CARSON, Calif. – Ruslan Provodnikov wasn’t supposed to be in Tim Bradley’s class. And in terms of natural talent, boxing ability and accomplishments, the rugged Russian wasn’t.
Most fans and members of the boxing media viewed their HBO-televised welterweight title bout as a mismatch, a mere comeback fight for the WBO welterweight titleholder. Bradley, who is on the mythical pound-for-pound list that rates the best boxers in the world, was going to put on a boxing clinic.
However, when Bradley came out swinging in the first round a wonderful thing happened for fans who crave action and drama in their championship bouts – a fight broke out.
Bradley was rocked at the end of the opening round and practically out on his feet throughout the second. He was hurt so badly by Provodnikov, who landed powerful shots with good timing and deceptively quick hands, that many observers thought the 8-to-1 underdog was going to score an early-rounds knockout.
That’s why Bradley’s awe-inspiring comeback and gutsy last stand in the final round of what is an early Fight of the Year candidate makes the close unanimous decision he scored one of the most satisfying victories of his career – one that will certainly be more appreciated than his controversial decision over Manny Pacquiao last June.
Bradley (30-0, 12 knockouts), who won by scores of 114-113 (twice) and 115-112, had to dig deeper against Provodnikov than he has for any previous pro opponent.
“Win or lose, you are a true winner,” Bradley told Provodnikov (22-2, 15 KOs) in the ring before the scorecards were announced.
“He hits far harder than Pacquiao,” Bradley told Top Rank publicist Lee Samuels. “His punches are shorter and tighter.”
Those short, tight shots continued to land on Bradley in the middle rounds of the bout, but the Palm Springs, Calif., native got back into the fight by outworking Provodnikov in rounds three, four and five.
Bradley ultimately threw 1,000 punches to Provodnikov’s 676 and out-jabbed the stalking slugger 129-32 (throwing 489 jabs to Provodnikov’s 162). However, Provodnikov was still in the fight because of his superior power.
He buzzed Bradley again in the sixth and the two went toe-to-toe for the duration of the round. Provodnikov won it on all three judges’ scorecards because he seriously wobbled Bradley late in the round.
The punch that rocked Bradley into the ropes may have knocked a little common sense through his fighter’s pride because he utilized an effective stick-and-move strategy in rounds seven, eight, nine and 10, pausing just enough to bust Provodnikov’s face up and badly cut the Russian’s left eye.
But the drama wasn’t over. They traded bombs in the ninth, and Provodnikov made some adjustments – mainly a little head movement – to avoid Bradley’s punches in round 10. He stunned Bradley in the 11th, winning that round on two of the judges’ scorecards.
Round 12 of Bradley-Provodnikov was reminiscent of the final stanza of Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez III, which also took place in the small outdoor arena and was also refereed by Pat Russell. Provodnikov repeatedly rocked Bradley, sending the odds favorite staggering into the ropes. With seconds remaining in the round Bradley took a knee, which enabled the undefeated fighter to be saved by the bell.
In the Vazquez-Marquez fight, the guy who scored the final round knockdown won a razor-thin decision. In Bradley-Provodnikov the guy who was dropped got the nod, which didn’t sit well with the challenger.
“Everybody saw what I did in the ring,” he told HBO’s Max Kellerman. “It’s up to the judges, but I think I proved myself.”
Provodnikov certainly proved himself to Bradley.
“This guy is a power puncher, a great warrior,” Bradley told Kellerman. “I take my hat off to him. He’ll beat any 140- and 147-pounder out there. He’s the real deal.”
So is Bradley, who somehow, through sheer will, held onto his WBO title and remained undefeated.
“The warrior instinct comes in, the heart, determination, the will to win,” Bradley, who believes he suffered a concussion, told Kellerman of his ability to survive the many rough spots of the bout and fight back. “Even though you’re rocked you still have to fight hard, to come back. That’s just the warrior in me.”
And if the warrior spirit that Bradley showed against Provodnikov isn’t enough to sway those who hated him after the Pacquiao fight or critics who dismissed him as a boring fighter, well, that’s their problem.
In the co-featured bout of the Top Rank promotion, welterweight prospect Jessie Vargas remained undefeated with an entertaining 10-round unanimous decision over previously unbeaten Wale Omotoso.
Vargas (22-0, 9 knockouts) won by scores of 96-93 (twice) and 97-92. Most observers thought the fight was much closer; more than a few fans thought Omotoso (23-1-1, 19 KOs) deserved the nod.
However, Vargas, who suffered a flash knockdown from a body shot in the second round, was the busier of the two young standouts. He ate most of Omotoso’s big overhand rights, but he also landed his own right, clean counter left hooks and a lot of jabs.
Vargas badly wobbled the talented Nigerian in the fifth round. Omotoso was hurt by a right and then caught and rocked when he clowning around.
Photos: Chris Farina-Top Rank
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