The outcome was as expected: Tim Bradley won a unanimous decision over Ruslan Provodnikov last night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. But the expectation that Bradley, openly frustrated with his career, was being given a palliative in Provodnikov was quickly turned on its ear. Over the course of twelve harrowing rounds, Bradley was repeatedly pushed to the threshold of his resolve by the incorrigible Provodnikov. However much the boxing community may have considered Bradley an imposter on the throne, Provodnikov treated him like a king, and, against such distinguished opposition, looked to overthrow royalty.
Provodnikov nearly accomplished this feat in the first round. Wielding the faster hands, Bradley, Palm Springs, California, had early success jabbing and bounding in and out with combinations. As the round wore on, however, Bradley, perhaps looking for catharsis as much as blood, invited a number of perilous exchanges before Provodnikov snatched his equilibrium with a nasty right hand. A barrage of left hooks and right hands followed, sending the discombobulated Bradley to the canvas, where referee Pat Russell ruled the knockdown a slip. Only a flush blow away from a stoppage, Provodnikov was unable to end the affair.
The second round saw Bradley tempt calamity again. No doubt inspired by his early success, Provodnikov, Beryozovo, Russia, walked through the incoming fire and landed a ruinous right hand. A left hook crunched into Bradley’s jaw as he retreated into the ropes, and again a stoppage loomed. Rather than hold, Bradley chose to retaliate, sloppily winging at his tormentor while Provodnikov’s battering left Bradley grasping for his consciousness. Russell inched closer to the action but allowed Bradley’s conditioning to carry him to the bell. Seated on his stool between rounds, having been out on his feet against an opponent who refused to cooperate, Bradley brought to mind a line from Life and Times of Michael K: “He did not know what he expected to happen; whatever it was, it did not happen.”
As he had done against Kendall Holt and Manny Pacquiao, Bradley, 146 1/2, recovered from the unexpected, and his superior class dictated the action for much of the remainder of the fight. After the near- disastrous reminder that he is never the bigger puncher, Bradley fell back on the poise and athleticism that have allowed him to overcome this lack of power. He explored the boundaries of the canvas, stung with his jab, and dug mercilessly to the body; when he felt the ropes, rather than throw three and four punch combinations, Bradley unloosed a scoring 1-2 and ducked out of harm’s way. Provodnikov, 146 1/2, began to cooperate, pursuing Bradley without punching, waiting for exchanges rather than forcing them himself, and getting tagged flush by a disturbing number of dissuading blows. His face swelling, left eye sliced open, Provodnikov was warned by trainer Freddie Roach that, barring improvement, Roach would stop the fight.
And yet, a sense of dread lingered in Bradley’s corner. Only a few rounds removed from trainer Joel Diaz’ own threat to halt the proceedings, with the tenuously controlled chaos producing a perplexed look on their man’s puffy visage, there was genuine cause for concern. Provodnikov remained dangerous throughout the fight, complementing his early assault—a pounding Bradley never shook off—with enough brain-rattling blows to prevent his opponent from wresting complete control of the fight.
In the twelfth, Provodnikov, 22-2 (15), went for broke. Stepping inside the trajectory of Bradley’s tired arms, he slugged his fading foe with a left hook that liquified his bones—had Bradley stopped moving he would surely have dropped. With ten seconds left in the round, a right hand sent the scrambling Bradley to the canvas. Taking advantage of the count, Bradley would remain on his knee until there were mere seconds left in the contest. The proud fighter from Palm Springs finished the fight on his feet. So did the crowd. Scores read 115-112 and 114-113 twice for Bradley; a smattering of boos greeted the decision. Such inarticulate braying is a testament to how close the fight was and to how stupid large groups of people can be.
Bradley, 30-0-0-1 (12), had been a bit of an enigma heading into Saturday’s contest. The fallout from the Pacquiao fight—including death threats from the constituency of mouthbreathers who have long jockeyed for majority representation among Pacquiao fans—had Bradley seemingly spiting himself. Was he punishing himself for his naiveté, for placing his hopes in meritocracy? Was he, like Clamence in The Fall, left with a sense of powerlessness so severe that he turned on himself just to feel his own agency? Whatever rationale lead him to stall his career also placed him in Provodnikov’s sights, where, under ruthless scrutiny, he put the past nine months behind him.
A rematch is the obvious next step for both men. Juan Manuel Marquez, Manny Pacquiao, and the winner of the rematch between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado would all make for entertaining fights against Bradley. Provodnikov, who may not have earned his first appearance on HBO but certainly deserves an invitation to return, could be trusted to try and decapitate any of these men. Even in defeat, he made his mark.
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