John Molina Jr. and Ruslan Provodnikov were born just 53 weeks apart, made their professional debuts seven months apart in 2006 and they live about 25 miles from each other in Southern California.
Two more similarities: Within a 51-week span, both fought Argentinian slugger Lucas Matthysse in matches that earned Fight of the Year designations. And both lost.
Now John Molina Jr. (28-6, 23 KOs) and Ruslan Provodnikov (25-4, 18 KOs) are on the verge of sharing one more thing with each other: a boxing ring. The two high-volume punchers will square off June 11 at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York (Showtime 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
Given the fighters’ similar styles and their all-out wars against Matthysse, Provodnikov vs. Molina figures to be one of the most entertaining fights of the year. For Molina, it’s a particularly crucial bout as he’s gone 4-5 over the past four years.
That includes a three-fight losing skid that began with a bloody 11th-round knockout loss to Matthysse in April 2014. In that brawl, the 33-year-old heavy hitter from Covina, California, floored Matthysse in the second and fifth rounds before being dropped himself in the eighth and 10th rounds of a bout that was eventually stopped by the referee.
Molina followed that by losing consecutive unanimous decisions to Humberto Soto (September 2014) and Adrien Broner (March 2015) before getting back on the winning track in his most recent fight, a third-round TKO of Jorge Romero in Dallas on November 28.
Exactly two weeks earlier, Provodnikov scored a fourth-round TKO of Jesus Alvarez Rodriguez in Monaco in his first bout since losing a close majority decision to Matthysse in April 18. Against Matthysse, Provodnikov—who was born in Russia and resides in Los Angeles—fought through a second-round cut over his left eye from an accidental headbutt.
“There’s not much you can gain by comparing the fights [against Matthysse],” Molina said. “After the first round, I’ll know everything I’ll need to know about Ruslan Provodnikov, and there’s definitely some adjustments he’ll have to make.”
“I won’t have to go searching for Ruslan Provodnikov. He likes to fight, so he’ll be in range to exchange punches.”
RANCES BARTHELEMY: ‘I’ll FIGHT ANYBODY—EXCEPT JORGE LINARES’
Rances Barthelemy is in the midst of final preparations for his 135-pound title defense against former champion Mickey Bey on June 3. And while “Kid Blast” isn’t looking past Bey by any means, he did recently express an interest in fighting all comers in an effort to unify his weight class—so long as one of the opponents isn’t Jorge Linares (40-3, 27 KOs).
It’s not because Barthelemy (24-0, 13 KOs) fears Linares, who once held a 130-pound title (as did Barthelemy), as well as a 126-pound crown. No, the two fighters are friends, training partners and share a mutual cornerman in legendary Cuban trainer Ismael Salas, who has a boxing academy in Las Vegas, where the Cuba-born Barthelemy now resides.
“As long as the money is right, I will fight anybody except Linares due to the respect factor of being teammates and the logistics of having the same trainer,” said Barthelemy, 29, who defected from Cuba eight years ago.
Coming off a title-winning unanimous decision over Denis Shafikov in December, Barthelemy will make his first defense against Bey (22-1-1, 10 KOs) on June 3 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida (Spike TV, 9 p.m. ET/PT).
Should Barthelemy get beyond Bey, he could choose to take a run at division titleholders Anthony Crolla (31-4-3, 13 KOs) or Terry Flanagan (30-0, 12 KOs), who are both from the United Kingdom.
“I haven't seen Crolla and Flanagan fight much—just bits and pieces,” Barthelemy said. “But if the offer is right, I have no problem going to England to unify.”
Other possible opponents include contenders Dejan Zlaticanin (21-0, 14 KOs), Sharif Bogere (28-1, 19 KOs) and Richard Commey (24-0, 22 KOs).
Just not Linares.
PROMOTER CALLS GLOWACKI, GASSIEV WORLD'S BEST 200-POUNDERS
A southpaw, the 29-year-old Glowacki won his first title defense in April by twice flooring former champion Steve Cunningham with second-round, left-hand counters, then used short right hands to drop him once more in the 10th and 12th rounds en route to earning a unanimous decision.
Gassiev, 22, won his title elimination bout on May 17 courtesy of a Knockout of the Year-caliber punch, starching Jordan Shimmell (20-2, 16 KOs) with a head-swiveling pinpoint left hook to the chin that left the loser lying motionless and flat on his back near the end of Round 1.
“I think we have the two best cruiserweights in the world,” Margules said. “At some point, we’d like to have all four of the championship belts and unify the division.”
Glowacki has been ordered to defend his title against 2012 Ukrainian gold medalist Oleksander Usyk (9-0, 9 KOs), and Margules hopes to make it happen sometime during the summer.
Meanwhile, with his swift victory over Shimmell, Gassiev became the mandatory challenger to the crown previously held by Argentinian fighter Victor Emilio Ramirez (22-3-1, 17 KOs), who was knocked out in the second round by Russian Denis Lebedev (29-2, 22 KOs) in last Saturday’s title unification bout.
It’s unclear whether Lebedev will face Gassiev, Beibut Shumenov (17-2, 11 KOs) or Yunier Dorticos (21-0, 20 KOs). The latter two are world champions who hold titles from the same governing body as Lebedev.
“Murat took the Shimmell fight because he hadn’t fought since December, so it was a keep-busy fight, and Shimmell, to his credit, asked for the fight,” Margules said. “So we did it as an eliminator.
“Glowacki knocks people out; Murat puts people to sleep. There’s a difference. I don’t consider any cruiserweight in the world to be a risk for Murat to fight. I think he’s that special.”
ANDRE BERTO EYES DANNY GARCIA
Garcia, who held a title at 140 pounds before moving up in weight, has been idle since January when he won a unanimous decision against former champion Robert Guerrero for a vacant 147-pound title. Berto also faced Guerrero, losing a unanimous decision in a bout for an interim world title in November 2012.
“I think that would be a great fight for Danny, and a great statement for me to get that third title,” said the 32-year-old Berto, who rose from a second-round knockdown to twice drop Ortiz in the fourth. “I can punch, I have speed and, of course, he can punch as well, and he’s undefeated.
"I would force him to answer a lot of questions when it comes to who he is and show him some fortitude he hasn’t experienced."
Berto admitted before his last fight that his 2011 loss to Ortiz haunted him for five years, and he was dead set on exacting revenge.
“I feel vindicated, like a tremendous weight has been lifted off of my back,” Berto said. “I think I opened a lot of people’s eyes and created a buzz for me out there once again.”
Having taken care of Ortiz, Berto says he’s now got Guerrero and Jesus Soto Karass—the two men who handed Berto his second and third defeats—on his revenge radar, should a fight with Garcia not materialize.
“If it was up to me, I would get Robert Guerrero and Jesus Soto Karass out of there, as well,” said Berto, who also lost to Floyd Mayweather Jr. last September. “But right now, I think me and Danny Garcia would be something great for the fans.”
Lem’s Corner is published each Wednesday at PremierBoxingChampions.com.