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MATTHYSSE-PROVODNIKOV HAD 1950S THROWBACK FEEL

Bernard Fernandez

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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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Late Sub Jonnie Rice Bursts Michael Coffie’s Bubble on a PBC Card in Newark

Arne K. Lang

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Every thing that could go wrong went wrong as promoter Al Haymon and his associates were patching together tonight’s card at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. But it couldn’t have worked out better for journeyman heavyweight Jonnie Rice who turned his career around with a smashing TKO of heavily favored and previously undefeated Michael Coffie.

Positive Covid tests scuttled two 10-round fights on the undercard. The main event had already been disheveled when Coffie’s original opponent Gerald Washington flunked his Covid test. Enter Rice (pictured on the right) who was on standby and seized the moment.

Rice, a Columbia, South Carolina native who has been living and training in Las Vegas, came in sporting a 13-6-1 record but five of his wins had come against no-hopers in Tijuana and he had yet to defeat an opponent in a match where he was the “B” side. But these facts were misleading as five of his six losses had come against hot prospects with undefeated records and he had honed his craft sparring against the likes of Tyson Fury, Filip Hrgovic, and Michael Hunter.

Based on “strength of schedule,” Rice, 34, had the edge over Coffie, the 35-year-old ex-Marine who brought a 12-0 record but was relatively untested. And Rice, who started fast, took the fight to Coffie and out-landed him. Coffie’s left eye was swelling and he wasn’t firing back when the referee waived it off in the fifth round.

Dirrell-Brooker

Tonight’s PBC fare came in two helpings with appetizers and the main event on FOX preceding a club-level show on FOX’s affiliate FS1. The main event of the nightcap was a 10-round light heavyweight bout between Andre Dirrell and Christopher Brooker.

Dirrell, who previously held an interim version of the IBF 168-pound world title, looked very sharp coming off a 19-month layoff, scoring three knockdowns before the fight was waived off in the third round. The Flint, Michigan native improved to 28-3 (18). Philadelphia’s Brooker fell to 16-8.

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Junior middleweight Joey Spencer (13-0, 9 KOs) scored an 8-round unanimous decision over James Martin (7-3). Spencer won comfortably on the scorecards – 80-72 and 79-73 twice – was unimpressive.

Local fan favorite Vito “White Magic” Mielnicki Jr (9-1, 5 KOs) rebounded from his first pro loss with an impressive second-round stoppage of Noah Kidd (6-4-2).

Philadelphia welterweight Karl Dargan (20-1, 9 KOs), a former two-time national amateur champion, returned to the ring after a long absence and  stopped LA’s Ivan Delgado (13-4-2) in the third round.

New Jersey heavyweight Norman Neely advanced to 9-0 (7) with a unanimous decision over rugged Texas brawler Juan Torres (6-4-1). Neely won all six rounds on all three cards.

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Leigh Wood’s Big Upset Spangles the Rebirth of Eddie Hearn’s Garden Party

Arne K. Lang

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Leigh-Wood's-Big-Upset-Spangles-the-Rebirth-of-Eddie-Hearn's-Garden-Party

Last summer, hamstrung by the pandemic, Eddie Hearn hit upon the idea of holding boxing events outdoors in the expansive backyard of the family estate on the outskirts of London (now Matchroom Sport headquarters) where he grew up. Four shows were staged there.

The series has been revived. Today was “episode 1” of Season Two of Matchroom Fight Camp, otherwise known as Eddie Hearn’s Garden Party. Two more shows are penciled in over the next two weekends.

The match-up getting the most buzz was the welterweight contest between fast-rising Conor Benn and battle-tested Adrian Granados. Unfortunately, Benn tested positive for Covid-19. But the main event, a WBA world featherweight title defense by Can Xu (aka Xu Can) against Nottingham’s Leigh Wood stayed intact and produced a memorable upset.

Xu, who is co-promoted by Oscar De La Hoya, was installed a 4/1 favorite. Although he wasn’t a big puncher with only three knockouts to his credit in 20 starts, he rode into Hearn’s backyard riding a 15-fight winning streak for the third defense of his WBA “regular” title. But he started slow, perhaps the result of ring rust — it was his first fight of 2021 after missing all of 2020 – and he never did crank up the volume that had carried him to victory in his three title fights.

Wood, a stablemate of Josh Taylor who has made great gains since hooking up with Ben Davison and Lee Wylie, landed the heavier punches and was ahead on the cards when he took the fight out of the judges’ hands in the final minute of the final round. He decked Xu with a hard right hand and then trapped him on the ropes, forcing the stoppage that came with only 17 seconds remaining.

The 32-year-old Wood improved to 25-2 (15). Xu falls to 18-3. The deposed champion has a rematch clause so we may have a sequel.

Other Bouts

Chris Billum-Smith, trained by Shane McGuigan, won a hard-fought 12-round split decision over Belfast’s Tommy McCarthy in a cruiserweight scrap with three domestic titles at stake. The judges had it 116-112 and 115-114 for Billum-Smith, now 13-1, with the dissenter favoring McCarthy (18-3) by a 115-114 tally.

McCarthy wobbled Billum-Smith late in the first round with on overhand right, but could never land his Sunday punch on the Bournemouth fighter in a see-saw struggle with many close rounds. There were no knockdowns but McCarthy suffered a cut over his right eye near the end of round six from an apparent head butt.

McCarthy had Carl Frampton helping out in his corner which infused the contest with the aura of a grudge match. Frampton was the best man at Shane McGuigan’s wedding, but their friendship dissolved in a bitter court fight. At the end of the grueling fight, Billum-Smith and McCarthy embraced in a show of mutual respect.

