Tonight on HBO Boxing After Dark, Ruslan Provodnikov returns to make the first defense of his WBO junior welterweight title against Chris Algieri, with Demetrius Andrade also making the first defense of a WBO title, as he puts his junior middleweight belt up against Brian Rose.
It is, admittedly, not the most exciting doubleheader on paper -- or maybe that should be "it's not the most competitive doubleheader on paper," because Provodnikov (23-2, 16 KO) is as exciting as fighters get. Arturo Gatti's hallowed name is thrown around quite a bit whenever someone has a couple good fights, but Provodnikov really does have that Gatti spirit. Here are five good (hopefully!) reasons to turn in to tonight's show.
1. Ruslan Provodnikov. Period. (That's why I put that period there!)
Everyone should want to see Ruslan Provodnikov fight, every time he fights. "The Siberian Rocky" was a fighter known for his exciting appearances on ESPN Friday Night Fights, but it was thought that he was going to top out at that level, especially after losing to Mauricio Herrera in January 2011. But he seems to have flipped a switch starting in 2012, and he's been mauling guys since then, including a shockingly one-sided shellacking of Mike Alvarado last October. He's all action, all the time. The guy's motor just does not stop, and he fights to hurt his opponents, and knock them out. Ruslan doesn't have the "scoring points" style in him. He just can't fight that way, and he doesn't.
Also, he once had an incredibly awkward interview/hang with Tila Tequila. At the time, Ms. Tequila was mildly famous in a D-list internet celebrity sort of way, while Provodnikov was a total unknown. Now, Provodnikov is an HBO main event fighter, and Tila has apparently fallen off the planet.
2. Fresh faces!
Sometimes, a hive mind mentality takes over boxing media and fans, and I think we've seen some of that happen this year. We're seeing a lot of unexpected names in HBO and Showtime main event slots, and this has not been particularly well-received. Of course, some boxing writers were all pissed off when there was a Marcos Maidana-Keith Thurman fight proposed for HBO a couple years back, which fell through. Hey, anyone wanna revisit that one today?
Some of these fights in 2014 have been the mismatches that were blasted before the fight (Cedric Agnew against Sergey Kovalev). But others have turned into good fights and harrowing nights for the favored man (Danny Garcia's narrow escape against Mauricio Herrera). I think, personally, that it's a nice thing to see some new names in the mix. Of course, that might be because any switcheroo in The Usual is good to me at this point. Your mileage may vary.
3. Andrade has the skills to be a top fighter at 154
"Boo Boo" was criticized fairly heavily by ESPN's Teddy Atlas when showcased on Friday Night Fights earlier in his pro career, as Atlas seemed to believe that Andrade (20-0, 13 KO) was mentally soft, and that he'd have troubles at the higher levels. We've yet to see him truly tested in that regard, and chances are Rose won't do that, either, as Andrade is a massive -1400 favorite for this bout. So that will probably remain to be seen. But Andrade looked good in beating Vanes Martirosyan, a talented fighter, in his last bout for the vacant WBO belt, and his physical tools have never been a question. The guy has the skills. It may just be about finding that spark. Maybe he already has, maybe that's still to come, maybe we'll see it tonight.
4. Brooklyn Boxing continues to expand
When Golden Boy Promotions signed a deal to promote fights at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Richard Schaefer, then the CEO of GBP, said he'd have no problem "allowing" other promoters to promote fights at the venue. He wasn't looking for exclusivity so much as a guarantee of dates at the venue for his company. (And probably exclusivity to block Top Rank, but, y'know.)
This will be the first fight card at the arena not promoted by Golden Boy. The show was originally scheduled for Long Island, where Algieri is very popular as a hometown fighter, but the move to Barclays gives this a bigger fight feel, and it's deserved. It will also hopefully expose Provodnikov to a wider audience than he's seen to date, at least as an A-side fighter getting all the hype. Barclays has been a huge addition to the American boxing game, giving us another reliable, quality venue, and the crowds seem to be improving constantly, with a lot of real fight fans coming in.
5. You just never know
Look, a little over a year ago, Provodnikov fought Tim Bradley on HBO in what was labeled a mismatch going into the fight. Provodnikov bounced Bradley all over the damn ring and lost a narrow decision in what turned out to be the Fight of the Year. If you haven't seen it, please, watch the fight now:
Algieri (19-0, 8 KO) may indeed be physically overmatched, but Provodnikov can be outboxed, and he can be cut up, and cuts can turn into a major factor very quick in boxing. Algieri is relatively untested and this is for sure a huge step up, but sometimes that's exactly what a fighter needs to show the world how good he really is. Is it likely? No, which is why the odds are what they are (Provodnikov -700, Algieri +450). But it's certainly not inconceivable.
And despite the even larger odds in the co-feature, don't totally count out Brian Rose (25-1-1, 7 KO), either.