Rios: Fight 'is do-or-die for me'

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
1:45
PM ET
video After a stunning loss to Manny Pacquiao in November, Brandon Rios is ready to get back on the horse Saturday against Argentina's Diego Chaves in Las Vegas.

Rios (31-2-1, 23 KOs), a former lightweight titlist who is coming from two tough losses in 2013 --to Pacquiao and Mike Alvarado in March -- faces Chaves (23-1, 19 KOs) at The Cosmopolitan Casino in Las Vegas (HBO, 9:45 p.m. ET).

Looking to be reborn with his longtime trainer Robert Garcia, Rios, 28, feels that this is the right time -- and the right opponent -- to start his comeback.

In his own words, Rios talks about returning to the ring and looking for a much-needed victory.

"When you are on top of the world, there are people who always want to be with you. I didn't really know some of them, but they wanted to be close to me. But when you are at the lowest point in [your] career, no one comes around. No one seems to care.

"This is why my fight against Diego Chaves is do-or-die for me. And I want to make it a 'do' and not the 'die' part.

"I promised Robert [Garcia, chief trainer] I would follow his instructions in the gym and do whatever it takes. I told Robert I want to be the old 'Bam Bam' again.

"I don't need that strength and conditioning stuff. It drained me, actually. I am naturally a strong person, and I won a lot of fights before without it.

"They tell me Chaves is real rough and strong. That he can punch hard. That's OK with me. I want to come back and against a strong, tough fighter.

"The old Bam Bam -- the one who everyone knows -- will be back in the ring on Aug. 2."

Robert Garcia

"After the Pacquiao fight, Brandon got rid of a lot of people. He was quiet and doing family stuff. We traded texts, and that was about it for a long time.

"When Brandon got back to the gym, we went back to old-school training. Rough stuff. Brandon is much more dedicated and, more importantly, is listening to everything I say and executing my instructions.

"Brandon is ready to fight. Bam Bam is back."

Unbeaten Williams faces Campillo on FNF

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
8:55
PM ET
WilliamsAl Bello/Getty ImagesUnbeaten light heavyweight Thomas Williams Jr. looks to move closer toward a shot at a world title.
Unbeaten light heavyweight Thomas Williams Jr. steps up to face veteran Gabriel Campillo in a 12-round main event headlining ESPN's "Friday Night Fights."

Williams (17-0, 12 KOs), nicknamed "Top Dog," enters the fight from the Little Creek Casino Resort in Shelton, Washington, (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) as a highly ranked prospect. Meanwhile, his opponent Campillo (23-6-1, 10 KOs) is a former titlist looking to get back on track after losing three of his last five.

A native of Fort Washington, Maryland, Williams will undoubtedly be the fighter to watch closely considering the great expectations his career has drawn and his position in the rankings of three major sanctioning bodies. At 26, Williams enters the bout coming off two spectacular performances in 2014.

On Jan. 24, he got up off the canvas in the first round to finish Cornelius White before the round ended. In his most recent bout on April 24, he stopped Enrique Ornelas in the third round.

Campillo, 35, a native of Spain, who is managed by former world middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, held a light heavyweight title from 2009 until losing it the following year by split decision in his rematch with Beibut Shumenov. He lost another controversial title bout by split decision against then-titlist Tavoris Cloud in 2012.

In 2013, Campillo suffered a pair of stoppage losses to future titlist Sergey Kovalev and Andrzej Fonfara. He bounced back in May with a stoppage win against Ricky Dennis Pow in Spain.

The co-main event offers a second pairing of southpaws as former world title challenger Andre Dirrell (21-1, 14 KOs) returns to action after 18 months in a 10-round super middleweight bout against Vladine Biosse (15-4-2, 7 KOs).

Dirrell, 30, hasn't fought since a unanimous-decision win over Michael Gbenga in February 2013 in Texas. He is best remembered for his participation in the Super Six super middleweight tournament, where he suffered his lone career defeat at the hands of Carl Froch by split decision in 2009.

Biosse, 32, a former football player from the University of Rhode Island, enters the bout fresh off a pair of defeats. He lost to Britain's Callum Smith in Liverpool, England, on July 12 after a February defeat against J'Leon Love.

Things we learned from Golovkin-Geale

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
5:02
AM ET
video
NEW YORK -- After another thrilling middleweight title defense for unbeaten Gennady Golovkin ends in -- what else? -- another devastating knockout, here are five things we learned from his triumph over Daniel Geale on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

1. Golovkin is everything we thought he was (and more)

The only conceivable knock against Golovkin throughout his devastating run of 10 straight title defenses and 16 consecutive knockouts entering Saturday’s bout was a lack of proof he could do the same thing against elite competition.

Enter former titlist Geale of Australia, a volume puncher with a backbone who, along with being awkward, has showed a history of versatility as both a boxer and puncher.

Golovkin (30-0, 27 KOs) didn’t just answer the questions his few remaining critics had about him, he punched a hole in them the same way he did to Geale in a pulverizing third-round TKO.

Few of Golovkin’s fights have failed to entertain or provide at least one shake-your-head moment of surprise. His finish of Geale fit that category completely as Golovkin ate his opponent’s best shot flush on the chin and followed through simultaneously on a heinous counter right hand that floored Geale and led to his exit.

With a frightening level of poise and craft to match his other-worldly power, Golovkin isn’t just the class of the middleweight division (Geale’s promoter, Gary Shaw, called Golovin the best 160-pounder he has ever seen after the fight); he has stamped his spot among the sport’s pound-for-pound best.

The only remaining question about Golovkin, who hasn’t seen a fight go the distance since 2008, is simple: Who is going to be able to stand up to that kind of heat?

2. GGG’s becoming a big draw, too

Along with being such a dangerous opponent due to his power and amateur pedigree, a major reason Golovkin was one of boxing’s most avoided fighters was due to his small fan base in America.

The tide, however, is beginning to turn in a big way, as evidenced by Golovkin's drawing an attendance of 8,572 for his first appearance at the big arena at Madison Square Garden.

