhibition with no judges. The 47-year-old, former three-division world champion Barrera landed multiple hooks upon the former title challenger 38-year-old Soto Karass. The living legend had fun and the two hugged at the finish of what looked like a sparring session.

The exhibition was the main event. When it was over, boxing legends Antonio Margarito and Erik Morales entered the ring for pictures and conversation. Marco Antonio Barrera and Morales had a well-known trilogy and hope to continue their rivalry next month with an exhibition in Dallas.

Pro Bouts

In the co-main event, upcoming Pico Rivera boxing star Angel “El Moreno” Rodriguez (9-0, 6 KO) returned to the ring after a long pause from the 2020 pandemic in a six-round lightweight bout against southpaw Bergman Aguilar (15-8-1, 5 KOs).

In the early rounds, Rodriguez unloaded a flurry of body shots upon Aguilar, a Costa Rica native, causing him to take a knee. There wasn’t much coming back from Aguilar and when Rodriguez connected with a power shot in the second round, Aguilar took a knee again and stayed down for a count of “7.”

In the third round, Rodriguez invited his opponent to come into his range and Aguilar took the bait. Once there, Rodriguez unloaded hard power shots upon the body of Aguilar and down to his knee he went once again. Referee Ray Corona counted to seven and allowed the Costa Rican to continue as he did not look badly hurt. But when it happened yet again, Corona did not fall for his antics and called the fight off. It ended at the 1:40 mark of round three, a KO win for Rodriguez who retained his undefeated record.

Undercard

Two heavy hitting super welterweights fought to a bloody majority draw in the fight before the co-main event. Diego Padilla (1-2-1) of South-Central Los Angeles and Oleg Zumenko (3-1-1) representing the country of Ukraine laid into each other all four rounds.

In the first round, Padilla going forward delivered wide punches and uppercuts while Zumenko chose to study his opponent. But after being dropped by an uppercut, studying by the Ukraine fighter was over. A hard right cross by Zumenko slowed down the Los Angeles fighter and we saw an almost even amount of power shots from both brawlers that continued until the end of the fight. Padilla switched his stance multiple times to offset his opponent but that did not stop the Ukrainian from moving into his line of fire. Judge Ron Stevens scored the bout 40-36, but Max DeLuca and Damian Walton both had it 38-38.

Long Beach native Tyrell “Dirty Left” Washington (3-0, 3 KO) knocked down Nebraska’s Ginno Montoya (0-4) with a three-punch combination in the opening round of a scheduled four-round welterweight bout and referee Raul Caiz Jr. halted it at only 1:19 of the first.

Houston featherweight Adrian Leyva (2-2) won a four-round decision over Pablo “Bam Bam” Meglar (4-1-1, 3 KO) of South-Central Los Angeles. Although Meglar landed some good combinations and showed a lot of heart, the Texan was the sharper, more technical fighter. One judge scored the bout 39-37 and the others had it 40-36 for Leyva.

Other Fights

 Michael Land (1-2-1) of Houston, Texas and South-Central Los Angeles’ Oliver Galicia (3-0-1, 3 KO) fought to a draw in a four-round super featherweight fight. All three judges had it 37-37.

The opening fight of the show, a scheduled 4-round lightweight clash between Mexico native Braulio Avila (3-9, 1 KO) and Honduras resident Cris Reyes (10-0, 9 KO), ended after two rounds. Reyes stayed calm, cool and calculated against the wild-swinging Avila and sent him to the canvas for an 8-count in the second round with a left hook to the chin. Avila didn’t come out for the third.

Celebrity Watch

Besides Erik Morales and Antonio Margarito, others in attendance included Tattoo, Big Boy, LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, Tom Loeffler, Roberto Diaz, and DJ Ray.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Fury-Wilder III Particulars, Kirkland Laing and More

Arne K. Lang

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The third fight between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder will be staged at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on July 24. The pre-fight hoopla kicks off on Tuesday at a press conference in Los Angeles.

The date was no secret. Co-promoter Bob Arum had circled it even before an arbitrator ruled that a unification fight between Fury and Anthony Joshua could not jump the queue. It was Team Fury’s Plan B. But speculation about the venue had centered around two other properties in Las Vegas: Allegiant Stadium and the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

It will be the eighth boxing card in the five-year history of the T-Mobile. The benchmark, attendance-wise, was set on Sept. 16, 2017, when Canelo Alvarez opposed Gennady Golovkin in the first of their two encounters. The event attracted an announced crowd of 22,358 (17,318 paid).

