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HBO Boxing coverage: Matthysse vs. Provodnikov

by Jeremy Wall

On Saturday, April 18th, Lucas Matthysse (37-3, 34 KOs) defeated Ruslan Provodnikov (27-4, 17 KOs) via majority decision after twelve rounds at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York. It was an exciting fight that didn’t quite live up to the hype that it was a guaranteed match of the year candidate, but still provided exciting action. It was part of a split-site double header on HBO that included Terence Crawford (26-0, 18 KOs) knocking out Thomas Dulorme (22-2, 14 KOs) in the sixth round at the College Park Center at the University of Texas in Arlington for the vacant WBO Light Welterweight title. Both fights took place at 140 pounds.

Provodnikov-Matthyse took place three days after the 30th anniversary of Hagler-Hearns, one of the greatest boxing wars of all time. There were heavy expectations that Provodnikov vs Matthyse would be a candidate for fight of the year. In 2014, the Boxing Writers Association of America voted Matthyse's 11th round knockout of John Molina Jr as fight of the year. In 2013, they voted for Timothy Bradley's decision win over Provodnikov, which also won Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year. Both HBO and Showtime were interested in the fight. HBO got the rights after Banner Promotions, Provodnikov's promoter, and Golden Boy, Matthyse's promoter, worked out a 50-50 split for both fighters.

It was an exciting fight, although not to the level of Hagler-Hearns or anything like that. It was a close decision that reasonably could have been judged either way, although the punching stats heavily favoured Matthyse. Matthyse, 32, landed 327 punches (32%) compared to Provodnikov's 201 (27%). Provodnikov, 32, took 303 punches to the head. Not that he seemed to notice.

The stats, though, were misleading, as when Matthyse won rounds, he dominated by throwing far more punches, particularly power punches. But Provodnikov would come back every couple of rounds and rock Matthyse and win a round or two, before Matthyse would take over again.

The judges had the fight 114-114, and 115-113 twice. Matthyse won the early rounds. He quickly opened a cut just above the left eye of Provodnikov. That eye started to swell as the fight wore on. The cut was clearly bothering Provodnikov, as it was opened in the first round and created a stream of blood pouring down Provodnikov's eye for the rest of the bout.

Despite the cut, Provodnikov remained undeterred. He is an action fighter with a face like a cinderblock. Neither fighter scored a knock down, even though some nasty power shots were traded throughout the entire fight. In the early rounds in particular, Provodnikov ate some hard shots that probably would have dropped a lesser fighter. But Provodnikov kept pressing forward, eating power shots from Matthyse in order to try and score power shots of his own.

Late in the fight Provodnikov made a comeback. Matthyse seemed like he had the decision in the bag, even though Provodnikov was never down by more than a couple of rounds at most and there was never anything besides a 10-9 round for either fighter. Provodnikov spent most of the fight trying to catch up to Matthyse, who was always just ahead on points. Oddly, though, late in the fight Matthyse's corner told him he was ahead by a substantial margin, which wasn't close to true.

In the final couple of frames, Provodnikov came out looking for the knock down. Provodnikov was able to close the gap by about a point or two late in the fight and one knock down by Provodnikov might have put him ahead on the scorecards, even if it didn't finish the fight. In both the 11th and 12th rounds, it looked like Provodnikov might get the come-from-behind win. Although Matthyse lost the rounds, he was able to hold on, avoid getting knocked down, and won the decision.

Matthyse went into the fight coming off two wins over Molina in April and Roberto Ortiz in September, the later which Matthyse won by knockout in the second round. Known as "The Machine", Matthyse is from Argentina and is an interesting case of a rare fighter who was once advised by Al Haymon, but split with him to resign with Golden Boy. For the most part in boxing during the past year, it has been the other way around with fighters leaving their promoters to sign with Haymon.

“Mario Arano is [Matthyse’s] manager, and we did a deal with his manager," said De La Hoya, Golden Boy’s promoter. "Al Haymon is an adviser to Mario and Lucas. We went directly to his manager, and his manager and Lucas are loyal to us. We built Lucas Matthysse and got him the fights that have put him in this position, therefore he re-signed with us because he wants to continue on this path to the end of his career.”

Provodnikov is known as "The Siberian Rocky". He is from Beryozovo, a village of 7,500 in western Siberia located in an oil rich area of Russia that has been heavily exploited since the 1960s. His father is Russian and his mother is Mansi, who are an endangered indigenous people with a population of a little over 11,000 as of 2002. When he was young, Provodnikov would commute ten hours to Moscow to train. And now he fights like someone with that precise biographical background.