Golovkin’s star is growing quickly due to the combination of his aggressive style, humble demeanor and boyish charm. He’s also taking to English at a much more rapid pace and is willing to fight anyone over the span of three different weight classes, which is almost unheard of for an elite fighter.

But what separates Golovkin from just about any other fighter with crossover potential is the game-changing power he possesses in both hands. GGG’s power is not only the great equalizer in the ring, it’s the unquestioned key to the hearts of the casual fan.

And that’s where the true money is in the sport.

3. Don’t hold your breath on a middleweight summit

By virtue of his June stoppage over longtime lineal champion Sergio Martinez in the same building as Golovkin’s 11th straight title defense on Saturday, Puerto Rican star Miguel Cotto grabbed the mantle as the division’s king.

But that doesn’t mean most would regard Cotto as the best middleweight in the world. And as optimistic as fans might want to be regarding a potential showdown between the division’s top two fighters to close 2014, the smart money would be against holding out too much hope.

While Cotto-Golovkin would be one of the biggest fights you could make in the sport, and in some ways, a crossroads meeting between MSG’s highest-profile tenants, logic would likely lead Cotto toward more lucrative -- and less dangerous -- options.

There was some thought that if Golovkin looked relatively human against Geale it might help him draw a big opponent. Instead he looked like a superhero.

Cotto’s history of daring to be great and taking on the toughest challenges available might be enough for some to hold out partial hope. But Cotto’s status as a promotional free agent allow him too much flexibility to make the richest fight available to him.

As much as a middleweight summit against Golovkin makes a ton of sense, a fight with Mexican star Canelo Alvarez, for example, makes a lot more cents (and many more dollars) for Cotto. And money always talks.

4. Jennings-Perez fails to impress

With a mandatory heavyweight title shot at stake and the opportunity for the winner to announce himself as the next big thing in the division, the co-main event between unbeaten Bryant Jennings and Mike Perez had tremendous potential for an all-action affair.

But the fight failed to live up to expectations -- both in terms of entertainment, and in the sense that neither fighter came out of it with their stock elevated thanks to how the fight played out.

Jennings (19-0, 10 KOs) claimed a split-decision victory thanks in part to a 12th-round point deduction against Perez for hitting on the break by referee Harvey Dock. Without the deduction, the fight would have been a draw.

Perez (20-1-1, 12 KOs), a native of Cuba who fights out of Ireland, saw most of his success countering Jennings in the early rounds go to waste thanks to poor conditioning (he weighed in 11 pounds heavier than his last fight in January).

What Perez’s late fade also did was lower the shine on Jennings’ comeback over the second half of the fight, when he stepped up the pace considerably.

The victory puts Jennings in position to face the winner of a fall meeting between titlist Bermane Stiverne and unbeaten challenger Deontay Wilder. Yet the fight failed in its purpose of giving fans of the often dormant division something to be excited over.

5. New York is back

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when New York City, and specifically The Garden, was the center of the universe for big-time boxing

And even though the majority of major fights still consistently finds a comfortable home at the major casinos in Las Vegas, the city that never sleeps is making a noted comeback.

Cotto saw his brand rejuvenated with his victory over Martinez and Golovkin has made an effort to follow in his footsteps by becoming a house fighter at MSG. But the emergence of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn has also helped New York grab a strong run of high-profile fights over the past two years.

Attending a major fight in Las Vegas is an experience unto itself. But nothing quite compares to the buzz in the streets before and after a blockbuster fight in the Big Apple.

Garcia, Prescott set for showdown on FNF

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
10:39
AM ET
videoExpect plenty of action when Roberto Garcia puts his seven-fight win streak on the line against rugged veteran Breidis Prescott in the main event of ESPN's "Friday Night Fights" from Chicago's UIC Pavilion.

Garcia (35-3, 23 KOs) enters the 10-round welterweight bout (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) unbeaten since his 2010 decision loss to Antonio Margarito at junior middleweight. A native of Mexico who fights out of Texas, Garcia enters just his second fight at welterweight in the last seven years.

He enters Friday's bout fresh off an impressive sixth-round TKO win over Victor Cayo in May on FNF. Before that, Garcia, 34, claimed a split decision over Norberto Gonzalez despite taking the fight on short notice.

Prescott (27-5, 20 KOs), a native of Colombia based in Miami, first made a name for himself in the elite of professional boxing when he knocked out then-unbeaten Amir Khan in the first round of their 2008 bout. Prescott also owns a 2008 victory over current lightweight titlist Richar Abril and came up empty in a fight-of-the-year candidate against Mike Alvarado in 2011.

Friday night's fight features two veterans who appear to be going in different directions in their careers, yet both are desperate for a big win. For Garcia, it would be his ticket to a title shot. For Prescott, who has lost three of his last six bouts, a victory would be the boost he needs to land another big fight.

Garcia will surely be the more aggressive fighter, looking to apply pressure from the start of the fight. Look for him to set the pace by using lateral movements and a high volume of punches with both hands.

Prescott is quicker and more elusive, relying on his jab to establish control. He's also not adverse to trading power shots with either hand.

This has the potential to be an emotional fight with a high volume of punches, and it isn't likely to go the distance. Both boxers have knockout power, although Garcia, given his impressive win streak, is without question the favorite coming in.

In the co-main event, middleweight contender Caleb Truax (23-1-2, 14 KOs) faces Derek Ennis (24-4-1, 13 KOs).

Johnson faces Gavronski on FNF

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
2:20
PM ET

A promising battle between Tureano Johnson and unbeaten Mike Gavronski headlines an ESPN "Friday Night Fights" card from the Little Creek Casino Resort in Shelton, Washington.

There is plenty at stake for the future of both fighters in this 10-round middleweight bout (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) considering a win likely opens the door to bigger fights against elite opponents.

Johnson (14-1, 10 KOs) enters the bout fresh off his first professional defeat in an April fight he was winning from start to finish before former world title challenger Curtis Stevens rallied for a controversial stoppage in the final round.

Gavronski (14-0-1, 10 KOs), 28, will fight the 10-round distance for the first time in his career. The Tacoma, Washington, native, who will be fighting in front of his home fans, is coming off an April win by majority decision against Kevin Hand.

