COMMENTARY | Who would've thought that the legacy-defining fight of Timothy Bradley's career would come against an unheralded, barely-ranked Russian pug with little more than Friday Night Fight ring credentials?
Bradley (30-0. 12 KOs), who clawed his way to the top of the junior welterweight division before beating Manny Pacquiao at welterweight via controversial split decision, had certainly earned his place among boxing's best fighters. But, much to his dismay, had yet to earn a place in the hearts of the fans. Even after logging so many earnest, honest championship rounds, he was still a non-draw at the gate who received way too much criticism from fans and media for a fighter at his level of accomplishment.
Saturday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, that all may have changed.
In a thrilling twelve-round bout against hard-charging Ruslan Provodnikov (22-2, 15 KOs), Bradley went to hell and back in defense of his WBO welterweight title and put on one of the bravest performances from a prizefighter in recent memory.
Stunned and near defeat on several occasions, Bradley somehow found a way to stay on his feet and fight back. Even with his eyes clearly glazed over and his limbs moving on pure instinct, the two-division world champ kept pushing forward against a foe who seemed to have cement in his chin and bricks in his gloves.
Bradley's saving grace in this battle may have been a decision to use lateral movement and box in the middle rounds. The added movement, combined with an arm-weary Provodnikov, allowed the fighter from Palm Springs to pile up some points and come into the championship rounds with an edge on the scorecards.
As it turned out, Bradley would need that buffer as Provodnikov pushed forward to close the show big. Putting on the pressure in the eleventh round and going for the kill in the twelfth, Ruslan fought like a man who knew he needed a knockout to secure a victory. The aggressive Russian hurt Bradley throughout the final round and dropped him in the last seconds of the fight.
However, Bradley was able to withstand the barrage and take the close unanimous decision victory by scores of 114-113, 114-113, and 115-112.
A controversial non-call by referee Pat Russell on a knockdown in the first round would be the difference between the Bradley win and a draw, but it was hardly an egregious injustice. The call could've gone either and, in any case, it would be a disservice to both fighters to dwell on such things after the kind of performance both put forth.
In defeat, Provodnikov has become a bigger star than he ever could've imagined. By the time the weekend's over and this performance is shared among fans, the Russian pug will be in high demand. From basic cable and poorly-lit club fights, right into the hearts of fight fans. Who wouldn't want to see Provodnikov against the winner of Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado II? Based off this performance, who wouldn't want to see Provodnikov against anyone willing to stand and fight?
For Bradley, maybe not a lot has changed on the surface. He'll still struggle to draw fans and he'll never get clear credit for the Pacquiao win. And, yeah, some of the fickle fans and jaded media members might still unfairly use him as a convenient punching bag.
But, when Bradley looks back on this performance and the heart he showed inside the ring, he could very well find the satisfaction he's been looking for all these months. Because, through all the nonsense and all the jabs taken at his character and his well-earned good name after the Pacquiao fight, he proved himself to be a true champion at heart. He proved that, when push comes to shove and the world appears to be caving in around him, Timothy Bradley is a warrior.
Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and a close follower of the sport for more than thirty years. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and as Editor-in-Chief of The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing. For breaking news, additional analysis, and assorted crazy commentary, follow him on Facebook, @TheBoxingTribune or on Twitter, @BoxingBTBC.
Source: HBO Boxing