The Fight of the Year for 2013 came down to two rousing 12-round boxer-slugger confrontations for the fans who voted in RingTV.com’s year-end awards poll.
Marcos Maidana’s hard-fought but clear-cut unanimous decision over Adrien Broner, garnered 32.9 percent of 1,300 votes, but was outdone by Tim Bradley’s narrow unanimous decision over Ruslan Provodnikov, which took in a little more than half (51.1 percent) of the votes.
Both fights featured undefeated American boxers defending their world welterweight titles against rugged, hard-punching foreign-born challengers. And both fights exceeded the expectations of the boxing media and most fans as the heavily favored Americans found themselves at the wrong end of fearsome early round onslaughts from their underdog challengers.
Both Bradley and Broner were backed up and hurt during the first two rounds of their fights – perhaps surprised by the marked technical and tactical improvement that both “B-sides” made under the guidance of multiple Trainer of the Year award winners Freddie Roach (Provodnikov) Robert Garcia (Maidana).
Broner was dropped into the ropes early in the second round; Bradley was rocked so badly during the second round that he was fortunate to be allowed to finish it.
Both Bradley and Broner began boxing their way back into their fights in the third round and both had success during the middle rounds, but both also had to withstand relentless late-round rallies from their free-swinging adversaries.
Both suffered late-rounds knockdowns. Broner was floored in the eighth round; Bradley was forced to take a knee in the final seconds of the 12th.
Both bouts had the requisite drama and sustained action to make boxing fans stand up and cheer as they watched, but Bradley-Provodnikov was the better fight. The fact that a bout that took place on March 16 received more votes from fans than a Fight of the Year candidate that took place on Dec. 14 says it all.
Bradley-Provodnikov, a one point fight (114-113) on two of the official judges’ scorecards, could have gone either way. However, Bradley was able to hold onto his WBO title and his unbeaten record because he fought harder and smarter against Provodnikov than Broner did against Maidana.
Unlike Broner, Bradley was not outworked by his challenger. The 30-year-old Palm Springs, Calif., resident threw 1000 total punches and landed 218 of 511 (43 percent) of his power shots, according to CompuBox stats. However, Bradley’s aggressive volume-punching tactics left him open for Provodnikov’s bone-jarring power punches, which badly rocked him at the end of the first round. The 5-to-1 betting favorite opted to stay in the pocket and exchange with Provodnikov mid-way through the opening round and paid the price.
Provodnikov, a 29-year-old pressure fighter from the Siberian area of Russia, was dismissed as an “ESPN fighter” by many so-called hardcore fans, who did not deem him worthy of the title shot or the HBO showcase, but he made his detractors eat their words as he made Bradley eat his right hands and left hooks during the first six minutes of the fight.
Bradley entered the bout with a sizable chip on his shoulders. He had scored the biggest victory of his career by outpointing Manny Pacquiao via split decision last June, but the controversial nature of the win and harsh subsequent public backlash denied him any satisfaction. Bradley fought Provodnikov like a man hell-bent on earning respect from the boxing world.
He did that and he also reminded fans about his world-class boxing ability by shrugging off the cobwebs in his head and getting into his stick-and-move groove in rounds three, four and five. Provodnikov, however, remained dangerous and reminded Bradley of this fact when he stunned the American with a hook with 30 seconds remaining in the sixth round. Provodnikov hurt Bradley again as he backed the titleholder to the ropes and cracked him with series of right hands. Bradley returned fire while practically out on his feet until the bell.
Between rounds, Bradley’s trainer Joel Diaz threatened to stop the fight unless the still-dazed fighter heeded his words by fighting a smarter fight. Bradley boxed beautifully on “auto pilot” in rounds seven, eight and nine, but Provodnikov cut the ring off better in round 10, got to Bradley’s body and landed a monster hook at the bell. Still, he returned to his corner with grotesque facial swelling and a left eye that looked like a raw piece of meat. Now it was Roach’s turn to threaten to stop the fight between rounds.
The Hall of Famer would not have to do that as Provodnikov battled Bradley on even terms in the 11th before having defending beltholder reeling about the ring during the final minute of the 12th. Bradley wisely took a knee with 13 seconds left, beating referee Pat Russell’s 10-count just before the bell and thus surviving the most grueling fight of his life.
With the victory, Bradley proved that he belongs among the sport’s elite. Meanwhile, Provodnikov proved that he belongs on the world-class stage. Together, they combined to give boxing its Fight of the Year.
Photos / Naoki Fukuda