"I'm happy to be fighting at home in front of all my family and friends," Gavronski said. "Johnson is a very tough fighter and is coming off a tough loss against Stevens. I'm looking forward to the challenge and I'm sure I can beat him."

Johnson, 30, was born in Nassau, Bahamas, and fights out of Georgia. He is looking to erase the sting of his loss to Stevens after referee Gary Rosato called an end to the bout in a move many felt was premature.

"In my last fight, the referee stopped the fight early, and I suffered my first loss," Johnson said. "It was a very disappointing moment in my career, but I'm ready to move on and show the world that I am one of the best fighters in the middleweight division. I'll prove it against Gavronski. Nothing will prevent me from getting this victory."

Friday's bout offers a clear contrast in styles with Johnson, the more aggressive fighter, looking to apply pressure from the start. He is no stranger to exchanging heavy shots in close space with both hands.

Gavronski is the more technical fighter who employs movement and sets the distance with his jab and accurate combinations.

The pressure of fighting in his home state, and the challenge of Johnson's unyielding pressure will be tough challenges for Gavronski to overcome.

In the co-main event, Armenian native Art Hovhannisyan (17-1-2, 9 KOs), who fights out of Glendale, California, takes on Peru's Jonathan Maicelo (20-1, 12 KOs), who fights out of New Jersey, in a lightweight bout.

Davis squares off with Farenas on 'FNF'

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
3:46
PM ET
In a special Wednesday edition of ESPN's "Friday Night Fights," a pair of talented junior lightweights will square off to celebrate the 38th birthday of rapper-turned-promoter Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, whose SMS Promotions is presenting the event.

Unbeaten Mark "Too Sharp" Davis (18-0, 5 KOs) and Filipino puncher Michael Farenas (38-4-4, 30 KOs) will meet in a 12-round bout headlining the card at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET).

The fighters enter a crucial test that serves as a 130-pound title eliminator. The winner will be the mandatory challenger to the July 10 title rematch between Argenis Mendez and Rances Barthelemy.

Davis, 27, of Columbus, Ohio, was an outstanding amateur boxer with over 200 fights and was a gold medal winner at the national championships in 2005. As a professional, he is unbeaten yet relatively untested. In his last bout in September 2013, he won a comfortable points decision over Carlos Vivan.

Meanwhile, Farenas, 30, of the Phillipines, is a veteran of 47 fights and has never been stopped. He enters the bout having won his last four fights by knockout, each time in under three rounds.

Farenas is best known for knocking down Yuriorkis Gamboa in their junior lightweight interim title bout in December 2012 before going on to lose by decision. Before that fight, Farenas fought to a draw in Japan against titlist Takashi Uchiyama.

In his last fight in March, Farenas defeated Mexican veteran Hector Velazquez by second-round TKO in Manila, an opponent best remembered for his losses against Edwin Valero and Manny Pacquiao.

Farenas is a quick, aggressive southpaw with very good footwork who is always moving his body to find the right position to unleash his combinations. He hits very hard with both hands, and his favorite punch is the hook to the body. That is how he knocked out Filipino Just Bornilla in the fourth round in 2004 and how he dominated Mexico's Fernando Beltran in July 2011.

Under the guidance of former world champion Gerry Penalosa, and after finishing his preparation in Freddie Roach's acclaimed Wild Card Gym, Farenas is ready for what his team considers the big jump forward in his career.

In order to secure the mandatory title challenge, Farenas will need to deal with the technically sound Davis, who moves quickly and surprises opponents with his combinations. When he defends, Davis relies on moving his body to dodge punches, and at times he leans back against the ropes and lifts his left shoulder, similar to Floyd Mayweather Jr., to keep punches away.

Davis throws a lot of punches in each round and relies on volume to sway the judges' eyes. The main ingredient he has lacked up until now is power behind his punches, which explains his five knockouts in 18 pro fights.

In the co-main event, former featherweight titlist Billy Dib (36-3, 21 KOs) of Australia moves up in weight to face former title challenger Alberto Garza (26-7-1, 21 KOs) of Mexico.

Redkach looks to close in on title shot

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
4:12
PM ET
RedkachDiBella EntertainmentUnbeaten lightweight Ivan Redkach, left, faces off with Sergey Gulyakevich on "Friday Night Fights."
Hard-hitting Ivan Redkach has his eyes set on a world title shot entering this week's edition of "Friday Night Fights" from the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, Missouri.

Redkach (16-0, 13 KOs) headlines the card in a scheduled 10-round bout against Sergey Gulyakevich (41-2, 17 KOs) of Belarus (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN).

A former member of the 2008 Ukrainian Olympic team, Redkach will undoubtedly be the fighter to watch in this one as one of boxing's hottest prospects with good height and dynamite in both hands. The southpaw is coming off an exciting win over Tony Luis in January in which Redkach fought 10 full rounds for the first time in his career.

Redkach's run up the ranks has been impressive, including 14 knockouts inside of four rounds and six first-round stoppages. The 28-year-old, who lives in Los Angeles, appears ready for his first world title opportunity. He must first, however, deal with Gulyakevich, 33, an experienced and dangerous former world title challenger.

"Gulykevich is a very talented fighter with a lot of experience," Redkach said. "I think both of us are going to try to impress the audience and test each other from the opening bell. I am hoping for an exciting fight for the fans."

Gulyakevich, who will be making his U.S. debut, should provide a stern test for Redkach. The Belarusian enters the fight on a 15-bout win streak and hasn't lost since a controversial 2009 majority-decision defeat to Humberto Mauro Gutierrez.

The Minsk resident has good height for the division and has never been knocked down in his career. But he will be facing a bigger fighter in the 5-foot-11 Redkach, who often looks to take control of the pace early on in a fight with his jab.

Gulyakevich's jab will also be key in order to create distance and set up shots from the outside. When he closes in on his opponents, Gulyakevich often looks to surprise with quick combinations.

The fight promises to be an even one. Look for Redkach, true to form, to put the pressure on early and look for a stoppage. Gulyakevich will try to weather the first flurry and work the fight round by round in order to take advantage of his technical strengths.