Provodnikov was coming into the fight off a fifth-round TKO of Jose Luis Castillo in November. Provodnikov had a previous upset loss to Chris Algieri in June. Provodnikov knocked Algieri down twice in the first round, but ended up losing a split-decision. He also had a recent win over Mike Alvarado in October 2013 and a unanimous decision loss to Timothy Bradley in March 2013. Provodnikov has a reputation as one of the best action fighters in boxing with an incredible chin, but whose skill level is not quite at the level of many of the best boxers at 140 pounds.

Before Mayweather-Pacquiao was announced, Provodnikov was one of the names floated as a possible opponent for Pacquiao in the spring.

"There has been some conversation that if Mayweather does not happen with Pacquiao, then Ruslan would be one of the players that is being looked at to talk to but I believe that there are three or four fighters that they’re looking at,” Artie Pellulo of Banner Promotions, Provodnikov’s promoter, told Ring Magazine earlier this year. With Provodnikov coming off a loss, if Mayweather beats Pacquiao, Pacquiao-Provodnikov could be a good fight with both boxers coming off a loss. Before the bout against Matthyse was made, other opponents that had been discussed for Provodnikov were a rematch with Timothy Bradley and a match against Marcos Maidana.

It would seem likely, though, that Matthyse will now face Crawford, who opened HBO's broadcast with a sixth round knockout of Dulorme. The possibility of Crawford facing the winner of Provodnikov-Matthyse was even noted by Max Kellerman of HBO during his post-fight interview with Crawford.

Like Matthyse, Crawford came out of his fight on Saturday looking like a fighter ready for a new challenge. In the early rounds of the fight against Dulorme, Crawford seemed tentative, though. The first few rounds were close, although many scorecards had Dulorme ahead.

In round six, however, Crawford came seemingly out of nowhere to knock Dulorme down three times in succession early in the round. First, Crawford connected with a right hand and then dropped Dulorme with a combo. Dulorme made the eight count, but with more than two minutes left in the round it felt academic.

Crawford went on to knock Dulorme down again. Dulorme again made the eight count. But Crawford then finished him with a third knockdown at 1:51 of the round. Dulorme would have been ahead on scorecards before the sixth round. It was interesting to watch because Crawford has been criticized in the past for holding a lot and being too passive, waiting too long to throw punches. He didn't hold a lot against Dulorme, but Crawford was passive in the early rounds before turning it on in the sixth and scoring the three straight knock downs.

Crawford, 27, was coming into his fight against Dulorme off three major wins in 2014 and has been awarded the Sugar Ray Robinson Fighter of the Year Award for last year by the Boxing Writers Association of America. Crawford defeated Ricky Burns in Scotland by unanimous decision in March 2014 to win the vacant WBO Lightweight title. Crawford then fought twice in his hometown of Omaha, knocking out Yuriorkis Gamboa in the ninth round in June and beating Raymundo Beltran by unanimous decision in November, winning the vacant The Ring Lightweight title in the latter fight. Crawford vacated both 135-pound titles to move up to 140 pounds to face Dulorme.

"I don't think that would have been the best move [staying at 135 pounds] being that my body is growing and I'm filling out a little more," Crawford told ESPN before the fight. "This is the right time to move up before I start having serious problems because I struggled hard to make weight for that fight."

Dulorme, 25, has fought at both welterweight and junior welterweight. He was considered a major prospect in boxing, however, going undefeated in sixteen bouts until he suffered a seventh round knockout loss to Luis Carlos Abregu in October 2012. After the loss, Dulorme picked up six wins in a row before losing to Crawford on Saturday.

During the broadcast, HBO also mentioned the chance of a fight between Crawford and Danny Garcia, but that seemed an odd thing to say since Garcia is moving up in weight to 147 pounds and fights for Premier anyway. But Bob Arum, Crawford's promoter, has talked about Crawford also moving up to 147 pounds because Haymon has many of the top 140 pound fighters signed and there aren't many major fights for Arum to make for Crawford at 140.

After beating Beltran, there was no one for Crawford to fight at 135, so the move to 140 made sense. Matthyse is ranked number one at 140 pounds by The Ring, just underneath champion Danny Garcia. With Garcia leaving the division and Matthyse scoring the decision win over Provodnikov, Matthyse would now have to be the best fighter at 140. Crawford vs Matthyse is the obvious match to make. Crawford is promoted by Top Rank and Matthyse by Golden Boy.

If Crawford does move to 147, he could fight Timothy Bradley or Brandon Rios, who are both boxers promoted by Top Rank who compete at 147. He could also fight Pacquiao, who is also a Top Rank guy, depending on what happens when Mayweather and Pacquiao fght. Crawford isn't much of a name and a fight against Pacquiao would bolster his marquee status, especially if Crawford won. Pacquiao has also been talking retirement within the next couple of years.

