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NEW YORK -- Chris Algieri, his right eye a swollen, closed mess, did not look like a winner when the fight was over. But that was superficial. He had won a world title.
Algieri pulled a major upset as he outboxed Ruslan Provodnikov to win a split decision and a junior welterweight belt on Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
With most of the 6,218 fans cheering on Long Island's Algieri, he survived two knockdowns in the first round to prevail in a fight that many also saw for the relentlessly aggressive Provodnikov.
In the end, two judges scored the bout 114-112 for Algieri, while the third scored it for Provodnikov, 117-109. ESPN.com had it for the heavier-hitting Provodnikov, 115-111.
Before Provodnikov made his first title defense he had promised to "chase him and hunt him down. I am the hunter when I am in the ring."
That is exactly what the "Siberian Rocky" tried to do, and it looked like he might make it a quick night.
Algieri, from nearby Huntington, New York, had the crowd chanting for him right away in the first round, but Provodnikov shut them up quickly, leveling him with a hard left hook. Moments later, Algieri went down for the second time under furious pressure, including a left uppercut that sent him to a knee.
Provodnikov continued to stalk him, and Algieri, who is not much of a puncher, could not keep him off. Even when he landed a clean right hand to Provodnikov's cheek in the final seconds of the second round, Provodnikov did not budge.
But Algieri, 30, never panicked and slowly got himself back into the fight as he boxed, moved and used a solid jab to keep Provodnikov at bay.
"It was a great fight. The big thing was getting out of the first round to start with," said Algieri, who was facing by far his most notable opponent. "He hit me with a pretty good shot. I took a knee the second time because my lip was numb, I wanted to clear my head and see how my eye was. It wasn't anything he hit me with.
"The shots in the first round were the most powerful but they were few and far between."
Provodnikov (23-3, 16 KOs) continued to chase Algieri (20-0, 8 KOs) around the ring -- and he was landing -- as Algieri's right eye was turning black and blue and swelling in the third round. And Algieri is tough and hung in there, moving and boxing. But Algieri was also paying a heavy physical toll as he ate so many left hooks and right hands from Provodnikov.
Provodnikov landed hard left hooks in the seventh round, shots Algieri did not see coming because his eye was basically swollen closed.
Algieri, despite the damage, never wavered. Although Provodnikov's punches were clearly harder, the two judges preferred Algieri's boxing style and his punch output, especially over the final quarter of the fight.
Algieri landed 288 of 993 punches (29 percent) while Provodnikov connected on 205 of 776 (26 percent), according to CompuBox statistics.
Algieri said the eye, as bad as it looked, did not become a serious problem for his vision until the last few rounds.
"I could see pretty well until the eighth round but by the time we hit round 12, I was blind in that eye," Algieri said. "But I was able to anticipate his left hook throughout the fight. I was able to figure out his rhythm. That was the key to my success."
Provodnikov, one of boxing's most exciting fighters, is a straight ahead brawler. It was that style that helped him be involved in the 2013 fight of the year, a close decision loss to then-welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley, and also in his title victory, a 10th-round knockout of Mike Alvarado in October in Alvarado's hometown of Denver.
But while Bradley and Alvarado stood and traded with him, that is not Algieri's game. If there was one way for Algieri to win it would be to outbox Provodnikov, who lamented that style.
"I felt like after the knockdown I was trying to land the big punch," Provodnikov said through a translator. "I have to admit, runners are not my style. I said before it's just not my style. He just ran and touched me. He just jabbed and touched me.
"This is the worst style for me. I like guys who are in front of me and fighting me."
Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach thought Provodnikov might be in some trouble and implored him to go for the knockout late in the fight. But it was not to be, saddling Roach with a big loss just one week after another one of his fighters, Miguel Cotto, upset Sergio Martinez to win the middleweight world championship at Madison Square Garden.
Banner Promotions' Artie Pelullo, Provodnikov's promoter, was disappointed with the decision but said he could see why it went to Algieri.
"I thought it was a close fight and the decision went to Chris Algieri," he said. "I have no complaints. I thought we won the fight but I could see Chris getting the win."
Provodnikov, 30, who earned a career-high $750,000, stuck to his promise to pursue Algieri and he made it an exciting fight, for which he was proud.
"I gave a very exciting fight and I think the fans were not sleeping in their seats," he said. "I did what I promised."
Algieri, who made a career-best $100,000, also did what he had promised -- to use his skills to outbox a rugged opponent. He is a college graduate and also earned a master's degree. After boxing he has aspirations of going to medical school.
But after the upset he pulled to win a 140-pound world title, it looks as though his education is going to have to wait a bit longer.
"I showed the boxing world who Chris Algieri is," he said.