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The ESPN2 FNF TV Cheat Sheet- Jan. 27, 2012

The Russian-Korean pairing of Ruslan Provodnikov and Ji-Hoon Kim has co-headlined ESPN shows before and neither has disappointed from an action standpoint. Importantly, they are even entertaining in losses. This is what makes both attractive and why ESPN will continue to ask the duo back until they have become too good or too used-up for the “Friday Night Fights” series. It is a given that every prospect who boxes on ESPN wants to move on to bigger shows, fights and paydays. It is the natural progression for talented boxers on American television. A loss tonight by either fighter would indicate they do not have the skill set to move up to bigger shows on HBO or Showtime. Expect both to fight as if they have had enough of ESPN-level shows.

At the Pechanga Casino, Temecula, CA
(ESPN2) Ruslan Provodnikov (20-1) vs. David Torres (21-2-2)
(ESPN2) Ji-Hoon Kim (22-7) vs. Yakubu Amidu (20-2-1)

Yakubu Amidu – Ghanaian is most noted for being managed by actor Vince Vaughn, relocating to Los Angeles to further his career in 2010 and has won four straight. Those are Amidu’s only bouts in four years but he did fight three times in 2011 against below average competition. Still maintains a ripped body, a finely chiseled and evenly proportioned 5’8”, and sports natural strength that wears on opponents. Not the power puncher a 78% kayo ratio suggests, wearing down foes instead of scoring spectacular one-punch kayos. Began boxing at age eight, his father was a boxer and his brother, Abdullai Amidu, is an undefeated welterweight prospect. Yakubu has lost two fights to the only talented opponents his résumé holds on the road in Scotland and South Africa. Starts fights by aggressively headhunting, overly reliant on the straight right hand and mixing in straight punches to the body if there is a lack of success upstairs. Always returns to throwing straight right hands, whether leading or as short counters. Volume is good, broken up by wide attacks, and Amidu has a fast but inaccurate jab that often falls short. The jab seems thrown more to keep a punching rhythm as to find the target and rarely sets up or blocks vision for ensuing punches. Future champion Ricky Burns hurt Amidu with a right hand, staggering him and putting him on rubbery legs, prompting the referee to levy a premature stoppage. Amidu is a confusing character since he boxed well in a close decision loss to Ali Funeka but looked awkward and limited against Burns. Leads with his head at times and dips low to jab to the body, causing hesitancy on the part of foes. Kept a high guard against Martin Tucker in an “FNF” filler bout which limited his work rate but really opened up when he got inside. At 27, retains good reflexes but squares up to foes too much and leans back instead of blocking punches with his high guard. Amidu has only been beaten by elite boxers, with WBO champion Burns and multiple title challenger Funeka, so he seems able to trouble prospects and borderline contenders.

Ji-Hoon Kim – Boxing fans enjoy Kim because he falls behind in fights before rallying to erase the judges’ scorecards with one punch. The hard fights could be catching up to Kim, losing two of his last three and winning a close, ten-round decision over a 3-0 novice in his last fight. Kim had fashioned himself into a borderline top-ten guy but fell short in a title bout against underrated Miguel Vazquez and was then unexpectedly blown out in one round by Leonardo Zappavigna. Scored impressive wins before those setbacks, roaring back from early deficits to bludgeon Tyrone Harris and Ameth Diaz into submission. The Korean came up the hard way, turning pro at age 17 (only began boxing at age 16), losing three of his first five fights. Reeled off five wins before he was overmatched, losing two ten-rounders before his 13th pro fight. Kim has displayed mental resiliency to fight his way to this point and did not lose in a four-year span running up a 13-fight winning streak. Notably, five of those wins came outside of Korea. Beat former Olympian Koba Gogoladze in his American debut, where Kim was rocked hard before coming back to score a first-round kayo. An all-action, “I dare you to stand in front of me” brawler with a legitimate 62% kayo ratio who can wear on foes or stop them with one punch. At 25, has blossomed in terms of strength, which he combines with the worth ethic of a manic monk. Despite lack of defense, has only been stopped twice and shown endurance, retaining punching power late while taking punches throughout. Also, Kim just looks like a big guy, perhaps because of his height (5’9½”) mixed with small waist and long arms. Wears on opponents through contact or leaning of any kind and is comfortable offensively on the outside or inside. Super strong for the weight, Kim’s right hand ranks with the most explosive in the division. Had no amateur bouts, learning on the fly and in the gyms. Enters fights in phenomenal shape to continuously rally in fights and demonstrates superb recuperative powers. An awkward fighter as well, coming at opponents from odd angles with sweeping punches that are difficult to imitate for sparring partners. Win or lose, Kim can be a mainstay on American television because of his ultra-tough and exciting fighting style. The question is, at what level? Is currently at ESPN level but a title and two or three defenses could catapult him into the Showtime/HBO range.

