Heavy underdog John Molina Jr. pulls big upset of Ruslan Provodnikov

A funny thing happened on the way to Ruslan Provodnikov's return to relevance.

Rather than blowing out prohibitive underdog John Molina Jr. in typical "Siberian Rocky" style, the Russian was out-skilled, out-worked and out-hustled in a unanimous 12-round decision loss to the six-loss gatekeeper atop a three-bout TV card in Verona, New York.

And in the aftermath of 115-113, 116-112 and 117-111 scores from judges Glenn Feldman, Don Ackerman and John McKaie, it sounded a bit like the 32-year-old's debut outing on Showtime Championship Boxing might as well have been his swan song, too.

CBS Sports agreed with Ackerman, scoring it 116-112 -- or eight rounds to four.

"No excuses. It happened the way it happened," Provodnikov said. "I couldn't find the hungriness. Maybe it was the motivation. Maybe it was something else. I have to sit down and think about it."

Indeed, the brawler who gained fame with a Fight of the Year loss to then-welterweight champ Timothy Bradley in 2013 and subsequent wars with Mike Alvarado, Chris Algieri and Lucas Matthysse was never able to summon a memorable moment against a foe who showed no willingness to play the second-banana roles of Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago.

Instead, Molina shook off the occasional wobble-inducing shot from the slugging Russian and answered with faster and busier hands of his own, and just enough pop to temper his opponent's aggression.

He threw more than 1,000 punches over 12 rounds and used his five-inch height and reach edges to control distance, while also going a long way toward removing the "journeyman" label hung on him.

The win boosted him to 29-6 as a pro and was the second straight since a three-fight skid in which he played the B-side to Matthysse and former champions Humberto Soto and Adrien Broner.

And suddenly, his fight-week claims that he would triumph because of fewer miles on the career odometer -- Molina had 66 amateur/pro matches to his opponent's 179 -- looked prescient.

"It was a fight that we needed," Molina said. "I had my amateur career in the pros, now it's my time to step out and shine. Everybody knows I could punch, but no one knew I could throw punches for 12 rounds. I had to make sure I was committed every day to know I had to outwork Ruslan Provodnikov."

For the majority of the 12 rounds, he accomplished the mission.

The Russian started well in the first round and landed shots that appeared to wobble Molina, but the less-heralded Californian was able to survive and thrive while establishing his tactical superiority in Rounds 2 and 3. Provodnikov's head-snapping successes remained noticeable, but they were intermittent at best as he had to contend with both Molina's range and his accuracy, which were manifested by the nasty red mouse under one eye and swelling over and beneath the other.

An upset began looking more likely when Molina dominated the sixth round with a barrage of one-twos that had Provodnikov on his heels, and he was able to maintain the same work rate over most of the fight's second half -- including a 12th round that was probably the best of the bunch.

Afterward, he claimed to have no concern that the verdict wouldn't go his way.

"[The decision] was self-explanatory," Molina said. "Fighters know if they won the fight when they're in the ring. We knew we did what we had to do and became victorious."

Provodnikov, whose voice audibly cracked as he spoke to Showtime's Jim Gray, had no argument.

He also refused to blame a seven-month layoff since his previous fight, a fourth-round TKO of previously unbeaten Jesus Rodriguez last November in Monaco.

"Today, the decision was the right thing. Molina won the fight. Everything was the way it should have been," Provodnikov said. "We expected that he would box and move. It just wasn't my night tonight. Maybe I don't have the same hungriness as before. It was difficult for me to find my groove.

"I'm sorry if I disappointed you."

Filling out the three-bout Showtime card were lightweight Dejan Zlaticanin, who won a vacant title belt with a third-round stoppage of Franklin Mamani; and former 154-pound world claimant Demetrius Andrade, who beat towering 6-foot-3 rival Willie Nelson by TKO at 1:38 of the 12th and final round.

Zlaticanin, incidentally, became the first champion from Montenegro in southeastern Europe.

He's improved to 22-0 with 15 KOs.

Meanwhile, Andrade's victory earned him a match with new WBC title-holder Jermell Charlo - and the stoppage was his 16th in 23 professional wins.

"I figured it out, put the pieces of the puzzle together and I got the knockout," he said.

"I'm ready for the Charlo boys. I want them. I'm coming to get those belts. As soon as they sign that contract, I'm up and ready."

Earlier, on a preliminary show carried by Showtime Extreme, former middleweight title challenger Willie Monroe Jr. defeated John Thompson by unanimous decision in a 10-round bout, and heavyweight Andrey Fedosov was a sixth-round TKO winner over Mario Heredia.

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