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The ESPN2 Friday Night Fights TV Cheat Sheet- June 29, 2012

Ruslan Provodnikov has found a home on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights”; five of his last eight fights have aired on the network and he has repaid them with exciting performances. The Siberian slugger has no problem going into an opponent’s backyard, which he does again tonight facing a tricky southpaw many would bypass rather than go through. The two co-main events mirror each other in terms of matchmaking (the show is produced by undervalued Thompson Boxing Promotions), pitting boxers against brawlers and giving viewers a front row seat to how brains overcomes brawn or strength conquers style. I believe that a boxer of each type will emerge with a victory tonight, giving fans the best of both worlds.

At the Omega Products Arena, Corona, CA
(ESPN2) Ruslan Provodnikov (21-1) vs. Jose Reynoso (16-3-1)
(ESPN2) Roberto Castaneda (20-1-1) vs. Christopher Martin (23-2-3)

Roberto Castaneda – Mexican mauler is nicknamed “Jet”, though something is lost in translation since Castaneda is not abnormally fast, sleek or impossible to shoot down [Editor’s note: In this occasion, the “jet” derived from Castaneda’s nickname “Azabache” translates to the grade of black]. Could not find information about Castaneda’s amateur pedigree but he fights out of Mexicali where quality bantamweights abound for great sparring. Castaneda fought his way out of those gyms and onto nationally televised cards in Mexico thanks to a big right hand and willingness to press forward. Turned pro at 125 pounds but has fought as low as 117, quickly becoming a local attraction only fighting outside of Mexicali twice (this is his first fight outside of Mexico). A 68% kayo percentage is due to poor opposition; only two of 15 kayos came against foes with 10 wins or more but Castaneda does produce whip-like punches thanks to a sinewy frame and his offensive mindset cannot be discouraged. The 21-year-old cuts an angular figure with long torso, tight abs and lengthy reach that he gets the most out of by stepping into shots as he wades ahead. Does not focus on body punching, loading up and throwing big punches without the aid of a jab, not afraid to lead with a straight right. The jab is searching, not thrown with much zip, and when used to hide a straight punch, even less commitment is made to it. Gives impression of being off balance, falling inwards with punches, leaving himself off-kilter on defense or unable to follow up on advantages. Castaneda is still learning, averaging six fights a year, and over the last six months really upped his level of opposition. The results were predictable, having faced three good boxers, Castaneda came out of those contests with one win, one loss and one draw. Even in his loss to Felipe Orucuta (where he was hit low a couple times), Castaneda was dangerous, hurting Orucuta but could not follow up on his advantage and was otherwise handily outboxed before he being felled by body punches. Defensive limitations showed up big in that fight, not holding when hurt and unable to escape with lateral movement. Showed good, mental strength rebounding from that loss to beat 22-8-2 Eden Marquez only a month later, representing the best win of Castaneda’s career.

Christopher Martin - The “San Diego Kid” burst onto the scene upsetting Chris Avalos, dishing out a boxing lesson to the hot prospect over ten stirring rounds in 2010. The six-year pro showed defensive prowess and superior experience to disrupt and evade a heavy-handed foe and, though Martin can be a spoiler, he made the fight attractive with effective counterpunching. Signed with Top Rank after the win but was upset by journeyman Jose Beranza and drew with title challenger Teon Kennedy in an exciting back-and-forth affair before losing badly to Luis Del Valle in his last fight. It’s hard to figure Martin out; he only had 30 amateur bouts and given his pro record, it is odd to note he was barely over a .500 boxer in the unpaid ranks (since Martin’s parry-dodge-and-counter style was suitable for amateur success). Started boxing at age 14 and his excellent work ethic helped him compete, if not win, right away. Pro success has come via counterpunching, timing, sense of distance, stamina and a consistent punch output. Don’t discount Martin’s reflexes and mental sharpness which allow him to counter with flicking lefts and quick right hands while under pressure. Moves his head well and is quick to disengage to avoid punishment after hit with an initial punch. Not simply out of self-preservation but to keep from being tied up in order to land combinations of his own. Veteran English boxing observer Graham Houston describes Martin in his draw with Teon Kennedy, “Martin is what old-timers would have called a ‘cutie.’ He is very good at slipping, blocking and rolling away from punches. Martin did some really classy scoring as he landed punches and then pulled out of range to have Kennedy missing.” Martin sparred with lightweight prospect John Molina a lot which helped him gain knowledge of how to engage a big banger that comes straight at him. While not a phenomenal physical presence, Martin uses every ounce when inside and can throw the occasional questionable blow to let foes knows he’s no pushover. Nothing special stands out about the 25-year-old except that he usually gets the job done against a good caliber of opposition. The question is if Martin can go beyond being an entertaining spoiler and use his seasoning to expand on offensive talent to become a title threat.