Liverpool super-welterweight Anthony Fowler whose lone setback came at the hands of Scott Fitzgerald (a split decision) won his sixth straight with an eighth-round stoppage of Germany’s Rico Mueller whose cornerman was on the ring apron when the slow-acting referee waived it off at the 2:12 mark. Fowler, who is also trained by Shane McGuigan, improved to 15-1 (11). His next bout is expected to come against fellow Scouser Liam Smith in October. This was the second fight this month for the game but out-gunned 33-year-old Mueller (28-4-1) who was subbing for veteran Tex-Mex campaigner Roberto Garcia who pulled out with a back injury.

Also, Jack Cullen (20-2-1, 9 KOs) scored a 10-round unanimous decision over Avni Yildirim (21-4) in a 10-round super middleweight contest. Yildirim, from Turkey, was looking to atone for his hollow performance against Canelo Alvarez this past February. While he had his moments, he was out-worked by the lanky Lancashire man who won by scores of 100-90, 08-92, and 97-93.

Photo credit: Alan Walton / Matchroom Boxing

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Avila Perspective, Chap 146: De La Hoya Returns Plus Other Boxing Notes

David A. Avila

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Sitting in front of several dozen reporters, the favorite son of Los Angeles area boxing, Oscar De La Hoya, and former MMA champion Vitor Belfort spoke about their mutual return to prizefighting.

“I can’t lie. I miss getting hit,” said De La Hoya.

It was a statement also shared by Belfort.

After years away from the prize ring, both return to exchange hits as boxing’s De La Hoya (39-6, 30 KOs) meets MMA’s Belfort (26-14, 18 KOs) on Sept. 11, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Triller Fight Club card will be shown on pay-per-view via FITE.tv and other modes.

De La Hoya, 48, last absorbed hits from a fighter when Manny Pacquiao battered him almost 13 years ago back in December 2008. It was a shock to the senses to see the great East L.A. fighter take blow after blow while unable to hit back.

He was only 35.

Many attribute that loss to a ridiculous agreement to weigh under 145 pounds before facing Pacquiao. At the time De La Hoya was the real gate attraction and pay-per-view king. He held all the cards but agreed to the demands acutely devised by Freddie Roach. It proved to leave De La Hoya too weak to fight back and after eight rounds the one-sided beating was stopped.

De La Hoya retired after that fight. Ironically, he called for a press conference and it was held right where he recently announced this upcoming fight against Belfort. It’s also near a statue built in his honor.

Sitting nearby, Belfort patiently waited his turn to speak. For the Brazilian MMA fighter, it’s only been a mere three years since he exchanged blows in a prize fight. It was a knockout loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 224 in Brazil.

When Belfort spoke to the media, he expressed a desire to get hit too.

“Its fun. I’m going to have joy when I get hit. You cannot get better than that,” said Belfort.

It’s a common sentiment held by former greats. I’ve heard the same comments from James “Lights Out” Toney who ridiculously was not voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame this past year.

Getting hit becomes as common as breathing for most professional fighters, especially those that began boxing at a young age such as De La Hoya.

“The truth is I miss it. I miss it very much,” said De La Hoya who began lacing up gloves as an amateur at five years old.

According to oddsmakers, Belfort is the favorite to win. Probably for a number of reasons including he fought a mere three years ago. Belfort is the heavier fighter and has fought foes in the 205 pound-division called light heavyweight in MMA. Plus, he is simply bigger than his foe.

“I hope I don’t end up killing him, but everything is on the table,” said Belfort. “If he doesn’t have joy in what he does he could come back in a coffin.”

Prizefighters are masochists. All truly good fighters have a streak of masochism inside. They know they’ll be pummeled with blows that truly hurt and they look forward to it. But the bitter truth is taking hits in your 30s and taking hits near your 50s are two vastly different scenarios.

It’s an extremely dangerous fight for both.

As someone who spent nearly a month in a hospital after experiencing a cerebral hemorrhage, otherwise known as a “brain bleed,” I’m stunned by the fact that more boxers are not damaged from brutal blows. I pray nothing like this occurs to De La Hoya, Belfort, or any retired boxer who returns to the prize ring for a possible payday.

They are prizefighters and like any former high-performance athlete, they miss competition.

“When you love it, no matter what happens, I’m ok with it,” said De La Hoya.

Fans will attend Staples Center by the thousands simply to see “the Golden Boy” once again and pay tribute to one of the greats. Many of those attending will be praying silently for the fighter’s safety.

I know I will.

England Fights

WBA featherweight titlist Xu Can (18-2, 3 KOs) defends against Leigh Wood (24-2, 14 KOs) on Saturday July 31, at Brentwood, England. DAZN will stream the world title fight.

This is the third defense for Can who has not fought in almost two years. The last defense was at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California when he soundly defeated Manny Robles III.

Can took the title from Puerto Rico’s Jesus Rojas, a rough and tumble fighter who takes a pound of flesh from everyone he faces. Against Can he was unable to deal out the usual punishment.

Wood is a former super bantamweight contender who has never really faced international competition. He did face former world champion Gavin McDonnell but was stopped. Perhaps the move up in weight will help.

Fights to Watch

Fri. Estrella TV 7 p.m. Erick Leon (14-1) vs Juan Marcos Rodriguez (10-3).

Sat. DAZN 11 a.m. Xu Can (18-2) vs Leigh Wood (24-2).

Sat. FOX 5 p.m. Michael Coffie (12-0) vs. Jonnie Rice (13-6-1)

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