For Crawford, the bigger fight was probably against Provodnikov, but that seems unlikely with Matthyse winning the decision in their fight. Matthyse did mention in his post-fight interview that he wants to fight either Mayweather or Pacquiao (with that kind of pay day, who wouldn't), but Matthyse facing either fighter seems unlikely. Crawford said he'll fight whoever promoters want.

The fights on HBO, Showtime, and Fox capped off a weekend of heavy airtime for combat sports, despite the NHL and NBA both being in the playoffs and the MLB season being underway. The two HBO fights went up against the NBA playoffs on ESPN, the NHL playoffs on NBC, MLB on Fox Sports 1, the UFC on Fox with Luke Rockhold submitting Lyoto Machida to earn a Middleweight title shot, and Andrzej Fonfara stopping Julio Cesar Chavez Jr on Showtime.

The HBO broadcast of both fights would normally draw above 1 million viewers on HBO. Provodnikov's fight against Algieri drew 1.017 million viewers and Crawford's fight against Gamboa drew 1.208 million viewers, both on HBO. HBO viewership doesn't fluctuate wildly. However, tonight there was so much competition that perhaps viewership will be somewhat down. Earlier this year, HBO drew 1.152 million viewers for Kovalev-Pascal; 862,000 viewers for Golovkin-Murray on a Saturday afternoon; 1.252 million viewers for Rios-Alvarado III; and, 1.24 million viewers for Wilder-Stiverne.

The HBO boxing broadcast began at 9:45pm ET. The Crawford-Delorme fight went on first, with round one beginning just as the Luke Rockhold-Lyoto Machida main event on UFC's Fox broadcast was finishing its first round. The Showtime broadcast with Chavez-Fonfara began at 10pm ET and that fight ended after the Provodnikov-Matthyse fight was over.

On Fox, Rockhold would finish Machida with a rear naked choke in the second round in a surprisingly lopsided fight a few minutes after the HBO broadcast began. The last five UFC on Fox ratings have ranged between 1.98 million and 3.22 million average viewers. UFC drew 2.82 for their UFC on Fox in January. Without heavy competition, a UFC on Fox broadcast would typically bring in 2 to 2.5 million viewers on average, but with Saturday night's competition viewership may be split.

Fox also aired UFC prelims on Big Fox for the first time. Prelims for UFC on Fox broadcasts usually air on Fox Sports 1, or on FX before FS1 launched in 2013. The prelims aired in a block from 6-8pm ET, with the main card airing from 8-10pm ET. That meant for someone who tried to watch as much MMA and boxing on Saturday night as possible, you could begin watching the UFC Fight Pass fights at 5pm ET and would still be watching the shoulder programming for Mayweather-Pacquiao until after 1am ET, without a minute of break and often with overlap.

Elsewhere, NBC was airing an NHL playoff game between New York and Pittsburgh from 8pm ET to 11, which ran against the main card of UFC on Fox, as well as the first half of boxing on both HBO and Showtime. ESPN had Milwaukee and Chicago in the NBA playoffs from 7pm ET to 9:30, against the UFC show, but not boxing. At 9:30pm ET, ESPN had Dallas against Houston, which ran until 12, against the UFC main event as well as both boxing shows. Fox Sports 1 had Yankees at Rays from 7pm ET to 10 and Orioles at Red Sox from 4pm ET to 7. The early game went against the UFC prelims and the later game went against the UFC main card and the beginning of boxing. The NHL and MLB games aren't terribly important (although NHL was on the main NBC network), but the NBA playoffs might take a ratings bite out of both UFC and boxing.

About fifteen minutes into the HBO broadcast, Showtime's broadcast of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr vs Andrzej Fonfara at 173 pounds was beginning at the StubHub Center in LA. It was an interesting fight because Chavez is one of the biggest ratings draws in boxing, but he was going up against an underrated Fonfara. I saw Fonfara fight Adonis Stevenson live in Montreal last year and he performed much better against Adonis than anyone expected. Fonfara pulled off a minor upset over Chavez. In the ninth round, Chavez was knocked down for the first time in his career and quit on the stool before coming out for the tenth round.

Chavez has been a ratings draw on HBO. This was his first fight on Showtime. Chavez's second fight against Brian Vera in March 2014 drew 1.39 million viewers on HBO. HBO boxing typically outdraws Showtime and HBO scheduling a double-header against Chavez's debut on Showtime was certainly no accident. It will be interesting to see what kind of ratings Chavez brings to Showtime with all of the heavy ratings competition on Saturday night. The loss to Fonfara will damage Chavez's reputation, which is already hurt among many who feel that he is overhyped based on sharing his father's name.

