Win, lose or draw, Ruslan Provodnikov knew the score on Saturday night.
“Runners are not my style,” he said to HBO’s Max Kellerman during the live TV broadcast. “I like guys who want to stand in there and fight me. He had the worst style for me. He just ran and touched me. He jabbed and touched me.
“Obviously, I have trouble with guys who fight me with that style.”
What had occurred over the previous 36 minutes of in-ring action at the Barclays Center was ample illustration of what the Siberian Rocky was lamenting about.
Aside from a first-round blitzkrieg in which the Russian decked challenger Chris Algieri with a thudding left hook, prompted him to take a knee to quash a followup flurry and made his eye look like an over-the-top piece of Hollywood studio ghastliness, he had few other answers for a foe who simply refused to join in the sort of phone-booth warfare that had made him a 15-month phenomenon.
Algieri entered the fray with 19 wins and eight knockouts over basically forgettable opposition, and it was hardly as if the leaning, herky-jerky tango he’d danced from Rounds 2 through 12 against Provodnikov—making the first defense of his WBO championship at 140 pounds—reinvented the sweet science as anyone either knows it or cares to acknowledge it.
What it lacked in sublime grace, though, it more than made up for in situational beauty.
Because Provodnikov’s “if I have to die in the ring to win, that is what I will do” reputation had been beaten into the puffy faces of world-class foes like Timothy Bradley and Mike Alvarado, it was a widely held assumption going into Saturday that a 5'10" beanpole with precisely zero significant victories would have none of the stuff required to dissuade such a grinding foe, let alone trouble him.
But it was evident as early as Round 2—the first of a series of rounds in which Algieri both threw and landed more shots—that the Long Islander had the mettle to go along with the awkwardness.
Though his eye had swollen to grotesque proportions, he was already beginning to execute a game plan that included nearly perpetual lateral movement and the sort of peppering punch output that was by no means concussive on an advancing Provodnikov but just irritating enough to throw off the locomotive momentum that had prompted a sturdy Alvarado to surrender eight months earlier.
#boxing If he lasts a couple more rounds... the conversation starts to change from "Ruslan is a beast" to "Provo can be outboxed."— Lyle Fitzsimmons (@Fitzbitz) June 15, 2014
And though it was barely noticeable amid the Kellerman/Jim Lampley hysteria at ringside for the first few rounds, by the time halfway point arrived no less an authority than guest analyst Andre Ward began to sense that Algieri’s tale was a combination of both high-end resilience and tactical genius.
Down the stretch, in fact, as unofficial scorer Steve Weisfeld insisted Provodnikov’s lead was insurmountable, Ward countered by saying he thought Algieri was authoring “a boxing clinic.”
And when the scorecards were read—two 114-112s in Algieri’s favor against one 117-109 for Provodnikov—it was apparent that strength in numbers had outdone strength in sentiment.
Even Kellerman conceded he may have scored a round or two in Provodnikov’s favor simply because of how Algieri’s face had looked and not because the Russian was performing any more effectively.
As for the winner and new champion, he said he’d known it all along.
“The shots I was getting hit with in the first four rounds they were big, but they were lunging shots. The only shot that hurt me was the first one,” he said. “I anticipated them. I saw them coming as he came forward. I know my eye probably looked like a nice juicy steak to him, and I could see in his eyes as he was about to throw the shots at me.”
Is Chris Algieri simply a bad style match for Ruslan Provodnikov?
Kellerman and Lampley kept blowing air into the flagging Provodnikov balloon after the interviews, saying the beaten favorite would be wise to pursue other big-fight options like Brandon Rios and Juan Manuel Marquez with the rationale that their higher-profile styles would be a better mesh than Algieri’s.
They’re probably correct, but while such a career strategy will mean Algieri’s reign could start off on a far lower profile than his win warrants, it seemed the furthest thing from his mind as he flung the WBO strap across his shoulder for the first time.
“I showed the boxing world who Chris Algieri is, but it’s funny I have not thought past this one day for months,” he said. “I don’t even know what June 15 is going to look like.”
Even through one open eye, the guess here is that it’ll be as pretty a day as he’s ever seen.