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Spring Torrents: Matthysse, Provodnikov and The Next Great Fight

Lucas Matthysse and Ruslan Provodnikov are on a collision course, as the two junior welterweight action stars meet on April 18.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

"Hey there, Russia, Mother Country, cottages in iron guise,
Never-ending land of wonder, vistas blue that suck the eyes."

It's been two years since our last great fight. Twenty four months since a crowd of just over 3,000 witnessed Tim Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov leave a piece of themselves on the bloodied mat of the Home Depot Center. Those who bore witness must surely feel the memories are indelible. Those who watched from home can only applaud and wish they'd made the journey.

An unbowed Provodnikov, left eye grotesquely swollen from the sixth round on, blood curdling in a fattened smear across his cheek, slumping to his knees at the final bell, seemingly unsure of exactly what it was he had wrought. The man facing him from behind a glazed mask - he who had entered as pariah - grinned vacantly as he recalled the concussion suffered less than three minutes into the contest. And to cap it all, a disbelieving Freddie Roach fixed his veteran eyes on both men as they embraced in the aftermath, appearing uncertain as to how they had summoned the energy for one last clinch.

It is a scene that has largely served to define the careers of Bradley and Provodnikov ever since. Though the fuzziness would hang over the former for months afterwards, his victory against Juan Manuel Marquez dispelled any questions about his status amongst the elite of the sport. While the Siberian Rocky would seal glory of his own that autumn, breaking renowned tough guy Mike Alvarado and screaming into the rarefied Colorado night.

"Like a passing holy pilgrim, on your fields I turn my gaze,
On the outskirts of poor villages, rustling poplars pine and fade."

Just 9 weeks after the last great fight, its boardwalks drenched by a billowing rainstorm, Atlantic City sat back and watched something similarly brutal unfold. This time in the form of Lucas Matthysse's left hand, the sight of a seemingly marginal fighter shattering the glass ceiling was no less compelling second time around. Again we were treated to a crowning of the furious other, as the Argentine destroyed Lamont Peterson in three rounds and finally secured a high profile victory on American soil. Neither Matthysse nor Provodnikov waited to be offered. They sniffed blood, bared their teeth, and ran until their jaws locked.

"Smelling of sweet honey and apples, churches celebrate the Lord
And the sounds of festive dancing, fill the fields and meadows broad."

Yet while the Russian continued his ascent, one mile high to be exact, as he claimed a slice of the 140lb title in October 2013, Matthysse would again fall short on the grandest stage. There would be no recourse to questionable judging this time, as Danny Garcia outfoxed him, shut his eye so tight the doctor's torch could barely pierce between the lids, and even put him down for the first time in his career. Broken-hearted, Matthysse spoke openly of retirement in the aftermath, while Garcia took the glory and applause, even if he couldn't exactly hear the latter, spending several weeks suffering partial deafness courtesy of the challenger's vicious right hand.

His vessel wrecked, his white whale gone, La Maquina returned to shallower waters and knocked off Roberto Ortiz and John Molina with typical brutality. The Molina fight in particular was a tremendously fun affair, but there's no doubt something seemed to have unsettled Matthysse, fractionally displacing the beast who levelled Peterson, Ajose, and Humberto Soto en route to cementing a reputation as one of the sport's most devastating punchers. He's seemed slightly pale and off colour ever since the Garcia loss, but there can be no better shot at reputation in the minds of blood-and-guts loving fans than a bout with the Rocky from the wastes.

"Off into the open country, down a beaten path I run
And to meet me, light as catkins, Peals of girlish laughter come."

His opponent can be out-boxed, of that there is no doubt. A defeat to Chris Algieri, however contentious in some corners, is testament to his limitations. But at the same time, even in defeat, he is capable of exhibiting superhuman levels of determination allied to an unbreakable sense of self. He knows exactly who he is, and it remains to be seen whether Matthysse can still say the same. The Argentine has previously cited Floyd Mayweather as the only fighter with the capacity to surprise him - such is the unique combination of skill and athleticism he possesses - but I'm not sure Provodnikov's patented overhand right will be an especially welcome visitor come April 18.

"If the heavenly host should beg me, "Come to live in heaven above!"
I shall say, "Don't give me heaven, but the Russia that I love."

Though I favour Matthysse to win, he could well find himself flummoxed by the sheer purity of will embodied in his opponent. And so perhaps the stage is finally set for the next great fight. Or something that would at least begin to cleanse the sour taste that lingers in the mouths of many observers, following a year of inactivity, catch-weights, contentious hometown decisions, and Salka.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves a little, and have only to sit back and enjoy. This is the exact type of fight that seemed impossible last year, and for that reason at least it feels special. The key lies as always in its simplicity. Two men, fighting for glory, beating one another down as spring softens the earth.

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