"Every time I fight, I am trying to make a statement," Redkach said. "I want to fight for a world championship and the only way that will happen is to impress the audience and continue to win."

In the co-main bout, unbeaten junior lightweight Ryan Kielczweski (19-0, 4 KOs) faces Ramsey Luna (12-1, 4 KOs).

Geale the right opponent in GGG's rise

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
1:44
PM ET
NEW YORK -- In the life of an avoided fighter like unbeaten middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin, you’ll often take what you can get when it comes to the balance between accepting an opponent who will further your brand or one who will test your abilities.

Ideally, of course, a single opponent would provide both, but that's not always the case.

So as disappointing as it was for Golovkin and his team to see a July 19 pay-per-view bout against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fall apart in the 11th hour, the fall-back plan could prove to be a more valuable test at this stage in his rise. It also could end up being a better fight.

Golovkin (29-0, 26 KOs) will defend his belt against former titlist Daniel Geale of Australia on July 26 in GGG's debut at the big arena inside New York’s Madison Square Garden (HBO, 9:30 p.m. ET).

Despite losing a lucrative headlining opportunity against a proven brand in Chavez, in a super middleweight fight with tremendous potential for fireworks, Golovkin's replacement bout could answer more of the immediate questions he faces.

Golovkin, 32, is widely considered the top middleweight in the world based upon his destructive run of 10 title defenses and 16 consecutive knockouts overall. He shatters the eye test in the same violent manner in which he smashes his opponents thanks to a dangerous combination of power, technique and relentless -- yet efficient -- pressure.

But for all of the superlatives one could heap upon the native of Kazakhstan, there's still only so much we know about Golovkin until we see him matched against the very best in his division. That, of course, hasn't come from a lack of trying, as Golovkin has regularly offered himself up to just about anyone between 154 and 168 pounds.

Enter Geale (30-2, 16 KOs), a savvy pressure fighter who can alternate between boxer and puncher on the fly while possessing the kind of toughness that won't crack under the intimidation of Golovkin's power.

"I've been watching his fights and seeing what he does," Geale said before a news conference last week in Manhattan to announce the fight. "He has been knocking a lot of guys out because they are in positions for him to do what he does best.

"It changes everything if you're not confident and [are] changing your style before you even get in there. You're going to be in trouble."

Geale, 33, is well aware that Golovkin has pushed as far as the 10th round just once in his career (against Kassim Ouma in 2011). Despite losing his title to Darren Barker by split decision in August 2013 in a fight of the year candidate, Geale has legit top-end experience and has gone 12 rounds in 13 of his 32 pro fights.

"I don't think he has fought too many guys like me before, so that excites me," Geale said. "I'm going to take him to places that he hasn't been before. I'll show him something different, like what it's like to go late in a fight."

Golovkin's lack of experience in the championship rounds often comes with the territory for a devastating puncher who is rising up the ranks. And while both detractors and believers are clamoring to find out what happens when GGG finally faces someone who can push him, they aren't alone.

"It will be interesting for me, too," Golovkin said. "Good question."

Despite his ever-growing fan base and the mythology that is often associated with his name, Golovkin has remained humble. He credits his trainer, Abel Sanchez, with a great deal of his success, and although he adores the attention of his fans, he is quick to remind, "I'm not a superhero at all."

Golovkin is also respectful of the challenge he faces in Geale, saying, "He's a great fighter. He's a good boxer. It will be a great fight."

The fight with Chavez might have been the perfect chance for Golovkin to make his long-awaited leap into the consciousness of a larger audience while furthering his personal brand. But even though, at 32, there's more of an urgency to see those goals come to fruition, the fight against Geale -- the most accomplished and talented opponent of his career -- offers GGG something just as important: critical respect.

And as long as Golovkin can continue to knock down everyone placed in front of him, the rewards of fame and fortune won’t soon be far behind.

Provodnikov enjoys face-first style

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
9:36
AM ET

NEW YORK -- There’s a certain raw element to the way Ruslan Provodnikov fights -- call it unrefined brutality soaked in honesty -- that has made him such an attractive draw for fight fans since his arrival on the big stage.

The junior welterweight titlist is also the exact same way when it comes to fielding questions about his life, career and the difficult upbringing he endured in the tiny, remote Siberian village of Beryozovo.

So when Provodnikov (23-2, 16 KOs) was asked during a media luncheon in Manhattan to promote Saturday’s title defense against unbeaten Chris Algieri about where he would be today had he not found boxing, “the Siberian Rocky” was not about to pull punches.

“I think I would be in jail. That is 100 percent,” Provodnikov said. “It was going towards that. I was on the way. All my friends that I was growing up with, I don’t know where they are. Most of them are in jail. I was drinking, I was sniffing glue, I was stealing -- I was doing everything that leads a person to get to jail when I was a kid.”

Provodnikov, 30, credits amateur trainer Evgeniy Vakuev for helping provide the structure and discipline through boxing that has him “redirecting my life toward being a productive person.”

Despite being a changed man, it’s clear the realities of a desperate and impoverished youth under the backdrop of such an unforgiving climate have gone a long way in creating the devastating force fans have grown to adore.

Even in a barbaric sport overrun with tough guys who openly ignore the risks in front of them, it’s clear that Provodnikov is cut from a different cloth altogether.

He’s not a fighter who produces memorable sound bites in order to market himself or add gloss to his indomitable image. What you see is incredibly what you get, with Provodnikov the rare athlete whose motivation to simply compete overrides the obsession for typical vain rewards like titles, riches and fame.

The brutality of Provodnikov’s face-first style is derived from his longing to produce memorable fights while earning the respect of his fans. And he’s willing to literally leave it all in the ring as a means to protect that.

The question, however, is at what price? It’s a topic that continues to confront Provodnikov before each fight. With the potential for rapid decline and a short prime due, is there any concern about throwing more caution to the wind in regard to his damaging style?

“I haven’t given that much thought,” Provodnikov said. “But a lot of people have been asking me this question, so now I’m beginning to worry about that and think that there is a part of truth to it.

