Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Eric Raskin
To put the violent business meeting between Lucas Matthysse and Ruslan Provodnikov in the most overly simplistic terms possible, it was a battle of skill vs. will. And skill won out.
Or perhaps will just ran out of time.
Before a sellout crowd at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York, two of the purest action fighters in the deep junior welterweight division delivered on all of the prefight hype and promise, even if it took until the last two rounds for the fight to become competitive enough to qualify as a true Fight of the Year candidate. Matthysse, he of the greater skill and versatility, built what seemed like a comfortable early lead, but Provodnikov, he of the indefatigable will, roared back in the later rounds to nearly undo all of Matthysse’s brilliant work. In the end, though, it was Matthysse who prevailed, with judge Don Ackerman scoring the fight a draw at 114-114 and Glenn Feldman and John McKaie both shading it for the Argentine “Machine,” 115-113.
The fact that those scorecards were ever heard was easily the most shocking development of the night. However, once they were read, how little there was to separate the two warriors was utterly predictable. Both men had lost three times previously—Provodnikov by three debatable decisions, and Matthysse by two debatable decisions and another decision that was just one round shy of debatable. This time, there wasn’t much to debate. The right fighter got the nod—even if the result might have been dramatically different in the 15-round days.
Known as “The Siberian Rocky,” Provodnikov entered the ring to the Rocky IV anthem “Burning Heart,” and he would need to call on just that early and often. Matthysse got off quicker from the get-go, his right hands causing Provodnikov’s left eye to swell not 30 seconds into the bout. It got even worse for the Russian in the second, when an accidental headbutt from Matthysse sliced open a cut over his increasingly compromised left eye. No matter how much damage Matthysse did, though, his iron-chinned opponent kept asking for more and kept plowing forward. Uppercuts and overhand rights found the mark for Matthysse, but Provodnikov was undaunted, scoring with occasional left hooks and applying enough pressure to make the second and third rounds close.
Round four was easily Provodnikov’s best of the fight’s first half, with counter rights, left hooks, and a right over the top that made Matthysse hold among the highlights. Not among the highlights? Provodnikov sprinting across the ring out of a break and running full-speed into a Matthysse bodyshot without so much as flinching to block it.
As “Rus-lan! Rus-lan!” and “Ma-tee-say!” chants duked it out in the arena, Matthysse did his best not to duke anything out in the middle rounds, using his jab to establish distance and picking the wilder, slower Provodnikov apart with counters. By the end of round seven, Provodnikov was pawing at his worsening cut and looking generally lost. And it probably didn’t help that his head trainer, Freddie Roach, was unable to be with him on fight night as he prepared star pupil Manny Pacquiao for his upcoming showdown with Floyd Mayweather.
But that unmistakable Provodnikov will began making a dent again in the eighth. Hard combinations stole a ninth round that Matthysse seemed in charge of early, and in the 10th, Matthysse’s right eye started swelling. Still, the gap still seemed almost insurmountable with two rounds to go. But just over a minute into the 11th, referee Benjy Esteves called timeout to fix the tape on Matthysse’s glove, and the break energized Provodnikov. With about 30 seconds to go in the round, a left hook from the Russian rocked Matthysse, causing the heavily tattooed gladiator’s knees to dip. The crowd exploded as Provodnikov followed up, setting the stage for a lay-it-all-on-the-line 12th. An exhausted Matthysse refused to go down, no matter how many clubbing shots Provodnikov landed, and the final bell sounded, leaving the judges to tell The Siberian Rocky what he already seemed to know: that he had come up just short.
“He’s always in every fight, because that’s who he is,” said Provodnikov’s promoter Artie Pellulo. “[Matthysse] won the fight, but it was a great fight.”
“He was the hardest puncher I fought,” Provodnikov said of Matthysse after falling to 24-4 with 17 KOs. He was asked if he thought at any point that his cut was bad enough to warrant a stoppage. “The only time I would ever want a fight stopped is when I’m laying on my back,” he said, freakishly tough talk perfectly backed up by his actions in the ring.
The CompuBox statistics were wider in favor of Matthysse than the scorecards, as he out-threw Provodnikov 1,034 to 755 and outlanded him 327-201. Most notably, Matthysse dominated the jab category, more than tripling his opponent’s output and nearly tripling his landed count.
“Ruslan is one tough fighter,” Matthysse, 37-3 with 34 KOs, exhaled. “I’m ready for the next great fighter. I want to take on the winner of Mayweather-Pacquiao.”
It’s hard not to flash back from that comment to what occurred in the ring after Matthysse’s 2013 knockout of Lamont Peterson, when his then-promoter Richard Schaefer declared him “the new Manny Pacquiao.” It was an unfair comparison then, and it might still be asking too much of Matthysse to see how he stacks up at that uber-elite level.
Matthysse appears better suited for pairing off with flawed action fighters with oversized hearts. And remember, this is a weight range that also contains Brandon Rios, Amir Khan, Tim Bradley, and Marcos Maidana, among others. There are plenty of options for The Machine. And those options include the guy he edged out at Turning Stone this Saturday night, if both Matthysse and Provodnikov can endure the violence one more time.