For a boxing writer, life doesn’t get any better than it was for me last Saturday night, when I found myself ringside in the press section at Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York, for the leading Fight of the Year candidate between Lucas “Machine” Matthysse and “The Siberian Rocky” Ruslan Provodnikov. Boxing fans knew this was a can’t-miss brawl and the cozy Turning Stone event center was filled to capacity with a sold-out crowd.
The sound inside the small arena was like the rumbling of an ocean in a storm as both warriors made their way to the ring. HBO’s august play-by-play man Jim Lampley bounced up and down in his seat with the giddy anticipation of a school boy.
Early on, it looked like Matthysse might turn the war into a route with smart tactical movement and a steady jab. The Argentine gunslinger carried both of the first two rounds, working behind his jab to keep the fight at middle range, where his reach advantage gave him an edge. When Provodnikov came out for Round 2, he was already showing swelling beneath his left eyes. Seconds into the frame, a cut opened up and blood began to flow down the side of his face.
There isn’t a drop of quit in Provodnikov, but with an ugly cut opening up early and Matthysse controlling the range and pace, it seemed likely that the tough Siberian would end up carted out early on his shield. Provodnikov was game and dogged in his attempt to apply pressure, but for the first six minutes of the fight, he simply couldn’t put together any substantial offense.
The tide of the fight began to switch in Rounds 3 and 4. The fourth was decisively Provodnikov’s round, as he connected with a series of jolting lead hooks. But Matthysse reasserted control with his jab in Round 5 and then carried the middle rounds of the fight.
The last third of the fight was fought at a frenetic, relentless pace. Round 9 was a razor-close round. Matthysse reasserted himself in the 10th but Provodnikov came back strong and hurt the Argentine in Round 11.
I scored Rounds 1 and 2 for Matthysse and then the third and fourth for Provodnikov. I gave Matthysse Rounds 5, 6 and 7 to Matthysse. I gave Rounds 8 and 9 to Provodnikov with the ninth particularly close. I gave Round 10 to Matthysse and the final two to Provodnikov, to make the fight a draw. My sense going to the cards was that if one fighter did win, it would be Matthysse, who threw more punches than Provodnikov and landed at a higher rate, while cutting him and swelling up both of his eyes. And Matthysse did end up with a majority decision, with one card even and two in his favor at seven rounds to five.
In the wake of the fight, the atmosphere ringside was buoyant, as everybody knew we had just got done watching the kind of memorable fight that only happens on occasion. Banner Promotions chief Artie Pelullo, the promoter for Provodnikov, addressed press row: “You never get worried when Ruslan is fighting about him giving up. I didn’t think they were going to stop a fight on a cut for this fight in this arena unless he couldn’t see at all.” When asked if he wanted to arrange a rematch, Pelullo exclaimed: “Absolutely we’ll do it again! Absolutely!”
But Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya was looking forward: “I said before the fight, Lucas deserves the major names like Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather. Right now we’re going to explore our options… Lucas Matthysse fought a great fight, he had a great game plan. Ruslan Provodnikov is one of the best fighters, with the most heart. We wish him all the best looking forward.”
This win will leave Matthysse a red hot fighter in the sport and Golden Boy can hardly be blamed for pursuing the biggest possible payday for him his next time out. But Provodnikov will hardly go down in value after such a stirring performance. Expect to see a rematch again between these two. Maybe not an immediate rematch, but it seems to me like destiny.
On the other side of HBO’s twin-venue broadcast, Terence Crawford captured the vacant WBO light welterweight title with a sensation Round 6 stoppage of Thomas Dulorme. Crawford was the 2014 Fighter of the Year and his win over Dulorme on Saturday reconfirmed that that he is one of the top candidates to become the next big boxing superstar from the United States.
Also on Saturday night, tough light heavyweight contender Andrzej Fonfara forced Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. to quit on his stool after Round 9. Chavez has ridden his legendary father’s name a long way in the sport. There’s no denying that he had a solid chin and when he was able to make weight at 160 pounds, he could bully his way to victory over some pretty good contenders. Against a gutsy light heavyweight with some pop, he was exposed. Now, after quitting in his corner, what little value was still left in his name is probably gone. To the hardcore Mexican fans who revere his father, he has disgraced the most hallowed name in the sport’s history.