“In a way, I’ve always thought it’s better to have a short and very standout type of career instead of a long one. That’s kind of what I am focusing on. I would rather get into the big fights sooner and get through that.”

[+] EnlargeRuslan Provodnikov
Chris Farina/Top RankRuslan Provodnikov's all-or-nothing style is entertaining for the fans but damaging for "the Siberian Rocky."
It’s that same willingness to persevere through an unthinkable amount of punishment that makes it equally hard to properly gauge his ceiling as a fighter. Despite having more skill than he’s often credited with as a puncher, he’s open about the fact that he doesn’t look at a fight through the mindset of X’s and O’s as much as one man breaking another man’s will.

It’s the mindset that helped Provodnikov win his first world title last October, when he forced all-action tough guy Mike Alvarado to throw in the towel after 10 rounds.

“I’m not one of the most talented boxers, and I think that I have to work double as hard as boxers who are talented to get into shape and win these fights,” Provodnikov said. “And my training camp is very difficult. That’s part of my character and that’s part of my life and what I have to go through to get to where I am.”

Provodnikov, who will have a talented boxer in front of him in Algieri (19-0, 8 KOs) on Saturday, is well aware of the belief that slick fighters have the potential to be his kryptonite. But the Russian says he’s never had an issue with this type of opponent, having defeated a litany of taller boxers throughout his run in the amateurs.

That doesn’t mean he enjoys these kinds of fights.

“I don’t get excited for fights like this because these fights are not exciting,” Provodnikov said. “I don’t like when the fighter is running away. It’s not part of my style. I am always very excited for a real toe-to-toe fight.

“If I have to chase and run after him it’s not as motivating. It makes for a boring fight. But it’s not true that it’s hard for me to fight these guys. For them, it’s hard to fight me, that’s why they are running away. They are trying to get away from me. I can do what I do best. I’ve been able to catch other guys, and you can’t run forever. I’ll be able to get there.”

One thing Provodnikov has proved in a short time is that he’s a man of his word. It’s that brutal honesty -- in spirit, word and performance -- that makes him so difficult to keep off of you and so addictively compelling to watch.

Miguel Cotto still has it

June, 8, 2014
Jun 8
11:03
AM ET

NEW YORK -- After a surprising, dramatic and one-sided bout in front of a rapturous Madison Square Garden crowd in which Miguel Cotto captured the world middleweight championship from Sergio Martinez, here are five things we learned:

1. Miguel Cotto still has it
We knew an inspired Cotto under trainer Freddie Roach had the potential to be competitive with Martinez despite giving away size, speed and power. But could any of us have predicted an absolute drubbing from start to finish? Not likely. While the impact of Martinez’s age and injuries certainly played a factor, that wasn’t the prevailing storyline. This was simply a different Miguel Cotto, who entered the ring with a renewed level of confidence that he wielded like an ax to the tune of three stunning knockdowns in Round 1. Cotto set the tone for his workmanlike dismantling of Martinez by his stealth ring entrance -- set to silence with the house lights dimmed -- and put on a vintage performance at age 33.

2. The Cotto-Freddie Roach marriage is a success
Cotto has never been immune to allowing outside-the-ring drama affect his performance inside of it. He also has never been afraid to switch things up in his corner at any time. Yet throughout his career, a happy Cotto has often meant a successful one, and there’s undoubtedly a unique comfort level between him and Roach -- a “player’s coach” who has gained Cotto's respect and focus.

Not only was Roach successful at resurrecting the Cotto of old, he appears to have melded the attacking style of Cotto’s younger dyes with the more refined boxer he became in recent years under the tutelage of Cuban trainer Pedro Diaz. The result was a version of Cotto who was equally adept at using his footwork to avoid Martinez -- never allowing him to develop his swagger by getting into a rhythm -- as he was able to stand and trade with him to destructive results. Cotto landed an astonishing 54 percent of his punches and did much of his damage with a looping left hook to the head that repeatedly exploited Martinez’s tendency to keep his hands too low. Roach’s preparation in terms of conditioning also prevented Cotto from the kind of late-fight fade that played a factor in each of his four defeats.

3. The end is very near for Sergio Martinez
Martinez showed tremendous heart to survive the storm of three first-round knockdowns and keep coming until his corner had seen enough before the start of Round 10. But this simply wasn’t the same fighter whose speed and elusiveness defied his advancing age in recent years. With his twice surgically repaired right knee compromising his mobility, Martinez looked every bit of his 39 years of age. The end is often abrupt for fighters such as Martinez, who rely on athleticism and a Houdini-like style above sound technique (see Roy Jones Jr.). Roach’s postfight comments were a harsh yet accurate summation of his growing vulnerability: “[Martinez] is a great athlete, yes. But I never thought he was a great boxer. You can’t fight with your hands down and think you’re going to be able to win fights.”

With one fight remaining on his lucrative deal with HBO, you can expect to see Martinez at least once more in some form of an orchestrated farewell. Martinez stayed true to form as a stand-up champion and person by offering no excuses in defeat, but his brief and memorable run as an unlikely middleweight king and one of the sport’s true elite has come to an end.

4. The Garden is still the mecca of boxing
After taking more than a year off for renovations, Madison Square Garden made an epic return to big-time boxing as Cotto once again headlined the big arena on the night before New York’s Puerto Rican Day parade. There’s still a certain level of electricity about a big fight between two stars at “The World’s Most Famous Arena” that can't quite be duplicated in Las Vegas or beyond. And with Cotto, the arena’s No. 1 tenant, able to reawaken his career at the highest level -- along with the rise of a potential replacement and possible future opponent in middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin -- one can expect to see MSG pick up where it had left off. Cotto’s raucous welcoming committee, fueled on by his unexpected trio of early knockdowns, provided the soundtrack for an intoxicating atmosphere that was boxing at its very best.

