|Bradley hits Provodnikov / Photo by Tri Le|
Carson, Calif. -- Not even the Cold War was this violent.
In a do-or-die battle featuring swollen eyes, brutal exchanges, and multiple momentum swings, American Timothy Bradley (30-0, 12 KOs) successfully defended his WBO welterweight title Saturday against Russia's Ruslan Provodnikov (22-2, 15 KOs), winning a close, but unanimous decision by scores of 114-113, 114-113, and 115-112. The Daily Sports Herald scored it 114-113, also for Bradley.
Bradley's formula for victory -- superior conditioning, high workrate, extraordinary determination -- was the same blueprint that we have seen in all of his 30 wins, but this time came with a twist: A newfound desire to trade toe-to-toe in a phone booth.
The result of that new approach not only created a 2013 Fight of the Year candidate, but also instantly changed the perception of both men from "low buzz" fighters into "must-see" stars.
From the opening round, Bradley seemed intent on making a statement, essentially drawing a line in the sand and attempting to impose his will on Provodnikov with power shots.
However, Provodnikov's trainer, Freddie Roach, had prepared his fighter precisely for such an early surprise.
"I thought Bradley would have to prove something," said Roach. "The last thing I told Ruslan leaving the dressing room is that the beginning of this fight is going to be really hard. He's very muscular. He wants to show he's physically stronger than you and outpunch you. That's why we warmed up really well."
Bradley's strategy quickly backfired, as Provodnikov landed a big right that hurt the champion. On extremely wobbly legs, Bradley somehow found the heart to continue trading with his opponent, but also sustained more damage in the process.
|Bradley's legs give out / Photo by Tri Le|
Provodnikov continued his onslaught in Round Two, landing several power shots that again had Bradley virtually out on his feet. Still, Bradley gamely continued to throw despite frequently coming out on the worse end of the exchanges.
Bradley believed that he likely suffered a concussion during these early rounds, as he acknowledged after the fight that he was still "dizzy."
At the start of Round Three, Bradley changed up his tactics, and in doing so, changed the momentum of the fight.
Rather than standing and trading with Provodnikov, Bradley began moving laterally. His footwork prevented Provodnikov from setting his feet and cutting off the ring, and consequently, Provodnikov stopped letting his hands ago.
Meanwhile, Bradley became more active, getting off first in the exchanges and outworking Provodnikov with multiple combinations. After landing his shots, Bradley would often slip away and avoid any retaliation.
Bradley began piling up points in this manner, bagging rounds 3 through 5 and 7 through 10 on all three judges' cards.
Moreover, Bradley's high punch volume began to take a toll, as Provodnikov's left eye soon was cut and swollen.
In fact, Bradley threw an impressive 1000 total punches in the fight, connecting on 347 (35%), 218 of which were power shots. By comparison, Provodnikov landed a total of only 218 of his 676 (32%) punches.
With Provodnikov losing rounds and absorbing punishment, Roach implored his fighter at the end of Round Ten to show him something more, and he responded.
|Provodnikov hits Bradley / Photo by Tri Le|
Provodnikov then ramped up the pressure even more in Round Twelve, landing a left hook and following it up with a huge right that had Bradley in serious trouble once again.
With Provodnikov looking for a stoppage win, Bradley wisely took a knee in the final seconds for the fight's only knockdown. After beating the count, the bell immediately sounded, allowing Bradley to survive.
What We Learned From This Fight
- Provodnikov has above-average power at 147 pounds. Even Manny Pacquiao never had Bradley hurt this badly, as Bradley himself stated, "he hits far harder than Pacquiao."
- Bradley showed great heart, but also proved he can be exciting too. After his lackluster, head-butt festival against Devon Alexander, Bradley was perceived as a talented, but boring fighter who lacked the one-punch knockout power to win over the masses. Although he still has yet to show any truly concussive pop in his gloves, on this night Bradley nevertheless proved that he can fight the war-of-attrition style bouts fans crave.
- Contrary to pre-fight notions that Bradley would outclass Provodnikov, there was no significant talent gap between them. In other words, any speed or skill advantages that Bradley may have enjoyed, were tempered by Provodnikov's superior power. Furthermore, Bradley's struggles confirmed that a talent deficit continues to exist between himself and the sport's truly elite pound-for-pound fighters, such as Andre Ward, Floyd Mayweather, and Sergio Martinez.
- Consistent scoring can be possible in this sport after all. Judges Jerry Cantu and Marty Denkin not only had the same final scores, but they also scored every round identically. Furthermore, Judge Raul Caiz Sr. scored every round the same as Denkin and Cantu with the exception of Round 11.
- Provodnikov's improved performance can partly be attributed to his move to welterweight, as Roach explained that trying to make weight at 140 was "killing him."
By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for The Daily Sports Herald