By Graham Houston
Ruslan Provodnikov landed the heavier blows but the name of the game is still boxing, and Chris Algieri boxed his way to a split but deserved victory in Saturday night’s junior welterweight title fight. This was a resolute and remarkable performance by the former kickboxing champion from Long Island, NY. Down twice in the first round, his right eye swelling shut from below, nose bloody, Algieri had about the worst start to a fight imaginable.
Yet by the second round Algieri was boxing, moving and scoring points as if nothing had happened. Scoring points. That was the key. Algieri looked beaten up but he was throwing and landing more punches than his opponent.
Algieri wasn’t exactly tapping his way to victory, either. Some of his jabs were knocking Provodnikov’s head back. Algieri ripped some hurtful-looking hooks to the body and landed some solid-looking right hands. He is an excellent instinctive fighter. Even with his right eye compromised, Algieri seemed to be seeing the punches coming until almost the last moments of the contest.
The fight-plan was perfect. Provodnikov — strong, tough, relentless, heavy-handed — just couldn’t pin down Algieri long enough to have a chance of overwhelming him. “When he thinks you’re going to move this way, move that way,” seemed to be part of the instruction from Algieri’s trainer. It worked. Provodnikov was the hunter but the quarry was elusive — and hitting back.
As Steve Weisfeld pointed out in the HBO commentary, there is no “magic formula” for judges when it comes to deciding whether harder but less-frequent punches count for more than a higher punch-volume. Thus Weisfeld and judge Max De Luca had Provodnikov winning 117-109 while judges Don Trella and Tom Schreck scored it in Algieri’s favour by 114-112.
I didn’t keep a running score but sensed the fight was very close, and on adding up my card I found I had the fight scored 113-113, 7-5 in rounds in Algieri’s favour but that 10-7 opening round for Provodnikov.
If Tom Schreck had scored the last round in Provodnikov’s favour, as did the other two judges, the fight would have come out a draw. When the always astute Freddie Roach told Provodnikov “It’s way too close” after 10 rounds, you knew that this fight was going right down to the wire, neck and neck — but even with the right eye shut tight, Algieri was landing enough punches to keep the rounds close enough for debate in the home straight.
The fight reminded me of Erik Morales versus Marcos Maidana, when Morales’s eye closed tight in the first round, except that Morales wasn’t dropped and didn’t win (although one judge had him earning a draw).
Andre Ward made the point in the HBO commentary that it is important that a fighter never stops believing in himself even when things are going wrong — and Algieri never lost the belief that he could and indeed would win.
When Max Kellerman asked Algieri basically what he proved to the boxing world in this fight, Algieri responded: “I showed who Chris Algieri is.” That he did.