5. Boxing is simply better with Cotto in the mix
Boxing is a sport whose potential for crossover appeal relies almost exclusively on the dynamic qualities of its stars and their ability to make marquee fights. And with the majority of the biggest names pushing closer to 40 than their absolute prime, the arrival of a resurgent Cotto on Saturday can only be viewed as a positive for the sport. Fresh off a historic victory and armed with one of boxing’s few remaining glamour titles as the lineal middleweight king, Cotto has plenty of attractive options moving forward. Not only does his status as a promotional free agent make it easier for fights to get made, the Puerto Rican star brings with him one of the sport’s most passionate fan bases. Whether it be a crossroads showdown with rising star Canelo Alvarez in another chapter of the epic Mexico vs. Puerto Rico rivalry or a marquee rematch with pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr., Cotto will satisfy fans' desire for the kind of significant fights between stars that attract a casual following. And with a new division of potential opponents in his future, his willingness to dare to be great and take on the very best provides Cotto with a throwback quality that fans covet.

Cotto-Martinez by the numbers

June, 6, 2014
Jun 6
7:24
PM ET

On Saturday night, Miguel Cotto attempts to become the WBC middleweight champion when he faces top-10 pound-for-pound fighter Sergio Martinez at Madison Square Garden in New York City. While the battle is called Cotto-Martinez promotionally because of Cotto’s status in boxing and at the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” Martinez is the champion and has won his past seven bouts.

Here are the numbers you need to know for the fight:

7: Victories by Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden since 2005. Four of those seven victories have come on Puerto Rican Day Parade weekend (all by knockout). Cotto defeated Joshua Clottey in 2009, Zab Judah in 2007, Paulie Malignaggi in 2006 and Mohammad Abdullaev in 2005. Cotto lost his most recent MSG bout by unanimous decision to Austin Trout.

4: Martinez is one of four men from Argentina to currently hold a world title. Omar Narváez is the WBO junior bantamweight champion, Juan Carlos Reveco is the WBC flyweight champion and Jesús Andrés Cuellar is the interim WBA featherweight champion. If Cotto wins the title, he would become the only fighter from Puerto Rico to hold a world title.

2: This is Cotto’s second fight with six-time BWAA Trainer of the Year Freddie Roach. Roach is the fourth trainer Cotto has brought into his camp since 2009, along with Pedro Diaz (3 fights), Emanuel Steward (2 fights) and Joe Santiago (2 fights).

15: A victory by Cotto would make him the 15th boxer to win world titles in four different weight classes. Cotto won his first title in 2004 at light welterweight. He then moved up to welterweight and had two reigns as champion, first from 2006 to 2008 and again in 2009. Finally, he won the junior middleweight title in 2010 and held the title until 2012. Cotto would become the first Puerto Rican boxer to win four world titles in four different weight classes.

3: Martinez has been knocked down in three consecutive fights. Matthew Macklin dropped Martinez in the seventh round of their fight in 2012, but Martinez knocked Macklin down twice in the 11th. Against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Martinez was in control but was knocked down in the final round. In his last bout against Martin Murray, Martinez was knocked down in Round 8 but was up on the cards and won a unanimous decision.

41: According to CompuBox, Martinez has landed 41 percent of his power punches in his past five fights, above the middleweight average of 37.8 percent. Despite being over the average, Martinez’s connect percentage with power punches has gone down from 50 percent landed against Macklin to 30 percent landed against Murray.

49: According to CompuBox, the past three southpaws Cotto has faced (Trout, Manny Pacquiao, Zab Judah) landed 49 percent of their power shots. Cotto went 1-2 in those bouts, losing to Trout and Pacquiao.

9: In the past five bouts for each fighter (10 fights total), nine fights have gone eight rounds or later. Martinez’s past four fights have gone to the 11th or 12th round, while Cotto had two decision losses before his third-round TKO over Delvin Rodriguez.

Jhonson, Gonzalez to celebrate on FNF

June, 5, 2014
Jun 5
5:34
PM ET

On the same day in which they both will mark their 33rd birthday, Yudel Jhonson of Cuba and Mexico's Norberto Gonzalez promise an all-out war in celebration in the main event of ESPN's "Friday Night Fights."

The 10-round junior middleweight bout, promoted by Mike Tyson's Iron Mike Productions, will take place at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York (ESPN2, 10:30 p.m. ET).

In a bout that renews a clash of schools (Cuba vs. Mexico), with both fighters looking to inch closer to a coveted title shot, the fighter to follow closely is Jhonson (15-1, 9 KOs), a 2004 Olympic silver medalist.

Jhonson is fresh off an eight-round unanimous-decision win over Lenwood Dozier in April, in which he knocked his opponent to the canvas in the first round. It was a good return win for the Cuban fighter after a year-long layoff. However, Jhonson knows that this time he'll be facing a more dangerous opponent.

"Norberto Gonzalez is a good fighter, and I really respect him," said Jhonson, before revealing that "with my new trainer Stacy McKinley, I have greatly improved my explosiveness, and with it I'll tilt the bout in my favor. I've been training really hard, and I can't wait to show it on June 6."

Gonzalez (20-3, 13 KOs), a former Mexican amateur national champion with extensive amateur international experience, returned to the ring in February 2013 after nearly three years of inactivity. He recorded consecutive victories over Miguel Angel Mares and Michael Oliveira before dropping a split decision to Roberto Garcia in February.

Jhonson has prepared for this fight during four months at the Iron Mike Tyson Gym in Deerfield Beach, Florida, along with other leading Cuban fighters including Yuriorkis Gamboa and Humberto Savigne.

Against Gonzalez, Jhonson will have his first real test since suffering his lone professional defeat to Willie Nelson in 2012. The task won't be easy, as Jhonson will be facing a tough, aggressive opponent who is able to endure punishment as much as he provides it.

To defeat Gonzalez, Jhonson will need to use his legs and technical advantages to keep his opponent off balance. Jhonson will likely find himself in there with a boxer similar in style to that of Colombian Richard Gutierrez, whom he knocked out in 2011.

Gonzalez will look to stay aggressive and apply pressure, to which Jhonson will respond with lateral movement and countershots from multiple angles. Gonzalez throws good combinations from distance but becomes vulnerable when he doesn't take the lead.

