by Fox Doucette
…and the two men punched each other in the liver for 36 minutes, stopping only to sit in the corner and dispense entirely with the notion of water in favor of drinking vodka to take the edge off. When the fight ended, it was declared a draw not by the judges (who had since ascended to the gods, their lives satisfied and with nothing left on this earth to keep them here) and not by the promoters (who had run off in fear from the idea that the combatants may try to demand a greater share of the take with their fists) and not by the crowd (who enjoyed the same fate as the judges.)
No, this fight was declared a draw by the fighters themselves, who divided up the spoils of war. The American, noble in battle, got the arena, where he staged his own fight circuit and became a rich man. The Russian took the ring card girls as his harem, since all of them had become pregnant during the fight in immaculate conceptions carried on the air by the radiating manliness of the fighter in the ring.
And so it came to pass that the epic fight between Micky Ward and Ruslan Provodnikov faded into history, a legend told like a reading from a religious text for the rest of time.
…OK, not really. It’s just boxing, and that’s your main event tonight in San Dimas. Each man comes from a fight with Emmanuel Augustus; Ward fought the man in 2001, and Provodnikov did so a decade later. Seems as good a matchup as any.
In the co-feature, Kennedy McKinney makes his Historical Fight Night debut, taking on Daniel Zaragoza at 122 pounds. McKinney was a decorated amateur, winning a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul; he was never quite so dominant as a professional but did have a nice run in the early to mid-1990s as the IBF’s 122-pound titlist.
From the Historical Fight Night Arena Presented By You, If You Donate On Patreon, in San Dimas, California, these fights are scheduled for 12 rounds using the Unified Rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions. Scoring is on the 10-point must system, there is no three knockdown rule, no standing eight count, only the referee can stop the fight, and a fighter cannot be saved by the bell in any round including the twelfth and final round.
Now, for the thousands in attendance and the millions watching from around the world…
Let’s Make History.
Kennedy McKinney (7/17/1993, 24-0-1, 15 KOs) vs. Daniel Zaragoza (2/29/1988, 36-4, 20 KOs)
It’s rather interesting to note that these guys never actually got the chance to fight. Late in his career, Zaragoza became an HBO fighter, and Jim Lampley and friends had called many a McKinney fight earlier in the decade. McKinney had his run as the IBF beltholder before he moved up to featherweight; Zaragoza fought 20 times with the WBC 122-pound belt at stake between the fight with Carlos Zarate from which we pull him in the time machine and his undoing at the hands of Erik Morales nine years later.
That’s not to say Zaragoza was champion for the entirety of that time; he had four losses and three draws sprinkled in with those 13 wins in world title fights. McKinney, meanwhile, was 7-4 in world title fights, including one loss at featherweight that effectively ended his career in two rounds against Luisito Espinosa in 1998.
They may not have fought in their time, but that’s what time machines are for.
McKinney was an outstanding technical fighter; his amateur pedigree speaks volumes to his capabilities. Straight jab, straight overhand right, tight hook, all the tools you need in order to be effective. If McKinney was the prototypical black American fighter, a style Floyd Mayweather made famous to modern eyes and Pernell Whitaker mastered up the scale in McKinney’s time, Zaragoza was the prototype Mexican fighter, a guy who threw big, looping counter shots that could catch an opponent coming in, or those same looping shots could be used behind a rangefinder jab that froze the opponent solid and set up the big finisher.
McKinney got the better end of this exchange in the first round, landing some nice left-right combos, confounding Zaragoza, forcing him to keep his hands up rather than successfully being able to try and engage his opponent.
It wasn’t hard to score, nor was it particularly entertaining, but it was a start.
You know who else Kennedy McKinney fought who was a great Mexican counter puncher who threw big, looping shots? Marco Antonio Barrera, that’s who.
McKinney came out looking to land his lefts and his rights and control the tempo and the timbre of this fight the way he had in the first. Trouble was, he had a tendency to lean a little when he went to throw the overhand right, a bit of a poker tell that left his chin open, and Zaragoza found it with a lead right uppercut from the southpaw stance.
“Six! Seven! Eight!”
Referee Steve Smoger cleaned the gloves of McKinney and sent him back to war, where he was well able to survive the round by keeping Zaragoza off him with those clean punches.
McKinney went on the attack, trying to keep the pressure up on Zaragoza and show his superior technique as a decisive factor in the fight. Zaragoza absorbed the punishment well enough; McKinney’s knockouts came on accumulation of punches, and Zaragoza knew it. If he could keep too many consecutive punches from landing, he’d come out in one piece.
All the while, Zaragoza wanted to punch in between those shots, catching McKinney as he went to reset. The wide shots weren’t connecting, however, and as the fight went on, McKinney erased the deficit from the second round in the third and fourth while extending his lead to a consensus 48-46 in the fifth.
