Can Algieri's Skill Match Provodnikov's Savagery?

Photo: Ed Mulholland

By Hamilton Nolan

Chris Algieri is the sort of hometown hero that populates the boxing world from coast to coast. He is the pride of Huntington, New York, the reliable draw at the local arena, the undefeated champ of his corner of the map. He is a talented boxer, a feel-good story, and a clean-cut and likeable man. He is about to set all of that comfort aside and volunteer for the thrashing of a lifetime.

On June 14, Algieri (19-0, 8 KOs) will trade the friendly confines of Huntington's Paramount Theater for the larger and more impersonal Barclay's Arena in downtown Brooklyn. He will relinquish his usual spot as the favorite on a small card for a spot as a heavy underdog on a much more meaningful card. And -- most notably, for Chris Algieri -- he will step in the ring against one of the most savage fighters in the sport of boxing today: Ruslan Provodnikov, a man who battered his last two (world class) opponents so severely that he is now forced to fight a lesser name. Who else would volunteer to oppose to him?

It's wrong to characterize Provodnikov (23-2, 16 KOs) as a mere savage, though. He is a hard puncher, and he is aggressive, and he is not what you could call full of finesse. But he is not just another heavy-handed brawler, plodding forward with gritted teeth ready to absorb as many punches as necessary in order to land one of his own. He was a longtime sparring partner of Manny Pacquiao, for God's sake. He can box. He can move his feet, and he can slip punches, and he has a decent enough defense. You wouldn't call him graceful exactly, but he's no Neanderthal. What sets him apart are his punches. Vicious, or smashing, or horrifying. Call them what you will. They are thrown with murder behind them, and they land with the same effect that hitting someone with a metal shovel might have. Provodnikov knocked Timothy Bradley out twice in a single fight -- the fact that Bradley never fell down and went on to win is a testament to Bradley's superhuman will more than anything else. Mike Alvarado, a far less spry opponent, was brutalized. There are more complete fighters in the light welterweight class, but there is no one who inspires more raw fear than Provodnikov does. He is dangerous. He can really, really hurt someone.

This is unfortunate for Chris Algieri. Yes, Algieri has a lot going for him. He is four inches taller than Provodnikov. He maintains a constant sideways position in the ring and uses his jab to maximize his reach advantage. He's light on his feet, and athletic, and he boxes with the smooth motions of a man who is starring in a boxing instructional video. And that may also be his problem. Algieri is talented, but he is not vicious. He is skilled, but he is not bloodthirsty. He is an athlete, not a murderer. But he is facing a murderer, and it is hard to imagine what smooth, athletic motion he could pull from his arsenal that might do much to dissuade an advancing Ruslan Provodnikov. Algieri likes to simultaneously cover up tight and bend low on defense; this is little more than an invitation for Provodnikov to try to break his ribs and knock him out with a punch that was blocked, just for show. Being short may in fact prove to be an advantage for Provodnikov, because it will allow him to work his way inside underneath Algieri's jabs. If Provodnikov gets inside, and stays there, and begins throwing his shovel-fisted bombs, the fight will soon be over. There is no page in the boxing manual for surviving that.

Algieri is a skilled boxer, but it is a predictable sort of skill. He is a textbook guy. That sort of technical prowess has taken him to 19-0, but now -- at boxing's very highest level -- it will take a new sort of creativity to succeed. Provodnikov has only been beaten by Tim Bradley, who possesses a pathological drive to win or die that most mortals do not, and by Mauricio Herrerra, an unorthodox and crafty veteran who nearly beat Danny Garcia in his last fight, proving that he is one of the most underestimated men in the sport. For all of Algieri's winsomeness, it is hard to see any transcendent aspects of his game. He will need to find one fast, if he wants to transcend being hit with that shovel.

In the co-featured bout, undefeated light middleweight Demetrius Andrade (20-0, 13 KOs) will try to showcase his skills against Brian Rose (25-1-1, 7 KOs). If he showcases them well enough, Andrade should be able to make a case for one of the division's big names in his next fight. The untelevised undercard also features Brooklyn's Heather "The Heat" Hardy in the first female bout in the history of Barclay's Center. The cheers will be loud and have a strong New York accent.