There's little doubt the fight offers the promise of action as both fighters celebrate their birthday. Jhonson remains a slight favorite, although Gonzalez could be a candidate to surprise.

In the co-main bout, welterweights Sammy Vazquez (14-0, 10 KOs) and veteran Jay Krupp (17-6, 8 KOs) will meet in an eight-round bout.

Cotto: 'I will find a way to win'

June, 4, 2014
Jun 4
8:55
AM ET
Puerto Rican superstar Miguel Cotto has nothing but history on his mind as he enters his June 7 showdown with middleweight champion Sergio Martinez.

Cotto (38-4, 31 KOs), a titlist in three weight classes, will look to become the first Puerto Rican fighter to win a title in a fourth division when he faces Martinez (51-2-2, 28 KOs) on Cotto’s home turf, at Madison Square Garden in New York (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET).

Looking reborn under new trainer Freddie Roach in his previous bout, Cotto, 33, will be making his 160-pound debut against the 39-year-old Martinez.

How will you use your power and movements to sow down Martinez? Chavez couldn't hit him for 11 rounds. How do you hit Martinez?

"I have followed every single direction that (trainer) Freddie (Roach) has given me. We have been working really hard to get into this fight in our best. Everybody knows the fighter that I am and what I'm capable to do in the ring. Chavez is Chavez but Miguel Cotto is Miguel Cotto.

"As everyone in boxing knows styles makes fights. I believe my style and my experience will be very important in this battle with Sergio Martinez. I am coming to fight the way I know how to do it and it has nothing to do with how other boxers fight certain opponets.

"In the preparation for this fight I have focus on what Freddie has ask me to do and I am prepare to go 12 hard rounds and to battle every minute of every round. I have always believed that you win fights round by round. I prepare to fight my fight and make adjustments as the fight goes along and I will be ready to go to war at any time.

"All boxers are different and we all approach the fights in different ways. This fight is very important to me and I have prepared the best way that I can. I will find a way to win and take the title back to Puerto Rico.

How important is it for you and Puerto Rican boxing that you win this title and become a four-division champion?

"Puerto Rico has been a hot-bed for boxing for a long time and has given the Island some of its most memorable moments in sports. The people there love their boxing and their boxing history from the first world champion in Sixto Escobar to the more than 50 champions that have come after him. The people of this tiny island have supported us without reservation.

"My beautiful Puerto Rico for a long time has been one of the greatest boxing nations in the sport. We have a big legacy from big fighters that were the inspiration of many generations. I have always wanted to write my own history with my own hands. I will never pretend to be better than anyone. I just want to be the one who accomplished a feat that other legends could not.

"Some of our best fighters are not only Puerto Rican greats but all time-greats of the sport. Carlos Ortiz, Wilfredo Gomez, Wilfredo Benitez and Felix “Tito” Trinidad and many others have made Puerto Rican boxing what it is today and I am only an extension of their greatness, so to have an opportunity to become the first four-time world champion in different divisions is very special to me.

"This feat would not only be a great achievement for me but for all Puerto Rican greats that have come before me and for the great fans that have supported me thru out my career and the many that love their boxing history and tradition in Puerto Rico.

"This is for all the fans boxing in my country, and to have the opportunity to do it in New York in Madison Square Garden my second home will make it even more special. June 7 will be a night to remember for Puerto Rican boxing."

Training with Freddie Roach must be a different experience for you. Can you describe why he's one of the best trainers in boxing?

"Freddie is a great person and a great trainer, who understands our sport. He was a fighter and has trained some of the best boxers in the world over the last 10 to 15 years. He is a true professional that knows how to get the best out of every fighter that he trains. He makes everyone better and his preparation for each fight is second to none.

"He has a complete vision and sense about what a fighter thinks. We have both developed a great relationship based in respect for each other. He knows me very well and knows what I may think in certain moments. It has been a great experience working together with him. Ever since day one I felt very much at home with him and understood what I need to do.

"He has a great team behind him that gives me great support as well. He is able to focus on boxing because he knows that he can trust his team to get me in the best condition possible, so that I can be the best fighter possible. It’s not only about him having the boxing knowledge, but is about knowing how to apply it to each individual boxer.

"He had a big win last October in Orlando, Florida against Delvin Rodriguez, and now on June 7 in New York we will have a huge victory, that both of us will celebrate. I have put my career in his hand because I know he will get the best out me and I will give him my best during training and in the ring."

Why fight Martinez now and not four years ago?

"Everything happens at the time it needs to happen. I do not push destiny. Boxers take different paths in their career and those roads don’t always come together. If someone would have told me that I would be fighting for a world championship at 160 pounds four years ago, I would have not thought possible. But here I am looking to make history -- becoming the first Puerto Rican to win world titles in four different weight divisions.

"This is the kind of fight that always has been talked about and now is becoming a reality. I think it is a perfect timing to make it happen. We both have had our moments over our careers. I feel good and satisfied that it’s happening at this stage of my career. I feel totally renewed and with a fresh mind to come in and do my job on June 7.

"We as fighters always want to fight the best possible opponents and the best fights. We want the fans and media to be excited about the fights that we have. I now believe that this is a big fight and people want to see it. I'm not sure that was the case a few years back.

"I believe that I [was] given the fans the best fights that I can. I fought some of the best fighters at 140, 147 and 154 pounds and now here I am facing the best at 160. For me boxing has always been about challenges and competing and this one more fight proves that point.

"The fact that this fight is taking place now is just destiny, nothing to do with politics or avoidance. It's just the right time to do this fight and to enjoy two great fighters getting in the ring and showing who is the best.

"I am ready to make history and to prove once more that I am still one of the best fighters in the world."

Martinez: 'I'll prove I am one of the best'

June, 2, 2014
Jun 2
3:52
PM ET
Middleweight champion Sergio Martinez has been recovering from knee and arm injuries over the past 13 months but vows to be ready to fight Miguel Cotto on June 7 (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET) at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Martinez (51-2-2, 28 KOs), the lineal champion, has wanted to fight Cotto for the last four years but is coming off a lackluster performance in his native Argentina against Martin Murray in April 2013.