Zaragoza kept looking for that big shot and went back to the uppercut rather than trying to put the hook around the straight punches of McKinney. He was able to stay in his range and land it with a measure of regularity enough such that McKinney may have landed more punches, but Zaragoza landed better punches. One man was trying to break the other down steadily; the other was trying to detonate a high-explosive weapon.
That was a much harder round to score…but there was one thing that was becoming evident. McKinney was slowing down a little, and he didn’t quite have the same zest he had earlier.
It was another decisive win in a round for the American. This was a complete clinic, and McKinney’s jab landed absolutely at will. Zaragoza was going to have to earn this one—whatever McKinney’s people were saying in the corner about controlling the pace, he listened, and what looked like a bit of slowing down in the sixth turned into the same control in the seventh that it had been in rounds three through five.
Still, the Barrera fight, which was still years away at McKinney’s time machine moment here, proved prophetic. Zaragoza landed another big uppercut right on the chin of the American as he loaded up on the right hand during a combination; Zaragoza ate the jab with no apparent ill effect and still had his big shot coming when the right would otherwise have come over it.
McKinney staggered back. Zaragoza gave chase. The hook and Zaragoza’s own thundering left hand were reaching their target with minimal opposition from McKinney’s defensive efforts, and after throwing a nice lead right hand that got McKinney’s block just a little out of position, a looping left hand uppercut came in behind it and crashed home.
McKinney went down like a dropped sack of cement. He beat the count, but this time he really was hurt. As the bell rang, questions surrounded what was, on most scorecards, only a one- or two-round difference.
Zaragoza kept up the attack, McKinney’s legendary heart keeping him upright and willing to come back for more but the damage to his person proving too much to bear. His jab had no snap, his right hand none of the speed that had guided it onto target ahead of the attempts to counter it for most of the fight.
As McKinney got backed up into the corner, Zaragoza opened up, and Smoger had seen enough. He waved a halt to the contest without an additional knockdown as McKinney appeared out on his feet. Your winner, by TKO at 1:37 of the ninth round…
RESULT: ZARAGOZA TKO9 MCKINNEY.
Micky Ward (7/13/2001, 37-10, 27 KOs) vs. Ruslan Provodnikov (5/21/2010, 16-0, 11 KOs)
Sometimes you just get a matchup between two guys who, if they don’t kill each other, nonetheless dispense with all semblance of civility in a contest. This is a raw, untested Provodnikov, a guy who hadn’t yet learned to jab effectively. Years from Freddie Roach’s tutelage and still several months away from his brief time with Emanuel Steward, Provodnikov knew only one style; hit the other guy as hard as he can.
Micky Ward, well, you know his legend. This was the next-to-last win of his career, the win over Augustus, then Emmanuel Burton, in the 2001 Fight of the Year. He would lose a technical decision to Jesse James Leija in his next fight; what happened after that is a matter of the truly legendary in boxing history. Ward has just enough left at this point in his career that he is, arguably, at his very best before the fall.
Ward came out looking to test Provodnikov, putting the left hook up top initially in hopes of getting the Russian to raise his guard and open up his body for the killer punch that was the undoing of many an opponent for the kid from Lowell.
Ruslan, for his part, employed a chopping right hand over the top that was thrown with some truly impressive quickness. He could hardly do more damage swinging a hatchet.
Neither guy was hard to find. The two guys were targeting essentially the same spot. They were mirrors of each other, a chopping hook met by a slicing right from the opposing side. Ward did a little better job putting his punches together, but this didn’t take a round to devolve into a brawl.
Provodnikov wasn’t just throwing shots up top. He kept his right hand coming over the top, but he then put the left hand down below. They say never to hook with a hooker, but hitting a guy who’s well north of thirty to the body in hopes of getting him to drop his guard for a knockout blow to the head is a fine boxing strategy, as good a method as any.
Ward started dropping that left hook as only he could; of all the great punches in boxing history, if you could put some kind of boxer Voltron together with the best punches from all the fighters in the history of the game, Ward’s left hook to the body would be a useful weapon in that arsenal.
The men kept pounding away at each other, each throwing over a hundred punches, each landing about 35 of them, nothing in it for the scorecards to judge.
Provodnikov’s lack of technique began to work against him in the third. Ward landed one of those body shots clean, and the Russian’s guard dropped reflexively. Ruslan was hurt. Micky went on the attack, putting his punches up top. Provodnikov absorbed shot after shot to the face, able only on occasion to fire back. This round was decisive, it was destructive, it left questions open as to whether Provodnikov would survive.
Ward kept up the attack without relent, channeling his own near-future (from the time machine’s point of view) as if this were round nine of the first Arturo Gatti fight.
Provodnikov bent but he did not break. He threw back, but he could not crack the man in front of him; just about nobody ever could with Micky Ward, a guy whose only stoppage loss was on cuts to Vince Phillips.