Verdict – These two employ the same style to generate victories but Kim is more refined and compact in his aggression. Both men are best coming forward and I see the physically stronger Kim pushing Amidu backward where he is at a definite disadvantage. At some point, around the fourth round, Kim lands a big punch to the high and erect head of Amidu, knocking down the game Ghanaian. From that point forth, it is all Kim, sweeping the final five rounds to win a lopsided decision. Teddy Atlas, who will be sitting ringside, sees it playing out similarly, “Ji-Hoon Kim will probably have to come back in this fight. He gets caught early, but has a huge heart. When he does win, he finds a way to come back. He puts himself in difficult positions but puts us in a good position because we are watching some interesting fights.”
David Torres – Washington-based fighter is a fan favorite and regular at the entertaining Emerald Queen Casino’s fight nights, a good draw, given his attacking style and lack of attention to defense. I could not find information on Torres’ personal or amateur background but he looks to have solid amateur schooling to go along with unexplained stretches of inactivity. Hardened veteran is taking one last run at the big time, facing a third straight tough opponent. In Torres’ last six fights against good opposition, Torres has gone 2-2-2, displaying good, late-round stamina with the last two outings ending in ten-round draws. Took a two-year break from 2008 to 2010, as well as deserved vacations after two bad losses. A conventional boxer with average hand speed and somewhat soft body that hides his balance, endurance and athleticism. Reminds of former champion Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz in that way but definitely a “B” version who lacks the fine-tuning and incessant pressure. Likes to move forward and throw left hook to the body but Torres needs rounds to get his juices flowing and begin punching consistently. Has decent footwork to give chase but often leans or falls forward trying to land a long punch at retreating foe instead of cutting off ring. Is a fluid puncher, throwing nice uppercuts when inside, especially with short chopping blows when feet are set or the opponent is against the ropes. Torres’ right hand is high on defense but left does hang and lack of quickness or great reflexes leaves him vulnerable. Fight against Julio Diaz was a brawl with a more experienced Diaz landing smart combinations to bust up Torres’ face and cause a swelling-induced stoppage. A legitimate kayo was suffered was against battle-tested Raymundo Beltran, who dominated and stopped Torres in viscous fashion, landing at will against his lethargic victim. In interviews, talks about fighting at 135 pounds (never has) but is taking this fight at 140, where his lack of upper body strength could show. Does everything fine but lacks the speed, spark or strength to give the dash of danger his game plan of consistent pressure needs to succeed against elite foes. Especially at age 33, where negatives are more prone to show than workmanlike, blue-collar positives. 

Ruslan Provodnikov – I still view Siberian-bred Russian as an undefeated prospect who impresses with brute strength and a willingness to walk through punches to deliver his payload. Lost a narrow decision to Mauricio Herrera despite pressing the action and landing the bigger punches. Before that, stopped former titleholder Javier Jauregui, concentrating on volume punching (especially the left hook to the body), having mastered his version of the power game. Describes his style as, “a lot of pressure, always going forward, sudden, hard punches.” Provodnikov told our own Steve Kim this week, “I think that the person’s character makes his style a lot. So I can’t change. But obviously, I will add some changes and some tools to my fighting style.” Is refining that style, moving from trainer Buddy McGirt to Freddie Roach to find the right balance between offense and defense. Because of Provodnikov’s Asian features, comparisons to Hall-of-Famer Kostya Tszyu abound but more concerning is that his features have cut and swollen badly in fights. Is not as intelligent in the ring as Tszyu nor does Provodnikov economize his punches the way Tszyu did. Two things stand out about Provodnikov: his thudding power and an utter lack of attention to defense. 28-year-old is a fun TV fighter to be sure but is teachable, earning a university degree and showing improved ring tactics after his loss. Moved his head a bit in last ESPN bout, so there is a flicker of self-preserving instincts in him. Majority of his power lies in a big upper body and shoulders, so Provodnikov does not need a lot of space to hurt opponents. A punishing puncher, he goes to the body with zeal and does not look for one punch. Gained a reputation at the Wild Card Gym for not letting up in sparring. Remains raw for someone who won 130 of 150 amateur bouts (from age 12 to 23) and won a European championship. Perhaps he ignores basics in the knowledge of his physical superiority. Power is not of the one-punch variety, more like the crippling blows of a Julio Cesar Chavez (Mike Tyson is said to be Provodnikov’s boxing inspiration) but he lacks their lateral movement to force engagements. Provodnikov has gone 12 rounds twice, displaying good stamina when forced to go hard rounds. When he reaches a higher level, a lack of elite hand speed could hurt him, so a trainer like Freddie Roach becomes important. The kid grew up tough in Siberia and fights like he doesn’t want to go back!

Verdict – Provodnikov is most bothered by an opponent’s feet not fists, so a relatively immobile Torres, who prefers walking straight ahead, is made to order for the Siberian slasher. In some ways, these two are mirror images but Provodnikov’s mirror is much stronger and more violent. Provodnikov’s class and strength are too much and Torres weakens with every backward step. Torres battles valiantly but gets put on the ropes and pummeled consistently by the fifth round, leaving the referee no choice but to step in and stop the fight.

Prediction record for 2012: 67% (4-2)
Prediction record in 2011: 88% (138-19)
Prediction record in 2010: 85% (218-40)
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