By Fox Doucette
This year, there has been a plethora of fighters who have lost their unbeaten records on ESPN2. Yordanis Despaigne, Mike Dallas, David Lemieux, the list goes on. Ruslan Provodnikov (19-1, 13 KOs) was the first victim of that so-called curse on the very first fight card of the year, when he lost a head-scratching unanimous decision to Mauricio Herrera. This writer had the fight 117-111, ESPN’s Teddy Atlas had it 116-112, but all three judges went Herrera’s way when the time came to submit their scorecards, which meant that the 140-pound Russian carried a blemished record into tonight’s battle with another previously unbeaten, Chicago’s Ivan Popoca, who was fighting for the first time above the Illinois club circuit level.
The general consensus seemed to be that this was the kind of opponent that Provodnikov would handle; Popoca’s (15-1-1, 10 KOs) greatest weakness is his tendency to stand in front of his opponents, something that the Russian has feasted upon when prior opponents have stood too close to him. The major X-factor at work here was the change of trainer. Provodnikov hired Buddy McGirt and had only four weeks’ worth of training camp to let the new trainer work on correcting the flaws in his style that led to his defeat in that fight card in January.
For the first three rounds or so, Provodnikov looked like he was trying out his new jab in sparring rather than using it to any sort of good effect in the ring. After three rounds, however, a light clicked on in Ruslan’s head and he began to put punches together, figuring out how to put his power shots behind that jab. Teddy Atlas gave the fifth round to Provodnikov 10-8 despite the lack of a knockdown, because the Russian clearly gained the upper hand, landing fifty power shots according to CompuBox and snapping the head of Popoca back repeatedly.
Popoca stormed back briefly in the sixth, as Provodnikov appeared to have punched himself out, but it was to no avail. We saw a defensive streak in Provodnikov that viewers of his previous outings on FNF hadn’t seen before; whatever McGirt’s been doing working with him, it allowed the Russian to recover his stamina, and when the bell rang for the seventh round, Ruslan re-established his dominance.
The finish was classic Provodnikov, which is why he is considered a TV-friendly fighter. A blinding jab followed by a perfectly executed straight right hand dropped Popoca, and a vicious attack to the body and head led the referee to jump in and stop the fight, giving Provodnikov a statement victory to put his career back on track and giving ESPN’s viewers one to keep on the DVR for awhile.
In the undercard fights, it seems that the California commission established a special rule that defense would be strictly prohibited. A pair of very entertaining if not terribly skill-packed fights included a third-round TKO by Marvin Quintero (22-3, 18 KOs) over Jose Santiago (13-7-1, 8 KOs), who replaced Ji-Hoon Kim, the exciting Korean lightweight, who had to pull out of the fight on three days’ notice due to a detached retina.
We also got a swing fight, four rounds between Mike Gavronski (2-0-1, 2 KOs) and Tyrell Hendrix (5-1-2, 2 KOs) that ended in a majority draw. One judge had it 40-36 for Hendrix, the other two judges had it 38-38.
Each fighter knocked the other down in the first round, making things difficult to score, but The Boxing Tribune had it 39-37 Hendrix, with Gavronski’s lone 10-9 round win coming in the first, where he put Hendrix on the ground first.
All in all, an excellent card from ESPN2, proving that while unbeaten fighters may suffer a curse on that series this year, the fans are under no such hex—Friday Night Fights has delivered the most consistently enjoyable fight cards of any regular series on television this year.
Fox Doucette is a freelance writer and modern Renaissance man who covers sports, politics, video games, and whatever else is in need of a witty remark. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/MysteryShipRadio.