Ward came forward, but Ruslan’s just as durable. These guys just kept pounding away, neither maintaining the momentum for long. As the middle rounds passed, every round was back and forth, two men who would be heroes, irresistible forces and immovable objects in one package.
Ward finally got a clean shot landed that none could argue with. Provodnikov, hit right smack on the liver, went down. He wasn’t out, but he nonetheless rose at the count of nine, risking hearing Mills Lane yell the next and final number in the sequence, a split second standing between survival and defeat.
Ward pounced. He wanted to put an end to this one when he had the chance, and he walked face first into a counter right hand that was less designed counter and more shot thrown with a measure of “take your stinking hands off me, you damn dirty ape” in hopes of stopping the assault.
Ward staggered back, but he did not fall. Once again, the two men resumed simply and without any pretense toward skill or the beauty of the sport trying to knock each other into kingdom come, to unleash a beating that would make Joe Frazier turn in his grave and Muhammad Ali wince to witness the slaughter that even the jungles of Manila itself could not generate with the advantage of a Philippine tropical atmosphere over the climate-controlled relative comfort of southern California.
Again the two men engaged. Again neither would yield. Ward would land a hook to the body; Provodnikov would chop a right hand over the top to the head. There was speculation that if this were one of the old-school fight-til-you-drop bare knuckle 19th-century contests, the fight would surely end more like a set piece out of Rocky II, a double knockdown from which neither man would not only rise to a count, but ever again.
It was an exquisite bit of violence, a case of quarter being neither asked for nor given, a true war in a sense that would be intimately familiar to those who could remember a time when the home nations of these two participants were constantly on the brink of the end of the world.
This wasn’t some choreographed pas-de-deux between two film actors. This was fighting. This was the sweet science only insofar as being smacked in the face with a sugar cane is “sweet”.
Nobody knew what the score was after nine rounds. Truth be told, it’s hard to imagine anyone cared.
The only thing that still remained decisive in this fight was that one knockdown Ward had scored in the seventh, and it’s not as though the Lowell fighter was about to stop attacking the area. Provodnikov must’ve wished he could wear a suit of armor, or at least one of those flak jackets they give football quarterbacks whose ribs have been cracked, because not all of those shots had landed on the liver; the fight would be over if they had.
No, the rib cage of Provodnikov had taken a vicious beating to the point where there was genuine speculation whether one of the ribs, or perhaps more than one, had cracked like they were a pig’s ribs under siege from an overzealous diner at a barbecue shack.
This is not to say that Micky Ward was in any better shape. His eyes were red and puffy, swollen not quite to slits but certainly down from their full expected field of view. He looked like he’d been beaten to a pulp, and in some sense, even though he may well have been winning the fight, he had.
All of this was a bit of academic wank, however, as a left hook crashed home to the Russian’s liver and down Provodnikov went again, and again Ruslan beat the count by enough time only for Mills Lane to raise his hand after saying nine but not for the referee to drop that same hand and yell ten.
One round to go, and this was beyond Fight of the Year and beyond Fight of the Century and approaching Fight of All Time.
So it went, one pride of New England attacking with a hope of putting the game out of reach if not scoring a knockout, the pride of Beryozovo himself trying to level the terms by putting down a man who seemed all but immune to the taste of canvas.
Onward they fought, oblivious to anything but the fight, addicted to the thrill of victory, not fazed by the prospect of the agony of defeat. Legends were forged. Men may as well have been dragons, knights, kings, not simply two guys thrown into a time machine and spirited forward for the entertainment of a bloodthirsty crowd.
The bell rang, and not a soul in the building wanted to see it end. They wanted 15 rounds. Hell, they wanted 20. Or 30. Or however many rounds it would take for one man to at last gain the ultimate advantage over the other.
As it stood, they got a dozen, and a dozen would have to be enough. The scores were announced, and judge Chuck Giampa saw the fight 113-113, a draw. Judges Tom Schreck and Harold Lederman both had it 115-111, for your winner, by majority decision…
IRISH. MICKY. WARD!
RESULT: WARD W-MD12 PROVODNIKOV.
Your columnist saw a discussion today asking who would win between Alexis Arguello and Azumah Nelson at 130. Since that was the first time in awhile that one of those questions could not be answered by a link to a Historical Fight Night I’ve already done, why not settle the question here? So that’s your main event. Arguello vs. Nelson.
The co-feature? For the first time, we’ve got a women’s fight on Historical Fight Night. It’s Holly Holm taking on Christy Martin at a 144-pound catchweight. Martin’s generally regarded as one of the all-time great woman fighters. Holm just became better-known for MMA thanks to kicking Ronda Rousey in the neck, but she could throw a few punches in a square ring rather than an octagon, so let’s get this show into some gender diversity, hm?
As always, thank you so very much for reading; your support, in terms of your clicks, your participation on social media, and, if you’re feeling generous, on Patreon, makes this show possible.
We’ll see you next week!