With the recent Martinez-Cotto pre-fight hub-bub surrounding "A-side versus B-side," Ruslan Provodnikov is an object lesson on how to improve one's standing in the sport: Work hard, fight harder and blast opponents into oblivion.
That formula reached a crescendo last October when Provodnikov fought Mike Alvarado. The Russian was a clear "B-side": He was the challenger. He was fighting in the champion's hometown of Denver. And he was an obvious, but live underdog. Alvarado knew quickly just how live once the bell rang.
The weight-weakened Alvarado tried his best but he couldn't stand up to Provodnkov's relentless pressure and rock-hard fists. Alvarado suffered two knockdowns in the eighth and retired on his stool between rounds 10 and 11, making Provodnikov the new champion -- and a new "A-sider."
On Saturday, Provodnikov will defend against Chris Algieri in Brooklyn, which is a whole lot closer to Algieri's Huntington, N.Y. hometown than the champion's birthplace of Beryozovo, Russia. If Provodnikov's last fight is any indicator, he'll shrug off the geographical reality and do the best he can. And if Algieri's recent fights are any indicator, it will be exciting for as long as it lasts.
Statistical factors that may shape the outcome include:
Provodnikov vs. Stylists: Algieri will enjoy advantages of four inches in height and six inches in reach. If he chooses to box, he may enjoy success against Provodnikov is history is any guide.
Although Provodnikov's loss to Mauricio Herrera was a blood-and-guts war, the Mexican applied solid boxing principles in his decision victory. He used just enough elusiveness to limit Provodnikov to 58.3 punches per round to Herrera's 76, and used a balanced attack (436 jabs/476 power shots to 254 jabs/446 power for Providnikov) to create decisive connect gaps (302-240 total, 121-74 jabs, 181-166 power) that swung enough rounds to secure the verdict.
A faded but still slick DeMarcus Corley held Provodnikov to 62.2 punches per round and though he out-landed the American 164-122 (total) and 125-70 (power), his accuracy suffered (22% overall, 12% jabs and 30% power). Against Bradley, the most complete fighter he has faced to date, Provodnikov's output again was limited to 56.3. Finally, Alvarado's attempts to keep his distance managed to limit the Russian to 59.7 punches per round and allowed him to score with 46% of his power shots, but Providnikov's determined attack and late-rounds rally allowed him to surge past "Mile High Mike" in total connects (206-182) and landed power punches (168-137).
If Algieri chooses to exchange, his night could become a nightmare because when Provodnikov's engine gets going it's tough to stop. Provodnikov averaged 96.8 punches per round against Ivan Popoca (KO 8) and suffered a physical and numerical price for it -- 253-172 total, 93-69 jabs and 160-103 power while tasting 43% of the Russian's total punches, 34% of his jabs and 52% of his power punches. In stopping David Torres in six, Provodnikov fired 83 punches per round, out-landed his foe 181-87 (total), 75-16 (jabs) and 106-71 (power) and also led in accuracy (36%-24% total, 34%-11% jabs, 39%-33% power).
Fast Starts, Faster Finishes: When Algieri is at his best, he is a buzz saw that only cuts stronger and faster as time goes on. Algieri's jab is extremely busy (48.7 thrown/6.7 landed in six CompuBox-tracked fights) and his combined 91.4 punch-per-round pace is well above the 60.0 junior welterweight average. Worse yet for opponents, Algieri's opponents usually go into the late rounds as he has scored only eight knockouts in 19 victories.
In decisioning Curtis Smith over eight rounds, Algieri averaged more punches in the last four rounds (93) than the first four (90.5) while Smith decreased from 71 to 64.5. The connect gaps during the two halves grew from 60 overall (134-74) and 53 power (118-65) to 89 overall (138-49) and 78 power (118-40). The result: A commanding decision (80-72 twice, 78-74).
The same scenario played out against Raul Tovar, whom Algieri out-pointed over eight. Tovar surprised Algieri by counter-punching rather than tearing inside as the New Yorker expected and his selective punching paid dividends in the first four rounds as he trailed by just 67-61 (total) and 44-21 (power). But Algieri, though his pace slowed from 91 per round to 82 and Tovar's increased from 53.8 to 56, still gained strength down the stretch as he out-landed Tovar 74-43 (total) and 45-23 (power), leading to scores of 78-74 and 77-75 (twice).
Algieri's stamina served him well against Bayan Jargal. Jargal went punch-for-punch with Algieri (he trailed 851-814 in total punches and led 425-397 in power shots) and he increased his pace from 67 over the first five to 95.8 in the final five. Though Algieri was given a dose of his own medicine, he responded by being much more accurate. Though he accelerated from 72.6 per round to 81.4 in the last five, he out-landed Jargal 143-134 (total) and 98-97 (power) to capture a hard-earned but more lopsided than thought 98-92, 97-93 (twice) decision.
The pattern continued in two more of his recent fights:
* W 10 Jose Peralta -- First half: 93.6 punches per round, 151-135 overall connect lead; Second half: 122.6 punches per round, 220-107 overall connect lead
* W 10 Mike Arnaoutis -- First half: 94.2 punches per round, 60-41 overall connect lead; Second half: 97.2 punches per round, 94-33 overall connect lead
However, in his most recent outing against the 17-1 Emmanuel Taylor, the pattern changed. Algieri's output in the first half was 65 punches per round, a noticeable drop from his usual standard, but he still led 99-61 in overall connects. But in the final five rounds, Algieri raised his output only slightly (66.8 per round) and Taylor actually out-landed him 74-70. Worse Yet, Taylor out-threw Algieri 83-66 in the final round and out-landed him 21-17, the fourth time in five rounds he had done so.
The Taylor fight represented a step up in competition and the numbers suffered. Provodnikov is yet another leap up in class; will he end up suffering even more?
Prediction: Yes, he will. Algieri is a punching machine but his blows lack the necessary steam to discourage the Russian wrecking ball, who will match the American punch-for-punch and inflict more damage with each connect. Provodnikov by TKO.