There are also a lot politics going on behind the scenes with Chavez. Last year, Chavez signed with Al Haymon. It was interesting that Chavez-Fonfara took place on Showtime and not a Premier show because both Chavez and Fonfara are "advised" by Haymon. Chavez leaving Top Rank to sign with Haymon, however, has resulted in a lawsuit with Bob Arum claiming that Chavez owes one more fight to Top Rank. The lawsuit may not have much merit because Top Rank was unsuccessful in preventing Chavez-Fonfara from taking place, or perhaps there has been a quiet settlement.

Chavez leaving Top Rank also resulted in a change in the broadcasting of Chavez fights in Mexico. The two major boxing network rivals in Mexico are the companies Televisa and TV Azteca, both of which own a number of channels in the country. Chavez fights always aired on TV Azteca, but TV Azteca is affiliated with Top Rank. So, when Chavez left Top Rank, he left TV Azteca, and his fight against Fonfara was the first to air on Televisa, just like in the US it was the first time a Chavez fight aired on Showtime. Televisa is also the company that handles the UFC Network in Mexico.

Televisa was also the home of Canelo Alvarez, but Alvarez's fight on May 9th against James Kirkland will now air on TV Azteca, based on a new deal worked out by Golden Boy (Canelo's promoter) with the network. So, that means going forward Televisa has Chavez fights, whereas TV Azteca as Canelo fights, which was the reverse of how it worked before.

But politics are nothing new to boxing. The only difference now is how the stakes have changed with the amount of money Al Haymon is bringing into boxing. All of these minor political movements add up over time. To fans, they seem insignificant and frustrating, another example being the recent cancelation of the purse bid for a Kovalev-Stevenson title fight at light-heavyweight. But if fans want boxing on free television, there is going to be a ton of nasty politics that come with the sort of major changes Haymon is bringing. So, you have to tolerate complex politics if you desire changes in the sport.

Both HBO and Showtime also debuted shoulder programming for the Mayweather-Pacquiao pay per view, which takes place on May 2nd. HBO aired "Mayweather-Pacquiao At Last", focusing on Pacquiao (who is an HBO fighter promoted by Top Rank, Bob Arum's promotion that has a close relationship with the broadcaster) beginning at 11:45pm ET. Oddly, Showtime aired "All Access Mayweather vs Pacquiao", focusing on Mayweather, beginning at 12:30am ET, which meant that the two shows overlapped for 15 minutes.

Friday night also included some minor boxing television. Jay-Z's Roc Nation had its second of three time buys on Fox Sports 1 that night, featuring 21-year-old Murat Gassive (21-0, 15 KOs) knocking out 35 year old Felix Cora Jr (25-7-2, 14 KOs), which went up against Friday Night Fights on ESPN2 and shoulder programming for Premier Boxing on Spike.

With Premier Boxing all over television and the upcoming Mayweather-Pacquiao fight on May 2nd, there is a ton of boxing during the upcoming few weeks. Premier is back for their second show on Spike on Friday, April 24th with Dirrell-Jack. Wladimir Klitschko defends his Heavyweight titles against Bryant Jennings on HBO at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, April 25th, which goes up aganst UFC 186 in Montreal. Showtime has more shoulder programming for Mayweather-Pacquiao All Access on Saturday night, too, at 7:30pm ET and HBO has their next round of shoulder programming for that bout after the Klitschko fight. Showtime then comes back with another All Access show on Mayweather on April 29th at 10pm ET.

On May 1st, Top Rank debuts on truTV, a Turner network station that is working to promote Top Rank on tru in conjunction with HBO. The idea is to use the truTV show to feature lesser fighters and to promo the bigger fights on HBO. The first Top Rank show on truTV has Ao vs Beltran and ads for the show where all over Saturday night's HBO broadcast. They are then back on truTV on May 8th and May 15th.

Mayweather-Pacquiao takes place May 2nd at 9pm ET. They are looking to break boxing's pay per view buy rate record of 2.45 million buys for Mayweather-De La Hoya in 2007. Premier is back on CBS on May 9th at 4pm ET. Canelo Alvarez fights James Kirkland on HBO the same day at 9pm ET and Showtime airs an All Access show covering the result of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight also on May 9th. Golovkin fights Willie Monroe Jr on HBO on May 16th. Premier is back for their third show on NBC on May 23rd and then they have their third show on Spike on May 29th. The final episode of Friday Night Fights on ESPN2 airs on May 22nd before it is also being replaced by Premier.

So clear your schedule.