There was little doubt that notorious brawlers John Molina Jr. and Ruslan Provodnikov would give fight fans an action-packed, no-holds-barred fight Saturday night. In that respect, the two hammer-fisted 140-pounders delivered as expected.
The one surprise? Molina spent as much time boxing as brawling, and that proved to be the difference as he overcame big odds—as high as 9-to-1 in some spots—to upset Provodnikov by unanimous decision at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York.
“I have a new trainer and teacher in Shadeed Suluki," Molina said. "Everyone knows that I can punch, [but] no one knew that I could actually throw punches. Shadeed showed me how to do that.
"I also have Michael Galvez, who is the best strength coach out there. He got me in shape and let me know we had to outwork Ruslan Provodnikov. I stuck to the game plan, and I knew I won the fight. It would have been hard-pressed for [the judges] to take it away from me.”
At 5-foot-10½, Molina entered the ring 4½ inches taller than Provodnikov, and the bigger man used his height to his advantage, establishing his jab from the outside while not allowing the powerful Provodnikov to effectively work inside with regularity.
Molina’s ability to keep his Russian-born foe at bay was born out in the final punch stats, as he landed 152 jabs, compared with 86 for Provodnikov. Overall, Molina finished with a 377-283 edge in total shots, including 225-197 in power shots.
Displaying the kind of sportsmanship that is rare in his sport, Provodnikov didn't dispute the judges' scores, admitting Molina was the better man on this night.
“The decision was right. Molina won the fight,” said Provodnikov, who was in his second bout with trainer Joel Diaz, the onetime coach of 147-pound world champion Timothy Bradley Jr. “We expected him to box and move. It wasn’t my night. Maybe I don’t have the same hunger as before. It was difficult to find my groove tonight, [but] there are no excuses.”
The two boxers came into the contest well known for their willingness to stand and trade, and they lived up to those reputations with several scintillating exchanges in which defense was a mere afterthought. The duo combined to throw more than 1,700 punches, with more than 1,000 of those shots coming from Molina’s fists.
One toe-to-toe sequence in the fourth round resulted in an accidental clash of heads that opened a cut over the left eye of Provodnikov. Although he bled for much of the rest of the bout, the cut didn’t seem to affect the 32-year-old in a significant way.
Molina—a 33-year-old lifelong resident of Covina, California—has now followed up a three-fight losing streak with consecutive victories. Meanwhile, Provodnikov has alternated wins and losses in his last eight fights. That includes a June 2014 split-decision defeat to Chris Algieri that cost Provodnikov his 140-pound world title.
Heading into Saturday’s fight, Molina predicted he’d able to duplicate the performance of Algieri, who at 5-foot-10 also had a distinct height advantage over Provodnikov.
After 12 rounds, Molina’s emphatically made good on that prediction.
“It was a fight that we needed," said Molina, who launched his career in March 2006, just nine months before Provodnikov made his pro debut. "Ruslan is a tough, tough guy. I felt his punching power in there, and he kept coming forward.
"But people don’t realize that I had my amateur career in the pros. Now, it’s time for me to step out and shine and show what I can do, and I believe that I’m getting ready to hit my stride.”
For a complete pre- and post-fight look at Provodnikov vs Molina, head over to our fight page.