Ruslan Provodnikov's stock is tumbling. | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images Sport
Now what, Top Rank?
Ruslan Provodnikov was built up to be a Russian soul crusher. Instead, the now-former WBO 140-pound champ ended up looking simply overrated after letting little-known Chris Algieri pull himself up from the canvas twice in the first round to outbox him with a grotesquely swollen eye, nabbing a shocking split decision victory in Brooklyn. It was, admittedly, a close fight that could have gone either way. However, even if Provodnikov managed to pull off the close decision, his stock was sure to take a tumble given how he let Algieri fight his way off the mat. Now, Bob Arum and company have found themselves back at the drawing board when it comes to building up Top Rank's next big 140- or 147-pounder.
After Provodnikov's war with Timothy Bradley in March of last year and the way he decimated Mike Alvarado in October, the “Siberian Rocky” looked like the next big thing over at Top Rank Promotions and a potential opponent for Manny Pacquiao or Juan Manuel Marquez. He lands with debilitating power and can more than certainly take a punch or two. When he was unable to land a marquee fight with Marquez, it was announced that he'd face the unheralded Long Island native Algieri. A collective groan swept through tbe boxing community from those that were disappointed that Provodnikov had been matched up so softly after the demolition of Mike Alvarado. Although Algieri was unbeaten, the most recognizable name on his resume was Mike Arnaoutis. To make matters worse, of Algieri's 19 wins, only eight had come by knockout. The last fighter the 30-year-old had stopped was Winston Mathis and his 7-3-1 record back in 2012.
Conventional wisdom suggested that Algieri wouldn't have the pop in his punches to slow down a wrecking ball like Provodnikov and he'd eventually be staring up at the lights inside of 12 rounds. That's almost exactly what happened in the very first round, and after the first knockdown. Provodnikov smelled blood in the water and again put his foe down again with bad intentions. For a minute, it almost looked as if the fight would end fast enough as to not interfere with the UFC 164 headliner between Demetrious Johnson-Ali Bagautinov for the flyweight title fight that was taking place simultaneously. Algieri had gone down twice in the time it took the flyweights to walk to the Octagon, but somehow he weathered the storm.
Then, he was no longer weathering the storm, he was controlling it.
After tasting the Russian's power, Algieri adjusted and did what Timothy Bradley was expected to do against Provodnikov: use speed and lateral movement to outbox him. Although he couldn't hurt him, Algieri's footwork forced the plodding Russian to give chase. The New Yorker strafed him with jabs and did his best to avoid the champion's tremendous punching power. Although there was a significant disparity in the damage delivered, Algieri's consistent punch output and accuracy began chipping away at Provodnikov's early lead and more importantly, his aura as a tireless wrecking machine.
It wasn't so much about who won as it was about watching one of the sport's hotter, more exciting young talents look little more than average. Perhaps it wouldn't shock so much if we remembered Provodnikov before the Bradley and Alvarado bouts sent his stock skyrocketing.
During his way up the ranks, Provodnikov was a regular on ESPN's “Friday Night Fights”series and impressed with his thudding power. However, his boxing deficiencies were prevalent and his struggles with tricky boxers surfaced against the game Mauricio Herrera in January 2011 -- the same Herrera that gave heavy-hitting Danny Garcia trouble in a recent fight. Similar to the Algieri fight, Herrera was busted up early but held his own until the very end, fighting back over the second half of the fight with volume punching to earn a contentious nod. The two takeaways that night were that Provodnikov had defensive lapses and would struggle with those who could absorb his power. The Alvarado demolition and Bradley's willingness to brawl allowed us to conveniently forget those notes before Algieri jogged our memories.
A similar fight took place Saturday with Algieri landing 288 of 993 punches while Provodnikov connected with 205 of 776 louder, harder ones. But judges Don Trella and Tom Schreck went with Algieri's output, giving him 114-112 cards, and now Provodnikov will have to build his way back toward a major, marquee fight, much to the chagrin of Arum and trainer Freddie Roach.
The problem now is that there are no viable foes for the aging legends Pacquiao or Marquez, who will likely meet again at the end of the year simply due to a dearth of options. Provodnikov has regressed to the mean, joining the second tier of Top Rank talent in the weight range, and while squaring off with a fellow hitter like Brandon Rios might offer all kinds of brutal entertainment, his chance at the spotlight and to try to dethrone an icon, has gone up in smoke.
If a contender for Top Rank doesn't emerge in this weight range soon, let's raise a glass to Pacquiao-Marquez 5, 6 and 7.