Timothy Bradley will enter the ring for only the second time in 15 months—and for the first time since his controversial win over Manny Pacquiao last June—when he faces Ruslan Provodnikov at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, on Saturday. Innocence lost from the Pacquiao backlash can be partially reclaimed by a dominant showing tomorrow night.
The days when Bradley, 29-0-0-1 with 12 KOs, fought quality opposition three times a year seem like memories from a distant past. One has to harken back to 2009, when we saw him get off the canvas to chase down Kendall Holt, engage in a truncated fracas with Nate Campbell, and win an impressive, well-rounded decision over Lamont Peterson.
Since then, the only sparks in his career have emanated from brakes grinding his momentum to a standstill. A solitary bout—an underwhelming performance against Luis Carlos Abregu—defined Bradley’s 2010. The junior welterweight “showdown” against ballyhooed Devon Alexander in early 2011 was dreadful and ended with Alexander screaming “it burns!” after several headbutts and a cut. A worthless exhibition against fossilized Joel Casamayor followed and then came his infamous bout with Pacquiao.
The mainstream sports media only stands up and pays attention to boxing a few times a year these days: when either Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather, Jr., decides to fight somebody. That one of those rare instances was wasted on a decision roundly derided as a gross injustice roused everyone into a tizzy, and Bradley was awash in negative coverage for months afterwards. Such coverage was inflamed by that night’s HBO broadcast, featuring analysis saturated with dubious CompuBox stats, Harold Lederman’s excitable opinion, and Jim Lampley yelping every time Pacquiao threw a punch in Bradley’s vicinity.
Little about Bradley, Palm Springs, California, is eye-catching. He’s a short, squat fighter without explosive power. He doesn’t separate opponents from their senses. He’s quick, but fails to wow with crisp combinations. His punches are often looping, making his flurries look amateurish. And his personality isn’t spellbinding, abrasive, or polarizing. But a less-than-endearing style—combined with three years of inactivity, punctuated by fights with disappointing outcomes—obfuscates the fact that he’s an excellent prizefighter who is hard to defeat for a reason.
Ruslan Provodnikov, 22-1 with 15 KOs, is the man to accentuate Bradley’s strengths, a fighter aggressive enough to showcase Bradley’s defensive talent and ring IQ. Provodnikov, Beryozovo, Russia, has a stinging punch but telegraphs his attacks, leaving counter opportunities practically accompanied by red carpets and velvet ropes. Bradley’s deft foot and head movement makes him a master of inches, and the Palm Springs, California, native should comfortably maneuver around Provodnikov’s advances. An accompanying jab and determined body work will likely pronounce his speed advantages.
Nevertheless, Provodnikov isn’t easily deterred. Elusiveness alone won’t serve as handcuffs on the 29-year-old Russian’s desire to inflict harm, and Bradley, possessor of one knockout in his last 11 bouts, will have to provide something else to make Provodnikov think twice about reckless aggression. Otherwise, Provodnikov will be slinging salvos at the WBO titlist with no reverence, and the latter rounds could expose any rustiness or slippage in conditioning.
Provodnikov’s resume is undoubtedly flimsy, however, with faded Friday Night Fights luminaries as the only recognizable names he’s conquered. His punch and fortitude under Freddie Roach’s tutelage poses some danger to Bradley, but ultimately, Bradley’s in a different class. If Bradley can avoid a significant headbutt—something’s he’s managed to do in his last two bouts— Saturday night will likely serve as a reminder of why his talents earned more praise than contempt three years ago. At 29, his best years are passing in haste, and washing away the sour aftermath of the Pacquiao fight will require more activity and less discretion. This is a decent start.