VERONA, N.Y. -- There were no titles at stake, no pound-for-pound consideration, either. The fight was just a heavily anticipated collision between Lucas Matthysse and Ruslan Provodnikov, two of the best junior welterweights in the world, two of boxing's best punchers and two of the most exciting fighters alive.
In the end, they delivered everything that was expected of them in a hellacious, bloody battle that Matthysse won by the tightest of majority decisions Saturday night at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in what is, so far, the leading candidate for fight of the year.
Judges John McKaie and Glen Feldman both scored the fight 115-113 for Matthysse, and judge Don Ackerman scored it 114-114. ESPN.com also had it 114-114 in a brutal fight every bit as close as the scores were.
"I thought it was a great fight. I said before the fight that it was [like Diego] Corrales-[Jose Luis] Castillo I," said Provodnikov promoter Artie Pelullo, who compared the fight ahead of time to the classic 2005 fight of the year and one of the great fights of all time that he co-promoted. "I thought we won the fight, but one point either way? The judges did a great job."
Argentina's Matthysse, speaking through a translator, said, "I feel very happy about this win. This is what I know -- Ruslan is one tough fighter. He took everything I threw at him and I respect him so much."
The sheer violence was on display from the outset as they took turns rocking each other.
"He was the better man tonight. He's the hardest puncher that I've fought," Provodnikov, a former junior welterweight world titleholder, said through a translator. "I wanted to win the fight no matter what. I just fight to the end. Every time I come into the ring, I tell my trainer never to stop the fight.
"The only way the fight would be stopped is if I'm on my back. All other times I fight."
The fight started quickly with Matthysse getting off quick punches and Provodnikov going right to him. It was the start of a battle of wills.
"I was hitting him, and hitting him hard, but he's a rock," Matthysse said through a translator. "He took a lot of hard punches. I even hurt my hand. But he's a great champion."
Seconds into the second round, Matthysse ripped open a cut over Provodnikov's left eye with an accidental head-butt, but Provodnikov continued to march forward as they exchanged heavy shots as a sold-out crowd of 4,500 went wild.
Matthysse (37-3, 34 KOs), 32, tried to box and backed up some, but he also fired powerful 1-2 combinations against a stationary Provodnikov, who has an iron chin.
"You never get worried about Ruslan giving up, so I wasn't worried about the cut unless the doctor was going to stop the fight," Pelullo said. "Ruslan's a warrior. He's a throwback."
Added Matthysse: "I saw that he was cut and I thought they were going to stop the fight, and around the sixth round I hurt my hand. But I kept fighting because I wanted to prove I am the best fighter. I wanted to leave everything in the ring."
They both did just that.
"It was a great fight, a wonderful fight," said Golden Boy Promotions president Oscar De La Hoya, Matthysse's promoter. "I believe Lucas Matthysse kept his poise, kept using his jab and didn't allow Provodnikov to lunge in with his knockout power punches."
The fourth round was filled with mayhem as both fighters rocked each other during heavy back-and-forth action. There was a left hook from Provodnikov that stopped Matthysse in his tracks and then a Matthysse uppercut that immediately snapped Provodnikov's head.
It was like that for the entire terrific round. The crowd took turns chanting "Matthysse! Matthysse!" and then "Ruslan! Ruslan," but Matthysse had a big sixth round as he unleashed combinations and hurt Provodnikov to the body and with clean right hands to the head.
"The Siberian Rocky" Provodnikov (27-4, 17 KOs), 31, of Russia, who seemed to be falling behind, got going again in the eighth round, forcing Matthysse to a corner and nailing him with a combination just before the round ended. By the 10th round, Matthysse's right eye was swelling in what had been an extremely violent fight.
Both fighters got a good break in the 11th round when referee Benjy Esteves called timeout when tape on Matthysse's glove came loose. When the fight resumed, the break appeared to help Provodnikov more because he nailed Matthysse with a left hook to the temple that appeared to buckle him with about 45 seconds to go in the round. But Matthysse hung on as they traded fierce shots.
"The 11th round he hit me in the side of my head, and I definitely felt it," Matthysse said. "I did get a little dizzy, so I made sure to keep moving my feet."
As the 12th round began, the crowd was on its feet and going wild. And the warriors, rather than tap gloves, embraced and then began to hammer each other for one more round. They knew what they had put each other through. Blood was streaming down Provodnikov's face from the cut eye and Matthysse was looking worn out, but they closed with a flourish in a fight that lived up to its very high expectations.
Pelullo did not think such a close loss in a terrific fight would hurt Provodnikov's ability to continue to get marquee matches.
"I don't think it affects him. Half the people thought he won and HBO had it a draw," he said. "I don't believe it will hurt him, but you always want to win."
Added Provodnikov: "I just wanted to win the fight, no matter how it came. I go out there every time and I fight until the end and I give it my all. I promise that in every fight I will give my all. I give my all every single time."
Pelullo said Provodnikov would like a rematch, and there are probably a lot of fight fans who would also like to see it, but it is unlikely to happen.
"We'd do it. Wouldn't you want to see that again," Pelullo said. "Absolutely we'd do a rematch. He has the mentality that he will never give up and never give in."
Added Provodnikov: "Send me the contract, and I will sign it."
De La Hoya, however, said they were not interested.
"I said before the fight that Lucas deserves the big names, like Manny Pacquiao," he said. "Right now, we will explore our options. He will take a little break, maybe fight in Argentina.
"I didn't see the fight that close. I gave Provodnikov maybe four rounds, Lucas fought a great fight. He had a great game plan. Provodnikov is a great fighter with a great heart. I wish him all the best. He has a bright future, but we'll move on."
Added Matthysse: "I'm ready to take on the next great fighter. I am ready to take on the winner of [Floyd] Mayweather-Pacquiao."
It is unlikely that he will get either of them, but one possible fight for Matthysse is a title shot against 2014 fighter of the year Terence Crawford (26-0, 18 KOs), who knocked out Thomas Dulorme in the sixth round to win a vacant junior welterweight world title Saturday night in the opening bout of the HBO split-site broadcast in Arlington, Texas.
Whatever Matthysse or Provodnikov do next, they gave boxing fans a terrific fight, one that came almost 30 years to the day since the epic Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns brawl, one of boxing's most legendary battles.
"This is the best fight of the year so far," Pelullo said. "They're warriors. They were both hurt throughout the fight. It was a great fight."