By Cliff Rold
There are some things that just always bring a little extra ease of mind.
A cold beer after working outdoors in the sun…
Warm popcorn and your favorite old movie…
Knowing that Ruslan Provodnikov is fighting in a couple days.
The latter, for boxing fans, is pure comfort food. Last week, fans got a dose of how tasty comfort food can be. After a year largely drowning in mismatches and fights that didn’t meet their perceived possibilities, Orlando Salido and Francisco Vargas came through.
Salido is becoming a regular in that regard.
It’s hard to believe a guy who has been around so long would become the sort of action generator he has in the last five or six years. Like Glen Johnson a decade ago at light heavyweight, he’s found his best game late in life and the fans benefit.
Salido, with four straight Fight of the Year contenders, is boxing comfort food.
Provodnikov (25-4, 18 KO) has been a regular in that regard for years. Since his days as an ESPN2 staple, he’s been the sort of fighter you can circle the calendar for every time. No, he’s not what some might call ‘elite.’ He doesn’t always win.
What Provodnikov does is regularly meet the expectations of the viewing audience coming in. He comes forward. He takes leather. He lands leather. He fights his ass off.
He’s Mr. Reliable in that regard.
This weekend, Mr. Reliable, the debatable loser of the 2013 Fight of the Year against Timothy Bradley, faces the decidedly defeated John Molina (28-6, 23 KO) of the 2014 Fight of the Year against Lucas Matthysse. We probably won’t get another Vargas-Salido.
We can rely on knowing we’re going to get a fight (Showtime, Saturday, 9 PM EST/6 PM PST).
No title will be on the line. It’s not likely to draw the biggest rating of the night with HBO going head to head. That’s okay.
There is always room for Provodnikov.
How much fight will we see?
Much of that may depend on Molina. Since his loss to Matthysse he hasn’t been nearly as good as he was that night. He lost a tough decision to aged veteran Humberto Soto and was almost casually outboxed by Adrien Broner. The Soto fight was rugged stuff though as have been other Molina outings like his stoppage of Hank Lundy and last round miracle against Mickey Bey.
Molina has been stopped twice but, matched right, he makes good fights.
Provodnikov makes them pretty good even when not matched right. He looked outclassed to come heading into his bout with Bradley. That turned out to be far from the case. He’s the sort of fighter fellow BoxingScene scribe Steve Kim has pointed to as a man you might fight once but few want to see twice.
In the old days, we might have called him a hard man. Provodnikov has the sort of mug that wouldn’t be out of place in old black and white photos. With at least a little physical resemblance, he’s almost like a welterweight-ish version of the old heavyweight contender George Chuvalo. What he lacks in athleticism he makes up for in heavy hands, a ridiculous chin, and deep reserves of ring character.
He showed all of them against Bradley, in winning a 140 lb. title against Mike Alvarado, and last April against Matthysse. While he lost, Provodnikov was the one coming on in the second half, bleeding and swollen and taking some unreal shots from the more technically refined Argentine. In the Alvarado fight, the most indelible memory of Provodnikov to date was made.
Alvarado, later in the fight, landed a building leveling shot to the chin. Provodnikov came forward, a mess of spit flowing from him like one might see on a pit bull. It was what Jim Ross might call a slobber knocker.
He won that fight not long after. That sort of thing can just collapse a will.
Already 32, Provodnikov might not last many more years. Even if his heart holds up, his flesh can only take so much. As long as he’s still around, he remains worthy of a look every time he steps in the ring.
Provodnikov fights are fun. Last weekend was fun. Comfort food always is.
Vasyl Lomachenko may set the record for fastest fighter ever to titles in two weight classes. How one answers that question depends on whether his six wins in the pro-am World Series of Boxing. Most don’t count them…72 win Bulls or 73 win Warriors? The ballot is still out…The Demetrius Andrade-Willie Nelson fight on the Provodnikov-Molina undercard is another to keep an eye on. Andrade is talented but it’s still hard to erase some memories of a listless Andrade early in his career. Nelson might be the most interesting technical challenge of his career…Seen what the original copies of Muhammad Ali vs. Superman are going for on eBay. Keeping mine anyways…NXT Takeover hit another home run…Mikey Garcia’s return is imminent. Good fighter but did anyone really miss him? For a guy with his power, he’s never been all that compelling. Let’s hope that changes in his second act.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com