By Andrew Wroblewski
If the “Theme from Rocky” had blasted through the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday night, not one of the 6,128 people that filled its seats would have been surprised.
That’s because Huntington’s spiritual doppelganger of Sly’s classic underdog, Chris Algieri, defeated Ruslan “the Siberian Rocky” Provodnikov in a split decision, earning Algieri the World Boxing Organization (WBO) junior welterweight championship belt.
“This has been a surreal week for me,” Algieri (20-0) said in the ring after the fight, with the belt draped over his shoulder. “I showed the boxing world who Chris Algieri is.”
In a battle of the “Italian Stallions,” Algieri was thought of by many as the heavy underdog – thanks, in part, to Provodnikov’s reputation as a heavy hitter with the ability to overcome his opponents by sheer force. On Saturday, in Provodnikov’s first fight as the WBO’s newest light welterweight champion (140 lbs.) – a title earned after defeating American Mike Alvarado last October – his reputation preceded him as the Russian immediately came out firing.
“Even the shots I was getting hit with in the first four rounds, they were few and far between,” Algieri, who has fought several times during Star Boxing events at The Paramount in Huntington, said. “They were big, but they were lunging shots. He caught me on the end of the punches [and] really the only punch that hurt me was that first shot.”
That first shot sent Algieri tumbling to the canvas for the first time in his professional boxing career as Provodnikov (23-3) laid an absolutely devastating blow to the right side of his head, almost immediately causing his eye to swell. Seconds later, Algieri’s knee hit the deck yet again as he collected himself, looking for an escape from a Provodnikov, who looked poised to send the 30-year-old Greenlawn native packing early.
But both times Algieri tasted the floor, he popped back up, gave referee Harvey Dock a smile, and kept on boxing – for 11 more rounds.
“I felt like after the knockdown I was really trying to land that big punch,” Provodnikov said through a translator after the fight, which headlined HBO’s “Boxing After Dark.” “I have to admit, runners are not my style. He’s just jabbing and touching me. I can’t feel any of that – it’s not my style. I like guys who stand there and fight me. This is the worst style for me. I thought I was close in the fight but it happened the way it happened.”
Algieri danced around the ring for a large portion of the fight, fending off the Siberia native’s blows while landing quick, calculated jabs of his own. Although Algieri’s tactics weren’t the flashiest, he undoubtedly out-boxed Provodnikov as he threw more (993-776) and landed more (288-205) total punches, resulting in a 29- to 26-percent advantage in Algieri’s favor.
“Yeah, I did [think I was winning the fight],” Algieri said afterwards.
All of this and Algieri couldn’t even see out of his right eye by the 12th round, he said. That crowning blow by Provodnikov ultimately resulted in a nice, “juicy” shiner for “the fighting pride of Huntington;” but not one that kept him out of the fight.
“I saw him coming forward and I knew the eye probably looked pretty bad… like a nice juicy steak,” Algieri said. “I saw in his eyes when he was ready to throw that left hook so I was able to evade [it].”
With the ringside doctor constantly evaluating Algieri round after round, it’s a good thing he was able to avoid that hook as it might have proven disastrous for his title chances.
Ultimately, though, two judges ruled in favor of Algieri, with the final judge siding with Provodnikov, earning Huntington’s own a WBO championship.
“It’s funny,” Algieri said when asked what he has in store next. “I haven’t thought past this day or this moment for months. I don’t even know what June 15 looks like.”
Well, Chris, today is June 19, and it looks like you’re a world boxing champion.