Friday, March 22, 2013

Bradley: Rocked, Dropped, Retains Title with Champion’s Heart

Many were filled with anger following the decision of the WBO World Welterweight championship fight between then champion Manny Pacquiao and undefeated Jr. Welterweight champion Timothy Bradley in June of last year. Many fans and experts, this one included believed that Manny Pacquiao won the fight decisively and that an injustice took place.  Anger however was not exclusively pointed at the three judges who scored the fight but also the promoters and most unjustifiably Timothy Bradley. 

What seemed to be overshadowed in the aftermath of the fight was the bravery that Timothy Bradley showed in a fight where he suffered ligament damage to both feet.  Bradley’s courage certainly cannot be questioned. Bradley feeling he had something to prove returned to the ring to defend his Welterweight world title for the first time on March 16th against Jr. Welterweight contender Ruslan Provodnikov who was moving up in weight to the Welterweight division. 

The bout which took place at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California was not expected to produce fireworks however, when it comes to the sport of Boxing it is always best to “Expect the Unexpected”.  Bradley who is an effective combination puncher is known as a fighter who wears his opponents down gradually as the fight goes on from an accumulation of punishment.  In this fight however Bradley chose to stand toe to toe with Provodnikov.  In the latter stages of round one Provodnikov staggered the champion with an overhand right and Bradley went down to the canvas seemingly caused from the effect of that punch.  Despite what appeared to be a clear knockdown scored by Provodnikov, it was ruled a slip by Referee Pat Russell.   The two fighters continued to engage in a back and forth battle with Bradley landing more punches but Provodnikov seeming to land the more damaging blows.  

Bradley however was most effective in periods where he was able to control the distance and somewhat nullify Provodnikov’s offense.  Bradley was able to clearly win rounds three, four, and five in the opinion of this observer based on his ability to punch in combination to the head and body. Bradley also threw more and landed at a higher percentage.

Provodnikov was able to stagger Bradley again in round six and appeared to have the champion out on his feet.  Bradley however showed his mettle gamely fighting off the ropes in what should be considered the highlight exchange of the fight. An argument can be made based on Provodnikov’s burst of offense in that round that the fight could have been even thru six rounds on most scorecards. The scorecards of official judges Jerry Cantu, Marty Denkin, and Raul Caiz Sr. were in fact even at 57-57 after six rounds.    In some ways this fight could be described as two fights in one, Provodnikov getting the better of the exchanges when Bradley was willing to oblige, engage toe to toe, and Bradley controlling the fight when he chose to box using his jab and lateral movement to control distance.  The champion was able to win rounds  seven, eight, and nine by out boxing Provodnikov. 

Although some may not fully appreciate a boxer’s craft it is pleasing for Boxing purists to see one show the ability to adjust during the course of the fight.  Bradley at this stage was able to take control of the fight.  It was also at this stage of the bout when it appeared that Ruslan Provodnikov could have been in danger of being stopped due to a severe cut that opened over his left eye in round eight.  Much like Timothy Bradley showed his mettle in this fight, so too did Provodnikov by continuing to come forward and absorbing significant punishment in the process.  Despite being badly cut Provodnikov remained dangerous and always “Game”.

As the fight entered the late rounds Bradley continued to box effectively however was briefly stunned by a left hook by Provodnikov in the closing seconds of round ten.  In round eleven Provodnikov came out and was more aggressive than he had been in previous rounds in trying to get his punches off first.  Bradley neglected the Boxing strategy that got him in control of the fight from rounds seven thru ten and again chose to exchange with Provodnikov.   Provodnikov was able to win the close round based on landing the harder punches.  It would set the stage for what would be a memorable round twelve. 

The twelfth round began with Timothy Bradley utilizing good lateral movement and landing combinations to the head and body.  For the first minute and a half of the round it seemed as if Bradley would win the round decisively over a “Game” but badly fatigued Provodnikov.  In the final minute of the round however Provodnikov badly staggered Bradley with left hook that had the champion reeling. Provodnikov at this point threw all that he had left in him and was able to force the champion to take a knee in the closing seconds of the fight.  Bradley was able to get to his feet and the final bell rang bringing to an end what turned out to be a thrilling fight. 

There was little doubt at the conclusion of this fight that the fight was close. A few questions presented itself.  Despite Bradley going down in the first round being ruled a slip by Referee Pat Russell an argument could be made by some that the damage that Provodnikov was able to inflict in that round may have been worthy of it being scored 10-8.  Based on this and Provodnikov being able to win round eleven and scoring a knockdown in round twelve, it wasn’t hard to see the possibility of either a narrow win for Provodnikov, a narrow win for Bradley based on how he was able to take control of the fight in the middle rounds or, certainly a justifiable draw. 

Although Timothy Bradley won this fight on all three scorecards he essentially won this fight by one point on the scorecards of Judges Marty Denkin and Jerry Cantu.  In terms of points it all came down to the call of a slip in round one that many feel, this observer included should have been ruled a knockdown in favor of Ruslan Provodnikov.  If Provodnikov was credited with a knockdown in that round this fight would have ended in a draw.  All three judges scored the first round for Provodnikov 10-9. 

Bradley on the other hand dispelled all disbelievers on this night.  He not only proved he is courageous, willing to engage toe to toe, but also displayed a champion’s heart.  To fight on and continue to come back from the brutalizing barrage of Provodnikov’s offense was truly astounding. 

What’s next for both Bradley and Provodnikov?  To date in 2013 these two great fighters have my vote for Fight of the Year. This fight left me wanting more. My first choice would be a rematch for I cannot see another opponent for either of them creating as much excitement.  No this fight was not historic per se, nor was it the greatest fight ever, and it probably will be outdone in the future.  Simply put, this was a great fight and it deserves a sequel.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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