In September 2012, Martinez dominated Julio Cesar Chavez for 11 rounds, but in the 12th Chavez dropped Martinez. While the champ was able to survive and get the victory by unanimous decision, he suffered a severe knee injury. He fought Murray without being fully healed, so after the win, Martinez decided to take some time off.

In his own words, the 39-year-old Martinez discusses his desire to fight Cotto and to show he is an elite fighter.

Great Argentine fighters like Carlos Monzon and Oscar Bonavena fought at Madison Square Garden. You have fought at the Theater at MSG, but how important is for you to continue that tradition of great Argentine fighters performing at the mecca of boxing?

"It has been a major dream of mine to fight at Madison Square Garden in the big room. I never would have imagined that I would be headlining a main event over there if you asked me that 10 years ago.

"To fight at Madison Square Garden where great Argentinean boxers fought like Oscar Bonavena and Carlos Monzon is the grandest honor that any Argentinean boxer could possibly have. The Argentinean community in New York has always been very supportive of me, and I expect an incredible atmosphere similar to a world cup soccer match.

"Miguel Cotto says Madison Square Garden is his home, but come June 7th he will be evicted and I will prove that I am one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world."


After your loss to Antonio Margarito in 2000, did you ever imagine that your career would be like this? Titles, celebrity status, etc.

"My loss to Margarito was probably the best thing that happened to me. It humbled me and made me realize that this is a serious sport and I needed to mature as a fighter and as a person. It also made me realize that I needed to change. I had to cut out the negative people that surrounded me at that time and find people that would be positive for my career.

"I knew that I would return to Vegas and be a champion after that loss because I had the desire to be a champion and was willing to put the time and effort to get to that level.

"I never would’ve imagined reaching this level of notoriety. That has to be attributed to my current team of Sampson Lewkowicz, Miguel Angel Depablos and Nathan Lewkowicz, who have worked very hard in furthering my career. Without having a solid team behind you then it would be difficult to get to this level and sustain it."

Fighting with injuries (knee, elbow, wrist), how hard is it to prepare when your body hurts for any fight?

"It is not easy to prepare for a fight when you have some of the ailments that I have when preparing for a World Championship fight. I struggle with joint pains, knee pain and shoulder pain. Without my physical therapist, Dr. Raquel Bordons, I would not be able to train today and probably would’ve had to retire due to my injuries.

"Because I train six days a week for an average of eight hours a day, I am always in constant pain. There are some days when I am so sore that I cannot even walk, but I push myself because I know that I have to push myself to be the best fighter in the world. I know that I have to put in more hours than your average fighter because I didn’t grow up a boxer. I started very late in this sport, so that is why I have to train so many hours and put in a lot of work in order to perform at the level that is expected of me and for me to come out victorious."

You have been waiting to face Cotto for almost four years. Why do you think he wants to fight you now?

"Miguel Cotto believes that I am ripe for the picking and that my age has finally caught up with me. What he doesn’t realize is that for the Martin Murray fight, I had many injuries going into the fight.

"I did not want to postpone the event because it was always a dream of mine to defend my title in Argentina, so we as a team decided to go forward with the fight with Martin Murray. I still came out victorious in that fight, but Miguel Cotto thinks I’m on the decline, which is the only reason I believe he chose to face me now.

"What Miguel Cotto doesn’t realize is that I am extremely motivated for this fight. Not just because I don’t necessarily care for Miguel Cotto, but I want to prove him wrong in thinking that I’m not an elite fighter.

"Cotto is a good fighter and a future Hall of Famer, but he will not become the world middleweight champion by defeating me.

"The only way I see this fight ending is with Miguel Cotto being knocked out. I cannot see the fight going past nine rounds."

Soliman leaves no doubt in Sturm rematch

May, 31, 2014
May 31
7:19
PM ET
Sam Soliman waited nearly 16 months for a second chance against Felix Sturm.

In the end, Soliman not only proved he still has Sturm's number, he showed that after 18 years as a professional, throughout a career that has featured 11 losses in 56 fights, his first world title tastes mighty sweet at age 40.

Soliman (44-11, 18 KOs), who saw his close unanimous-decision win over Sturm in February 2013 ruled a no contest when he tested positive for a banned stimulant and was suspended nine months, left no doubt in Saturday's rematch at the Koenig Palast Arena in Krefield, Germany.

Fighting in Sturm's backyard for the second straight time, Soliman captured Sturm's middleweight title -- which he won in December by knocking out Darren Barker -- with a unanimous decision (118-110, 117-111, 118-110). ESPN.com also scored the bout 118-110 for Soliman.

Soliman ended Sturm's fourth 160-pound title reign by simply outworking the fighter five years his junior from the opening bell.

The Australian was all of the things that have made him a difficult opponent -- awkward, unconventional and persistent. And even though his raw attack didn't always produce clean punching, his activity level was enough to consistently stifle Sturm (39-4-2, 18 KOs), who was unable to time him with counter right hands.

Sturm ultimately waited too long to step on the gas and take the fight to Soliman, despite the two fighters providing fans with a series of exciting two-way action in spots over the second half of the fight.

"It was a great war," Soliman said. "He gave me a great fight."

Soliman kept Sturm off balance with a frenetic style built upon hard body shots and short hooks from a variety of angles. He also limited Sturm's counterattack by consistently tying him up at close range (not to mention being routinely warned by referee Eddie Cotton for a variety of transgressions).

Sturm began a late surge in Round 9 by picking up the pace and landing right hands and short uppercuts as Soliman appeared to be fading. But Soliman consistently held his ground and traded effectively with Sturm to work his way out of trouble.

Despite being hurt by a body shot in Round 11, Soliman continued to answer Sturm's single right hands with flurries of two- and three-punch combinations to leave no doubt in the championship rounds.

Soliman, a former "Contender" fighter, becomes an unlikely belt holder at age 40 in his third time contesting for a world title. Despite losing seven of his first 19 pro fights, Soliman has remained a tough out in recent years and entered Saturday's bout having not lost since unsuccessfully challenging for Anthony Mundine's super middleweight belt in 2008, in their third meeting.

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