Verdict – Castaneda looks too raw and immature on offense to push a now veteran Martin into mistakes, not showing enough versatility or commitment to bodywork to slow Martin down. Martin will see, avoid and counter Castaneda’s punches all night and if caught, ride out the punches as he has shown the ability to do in the past against better offensive forces. Castaneda will come forward and make the fight but the judges will not be able to reward ineffective aggression that is inaccurate and rarely troubles Martin. I like Martin to take seven of the eight rounds, only letting the first round get away from him as he gauges Castaneda’s speed and power.

Jose Reynoso – A mature 27-year-old, born in Mexicali, Mexico, Reynoso is now a Riverside, California transplant who signed with underrated Thompson Boxing Promotions last year. Has always shown a willingness to take on tough opposition which has led to educational losses Reynoso has used to go undefeated over the last three years. Is on a five-fight winning streak since an eight-round draw in 2010. Reynoso has shown himself an awkward southpaw with skills, speed, respectable power and movement he feels is the perfect mix of style to offset Provodnikov’s vaunted power. A tall southpaw, standing 5-foot-10 with long arms, Reynoso has some slickness but has shown himself willing to bang when confident in his ability to dictate terms without employing his hand speed and instincts. Is on a seven-fight unbeaten streak which is impressive when you consider it came against solid opposition with Reynoso handing prospects Hector Serrano and Aris Ambriz their first losses. Before recent flurry of activity, averaged two fights a year dating back to 2005 and seemed lost without good management or promotion. Is now taking boxing seriously and improved by traveling to the training camps of Saul Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin and Josesito Lopez for sparring. Hand injuries have also held back Reynoso, recently having to overcome a leg and hip injury after slipping on a wet spot in the gym which cost him a fight against prospect Thomas Dulorme. In last loss, an eight-rounder to undefeated Irish prospect Dean Byrne, Reynoso showed heart getting off the canvas three times in the first four rounds to hear the final bell. Trainer Charlie Perez described Reynoso to writer Sig Guillermo, “I really think that he can fight whoever’s out there because he’s a very intelligent fighter. He doesn’t get hit and he could be standing right in front of you. He’s elusive. He’s got some movement that people just can’t figure out. When he’s in there, he will hit you. We’re going to start getting some knockouts now. Like I said, he’s going to be a world champion; it’s just a matter of when.” I agree that Reynoso is on the upswing but the crafty southpaw might just lack that extra bit of speed and reflexes needed to make it to the championship level his trainer envisions.

Ruslan Provodnikov – I still view the Siberian-bred Russian as an undefeated prospect who imposes with brute strength and 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 but rebounded with four solid wins since. Looked best stopping former titleholder Javier Jauregui, concentrating on volume punching (especially left hook to the body) and in his last fight, destroyed competent David Torres. Describes his style as “a lot of pressure, always going forward, sudden, hard punches.” Provodnikov told our own Steve Kim, “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 under trainer Freddie Roach, who replaces Buddy McGirt, finding the right balance between offense and defense while becoming the lead sparring partner for Manny Pacquiao. Because of Provodnikov’s Asian features, comparisons to Hall-of-Famer Kostya Tszyu abound- and those features have been 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 with Provodnikov, thudding power and an utter lack of attention to defense. 28-year-old is a fun TV fighter and teachable, earning a university degree and showing improved ring tactics after his loss. Moved his head somewhat in last fight, so there is a flicker of self-preserving instincts in him. Majority of Provodnikov’s power lies in a big upper body and shoulders, not needing a lot of space to hurt opponents. A punishing puncher, he goes to the body with zeal and does not look for one punch but lack of elite hand speed is a bit disconcerting. Power is not of the one-punch variety, more like the crippling blows of a Julio Cesar Chavez and Mike Tyson (Tyson is Provodnikov’s boxing inspiration), but he lacks their lateral movement to force engagements so far. 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? Provodnikov has gone 12 rounds twice, displaying good stamina when forced to go hard rounds. The kid grew up tough in Siberia and fights like he doesn’t want to go back!

Verdict – Reynoso should trouble Provodnikov early but I think the Russian’s newfound maturity and betterment under Freddie Roach will get him through this tough fight. Provodnikov is most bothered by an opponent’s feet, not fists, and Reynoso is not the most elusive foe despite being a southpaw. In terms of boxing attitude, these two are mirror images; neither likes relenting control but Provodnikov’s mirror is much stronger and more violent. Provodnikov’s more complete game and strength is too much and Reynoso weakens with every backward step. Reynoso battles valiantly but gets put on the ropes and pummeled consistently by the sixth round, leaving the referee no choice but to step in and stop the fight around the ninth round.

Prediction record for 2012: 82% (60-13)
Prediction record in 2011: 88% (138-19)
Prediction record in 2010: 85% (218-40)
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