Top Rank promoter Bob Arum notes that the T-Mobile is superior to the MGM Grand in that the operators of rival casinos are more willing to purchase tickets for their best customers. The T-Mobile sits on MGM property behind New York-New York and is half-owned by the MGM (the other half is owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group which owns arenas around the world including LA’s Staples Center and the O2 Arena in London) but yet is considered neutral territory in that it isn’t attached to a casino. Casino operators have always been skittish about sending their best customers to an event at a rival property for fear they will be wooed away.

There are no plans to hold press conferences in other cities before the final press conference in Las Vegas. London is out because of Covid restrictions and Arum believes that a conference in New York would be superfluous as that would be redundant.

Arum orchestrated the most dappled (and most frenetic) press tour in boxing. Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns, traveling in separate Gulfstream jets, covered 21 cities in 12 days to hype their April 15, 1985 clash at Caesars Palace.

“There was no internet in those days,” says Arum. He did not need to elaborate. Press conferences nowadays are live-streamed and people around the world can tune in. Reporters for traditional newspapers, whose ranks have been thinned, are no longer an indispensable conduit for selling a fight.

Kirkland Laing

The late Harry Mullan, who served 19 years as the editor of British Boxing News, had a grand opinion of Kirkland Laing. “He is the most technically gifted boxer I’ve ever seen, a genius in an odd sort of way,” wrote Mullan of Laing who defeated Roberto Duran and was a three-time British welterweight champion, but would be best remembered for squandering his talent. Born in Jamaica and raised in Nottingham, Laing died on Wednesday, June 9, at age 66.

Laing, who often wore dreadlocks, was quite a character. Lore has it that he once adamantly denied using weed to an interviewer while forgetting that he had a joint tucked behind his ear. He purportedly fought most of his fights while stoned.

Laing brought a 23-3-1 record into his date with Duran on Sept. 4, 1982 at Detroit’s Cobo Hall. The first two losses were incurred in domestic title fights with Colin Jones who stopped him in the ninth round on both occasions.

Laing won a split decision but there was no controversy. The consensus among ringside scribes was that Laing won seven of the 10 rounds. He was too quick for the Panamanian tough guy. The Ring magazine named it the Upset of the Year.

This was Duran’s third loss in his last five fights. Reporters, by and large, wrote him off as finished. Needless to say, that appraisal was premature as Pipino Cuevas, Davey Moore, and Iran Barkley would attest.

A year would elapse before Kirkland Laing entered the ring again. For a long stretch during this lacuna, his whereabouts were unknown. His manager Mickey Duff could not find him.

Laing returned on Sept. 10, 1983 in Atlantic City. In the opposite corner was Fred Hutchings, a fighter from Stockton, California with a 22-1 record. Hutchings blasted him out in the 10th round. The last punch landed with such force, said the correspondent for a New Jersey paper, that Laing “fell over backward, his head crashing to the canvas with a loud thud.” Referee Frank Cappuccino started his count but waived the fight off when he reached “6.”

Laing went on to recapture the British welterweight title, but he never fought in the U.S. again. He left the sport with a record of 43-12-1. He scored 24 knockouts and was stopped eight times.

Within months after his final fight in 1994, Laing and his partner Paula Chen who was carrying his child, were reportedly living on the dole. In December of 2001, he was arrested during a massive sweep of East London crack dens. In 2013, he almost died after he fell or was pushed from a fourth-floor balcony. He was then living in a flat in a council estate (i.e., government subsidized housing) in the London borough of Hackney. At the time of his death, he was said to be residing in a nursing home in Yorkshire.

Kirkland Laing was always eccentric, but some of his aberrant behavior may have been a residue of his bout with Fred Hutchings. He was taken to the hospital with a concussion and remained there for four days. His cause of death has not been disclosed.

Sky

Ever the opportunist, Bob Arum was quick to reach out to the honchos at Sky Sport which was left in the lurch when Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn jumped ship, giving DAZN an exclusive. Great Britain’s premier sports channel, Sky needed a new content provider.

Josh Taylor, the fighting pride of Scotland, recently took Sky to task for failing to pick up his recent fight with Jose Ramirez. That was an egregious oversight on the part of Sky – the network missed out on a whizbang fight that produced a result that will live long in British boxing lore – and Arum allows that Sky executives may have been somewhat embarrassed, making them more receptive to his proposal.

The Sky/Top Rank partnership begins immediately with Saturday’s card in Las Vegas headlined by the match between Shakur Stevenson and Namibia’s obscure Jeremiah Nakathila.

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