TV-friendly junior welterweight Ruslan Provodnikov returned to Friday Night Fights two fights removed from his first loss, and his opponent this go round was Ivan Popoca, a brawler with his own knack for bouncing back (see: Soto Karass, Jose Luis). Things were pretty competitive for most of the fight, with Provodnikov probably taking most of the rounds with his sharper, snappier, more accurate flush shots, but Popoca was boxing surprisingly well in spots and was busier. In the 5th, Provodnikov hurt Popoca, only for Popoca to -- you guessed it -- come back to win the 6th. Provodnikov might have punched himself out, and Popoca took advantage of it. But Provodnikov got his energy back and took the 7th, then finished the show in the 8th by decking Popoca with a hard right hand and forcing the referee to stop it when Popoca got back up and Provodnikov launched a flurry of unanwered shots that had Popoca badly hurt.
There's a reason ESPN2 loves Provodnikov, and it's his hard-charging, minimalist defensive style. In early fights, he'd developed a reputation as a body puncher, but he got away from it in his last couple, most notably his loss against Mauricio Herrera. This was, then, a return to form for Provodnikov -- despite mitigating his aggression with a bit more boxing and the addition of trainer Buddy McGirt -- because he went to Popoca's body like he used to do. If ESPN2 had Provodnikov in fights of this level every few months, it would be fine by me. He's become a staple of FNF, and good for ESPN2 for not abandoning him after a close loss. And good for Popoca for showing the kind of guts that helped make this a good scrap.
On the undercard and such:
- Marvin Quintero fought at 137 pounds in his stoppage win on the undercard -- Provodnikov-Quintero, anybody? Probably not, because Quintero's chin isn't reliable, but if Quintero can hold up for a couple more fights, then maybe. Quintero stopped late substitute Juan Santiago in the 3rd, and while Santiago caught Quintero with some nasty shots in the 1st, Quintero was simply better than the ultra-squared up Santiago. Maybe it was a touch early, but the ref stopping it when he did was a-OK by my tastes, as Santiago had taken a lot of punishment in the first two rounds, got wobbled, got tagged with a bunch of unanswered shots and was going to keep getting pounded.
- In a swing bout, light heavyweights Tyrell Hendrix and Michael Gavronski battled to a majority draw in a fight that lacked even the modest skill of Provodnikov-Popoca or Quintero-Santiago, but was fun in inverse ratio to the level of skill displayed. The two men traded knockdowns in the 1st, then bloodied and bruised each other's faces with clumsy punches that couldn't miss because on defense both men were even clumsier.
- ESPN2 commentator Teddy Atlas catches a lot of hell from fans and writers, and deserves a good deal of it. But his eye is often supreme. Atlas noticing that Popoca switched to southpaw every time he got hurt is something that I bet a lot of commentators wouldn't have picked up on.