Every so often, a fight comes along whose mesh of styles virtually guarantee robust, unforgettable action. Tony Zale-Rocky Graziano was one. Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward was another. Now we have Lucas Matthysse-Ruslan Provodnikov. Gatti-Ward didn't need title belts to be great and neither does Matthysse-Provodnikov because any fight that pits "The Machine" vs. "The Siberian Rocky" has to be good.
Statistical factors that may determine the outcome include:
Breaking An Old Habit?: Along with Mikey Garcia, John Molina and Adrien Broner, Matthysse had long been one of boxing's slowest starters. The average junior welterweight throws 59.9 punches per round but in four of the last five fights before meeting Molina last year the Argentine averaged just 38.3 punches per round in round one. But in his last two fights against Molina and Mexican Roberto Ortiz, Matthysse managed to rev up his engine more quickly. In round one against Molina, Matthysse threw 47 punches (landing nine) while against Ortiz he fired 57 punches (landing 12). Of course, those figures don't compare to what he is capable of doing in later rounds, but it's a much more encouraging trend.
Matthysse put Ortiz away in round two but against Molina he suffered his ups and downs -- literally. Matthysse was dropped in rounds two and five and suffered a cut in round three but rebounded with knockdowns in rounds eight and 10 before registering the knockout in the 11th. This fight of the year candidate saw Matthysse prevail 275-104 overall, 71-18 jabs and 204-86 power and land 48% overall, 30% jabs and a sky-high 60% of his power shots against the sieve-like Molina. After going 9 of 47 in round one, Matthysse's averages from rounds 3-10 were a mind-boggling 31.8 of 59.9 and in rounds 8-10 he averaged 74 punches and 43.3 connects per round. When "The Machine" gets loosened up, he is unstoppable.
Give and Take: Provodnikov is a tough guy's tough guy who is willing to absorb more than his fair share of punishment for the chance to deliver his own. His last high-profile fight -- a 12-round split decision loss to the unheralded Chris Algieri nearly one year ago -- was a prime example of this phenomenon. Provodnikov scored two thunderous knockdowns in round one, the first of which also produced a massive swelling around Algieri's eye that eventually slammed shut. But Algieri's steady yet high-volume attack (82.8 punches per round) as well as his stinging counterpunching enabled him to build decisive statistical leads of 288-205 overall, 111-41 jabs and 177-164 power and percentage leads of 29%-26% overall, 20%-12% jabs and 41%-38% power. Provodnikov's defeat wasn't due to a lack of effort -- his 64.7 punches per round was above the divisional average -- but it was more a result of Algieri's ring generalship and off-the-chart guts.
Although Matthysse is a rock-fisted puncher, it may be better for him to include his boxing skills because each of Provodnikov's three losses came to boxers who had good technique but who also were talented enough to incorporate the right mixture of slugging. Timothy Bradley won 2013's Fight of the Year by unleashing 83.3 punches per round to Provodnikov's 56.3 and out-landing him 347-218 overall, 129-32 jabs and 218-186 power. Bradley jabbed plenty (40.8 thrown/10.8 connects per round) while limiting Provodnikov's jab (13.5 thrown/2.7 connects per round) and was the more accurate puncher in all phases (35%-32% overall, 26%-20% jabs, 43%-36% power).
Provodnikov's first defeat came to Mauricio Herrera, who paved the way for what Bradley did -- 76 punches per round to 58.3 for Provodnikov, connect leads of 302-240 overall, 121-74 jabs and 181-166 power and effective jabbing (36.3 thrown/10.1 connects per round to Provodnikov's 21.2/6.2). Provodnikov was slightly more accurate overall (34%-33%) and in jabs (29%-28%) but Herrera, who, like Algieri, suffered a horribly swollen face, led 38%-37% in power accuracy.
Thus, Matthysse would be well advised to showcase the other dimensions of his game, which he has shown are available to him.
Prediction: And Matthysse will do just that -- provided he gets by the Russian's opening wave. Expect fireworks: Matthysse's last 4 opponents (Ortiz, Molina, Garcia & Peterson) landed 40% of their power shots, while Provodnikov's last 3 opponents (Algieri, Alvarado, Bradley) landed 43% of their power shots- Wgt. class avg.: 36%. Matthysse's chin has been somewhat unreliable of late -- in his last three fights he was dropped twice by Molina and once by Danny Garcia -- but that shouldn't be much of an issue because Provodnikov, at least against better fighters, is a clubbing puncher who wins by attrition. Once "The Machine" works out the early kinks he will run over his rugged but less skilled opponent. That said, it will be fun to watch for as long as it lasts, and the guess here is that it will go all the way. Matthysse by thrilling decision.