Timothy Bradley could've fought intelligently against Ruslan Provodnikov Saturday night on HBO and secured a victory with relative ease, but instead, perhaps driven by the fan animosity toward him over the bunk Manny Pacquiao win, he fought like a much stupider, much more awesome version of himself. It nearly got him knocked out. Instead, he won a narrow unanimous decision. It also should have won over anyone who had any hostility toward Bradley.
You will not see a fighter throw his brain out the car window so cavalierly in your whole life, and that's not meant as a diss on Provodnikov, who brought to the ring exactly what he was expected to and ought to have -- outrageous tenacity and hard punching. But Bradley could've beaten that guy easily just by fighting in the crafty way he did for a handful of rounds over the fight, and instead ignored the advice of his corner for most of the 12 rounds to avoid catching the kind of punches that had him fighting half-unconscious for spells. It led to an early contender for Fight of the Year.
TIMOTHY BRADLEY - RUSLAN PROVODNIKOV
So one-sided did this welterweight bout appear on paper that I saw no need for a preview. The outcome was obvious; savvy matchmatchmaking wasn't at play. Bradley, a multi-tool fighter, would dismantle Provodnikov, a junior welterweight moving up in weight who had exactly one dimension: brawl 'til you fall, or the other man does.
In retrospect, maybe it should've been obvious that Bradley would engage with such lust. In the build-up to the fight, he talked extensively about how many fans turned on him in light of the decision win he didn't deserve against Pacquiao. From round 1, he fought like a boxer eager to battle his way into our hearts. It was ridiculously idiotic. In the very 1st round, he suffered a knockdown that referee Pat Russell didn't score as such. From that moment on, the unexpected war was afoot.
For the first two rounds, in fact, Bradley spent most of the six minutes on wobbly legs, but he insanely tried to trade with the heavier puncher. Bradley fought smarter in the 3rd against a weary Provodnikov who probably thought he was headed toward the win of his career and punched himself out. Bradley might've won some of the subsequent rounds with a slight uptick in the IQ, but by the 6th he was back to the dumb business, and bless him for it -- the ending of that round was outstanding, as Bradley, with his back to the ropes, slugged his way to the bell.
So idiotic was Bradley's awesome behavior that round that his trainer, Joel Diaz, wisely threatened to stop the bout if Bradley didn't start listening to him. And for a stretch thereafter, he did. Provodnikov stiffened Bradley's legs at times through the 11th, but mostly Bradley controlled the action with movement, timing, a good jab and simple quality. Then, in the 12th, with Provodnikov having been spurred on between the last two rounds by trainer Freddie Roach insisting on a knockout, Ruslan went for it and Timmy joined in the fun. In fact, Provodnikov had Bradley so badly hurt toward the end of the bout that Bradley was lucky that Russell (correctly) scored a knockdown. It took a badly damaged Bradley to the final bell when otherwise staying on his feet might've led to the kind of shot that produced radical unconsciousness. Bradley's abnormal recuperative powers were on display throughout, but he was playing with fire all night long and was on the verge in that 12th of being burned irrereparably.
The judges saw it a perfectly reasonable 114-113 times two, 115-112.
Provodnikov, who seemingly broke some part of his face in the fight and suffered through horrendous cuts above and below his left eye, is building a case for THE TV fighter of his era. As much as I think this fight being competitive was about Bradley and not Provodnikov, it's clear that Provodnikov's power could've wobbled Bradley even had Bradley fought at an optimal level. Provodnikov vs. most any 140- or even 147-pounder is welcome viewing. He contended better than I would've imagined against even the worst version of Bradley, so while he might not be a true top-10 level fighter, he could very well upset the right guy on the right night. Anyway, Provodnikov Provodnikov Provodnikov.
Bradley hasn't always been "boring" in the way that some of his peers have, because he's had some quality bouts against the likes of Lamont Peterson and Kendall Holt. But he lacks power; is sometimes sloppy; and frequently leads with his head, all of which can lead to awkward action at times. Through it all, few have doubted that Bradley is a world-class fighter -- his willpower and versatility have been such that he had beaten everyone prior to the Pacquiao fight, and he was at least competitive with the Filipino sensation. Oddly, he might have suffered in the esteem department Saturday night and earned the affection of boxing fans all the same. The lackluster crowd in Carson, Calif. might've booed the decision, but **** them, honestly -- the fans watching at home were near-unanimous in admiration of Bradley's foolish, fantastic performance. A rematch would do just fine, or else Bradley vs. any welterweight in the world is a desirable outcome.
JESSIE VARGAS - WALE OMOTOSO
Vargas-Omotoso was a welterweight match-up that threatened to upstage Bradley-Provodnikov, but it never came close. It was a solid enough bout, one won by a too-wide decision by Vargas. But if you came out of this thinking all that much of either man, you are more generous than I.
I scored it a draw. Vargas was the better of the two fighters, however reluctant he was to show it, and Omotoso was the larger of the two, however reluctant he was to demonstrate it. The 2nd saw a half-assed but legit knockdown for Omotoso, and Vargas slowly worked his way back in to the point that in the 5th, he whooped Omotoso all over the ring to such a degree that it was unfathomable how Omotoso remained upright. From there, both pugilists became more cautious, but over the course of 10 rounds you couldn't find all that much to distinguish the two.
The judges had it 96-93 time two, 97-92 on the third card. It wasn't like that at all. It was a close fight that could've gone either way. Prospect vs. prospect match-ups like this one can make the winner a smash, but it didn't quite get there for Vargas. Like him if you want. He's not bad, nor is Omotoso, although both could've tried a tad harder and won more definitively. It's just that neither did quite enough to excite anyone. Where they go from here is _____ and I only semi-care.