Everyone has a breaking point. When elite competitors reach theirs, it becomes a spectacle. Timothy Bradley reached his some time after a disputed victory over Manny Pacquiao last year, and the resulting carnage was on full display March 16th against Ruslan Provodnikov. His meltdown simultaneously animated diminished buzz and threw the remainder of his career into question. Bradley will try to piece together the scattered puzzle on Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, Nevada, against Juan Manuel Marquez.
Despite his bullheaded strategy to outslug a slugger six months ago, Bradley, 30-0, with 12 KOs, may yet turn out to be brilliant. Recall how his soaring prospects in 2009 – when he delivered wins over Kendall Holt and Lamont Peterson, and looked impressive in a No Contest against Nate Campbell – stalled after a depressingly boring contest with Devon Alexander in 2011. His reputation was further besieged when he turned down Amir Khan while he bided time for a Pacquao fight, only to become the face of the latest “black eye” on boxing after what was supposed to be a launching pad into stardom. So when conventional wisdom suggested that he should outmaneuver Provodnikov on the way to a comfortable decision, it’s hard to blame him for looking at conventional wisdom with contempt. After all, conventional wisdom also suggested he should have been beloved by then.
With his roll of the dice came new enthusiasm and respect from the boxing world, but, also, a heavy price. The difference between stinging power and concussive power is vast. Bradley has the former but Provodnikov had the latter, and, while he scraped out a close decision, he was dealing with concussion symptoms for months after their brawl. Whether he is fully recovered from them is an open question, as is whether the chip on his shoulder has subsided enough for him to return as the intelligent practitioner he was prior to March 16th.
Juan Manuel Marquez – conqueror of angles – is the quintessential problem solver. We can be sure he’ll have all the answers for Bradley in neat order, even if it’s the ones that reside in the Palm Spring, California, native’s worst nightmares. If Bradley remains enamored with pleasing his audience, Marquez is the preeminent expert at picking apart aggressors. If Bradley’s ability to take a punch has been diminished, Marquez has the pop to take advantage, and his combinations are tailored towards finishing wounded prey.
Bradley can learn lessons from Marquez, 55-6-1, with 40 KOs, regardless of what happens on Saturday night. Marquez is now 40 years old, and his career has been a slow burn, not reaching its brightest flame until he knocked out nemesis Manny Pacquiao last December. His first fight with Pacquiao in 2004 was presumed to be a launching pad as well, before bad breaks and questionable decisions turned it into dreams deferred. It wasn’t until the rematch four years later that he started reaching the recognition he desired.
Marquez’ steady professionalism won out in the end, and can perhaps serve as a model for Bradley to mirror. If not, Bradley is liable to fall victim to his weaknesses inside the ring: shoulder-to-shoulder combat, where he doesn’t have the power to overwhelm sturdy opposition and where his head is too stationary. If the 30-year-old approaches Marquez with the same reckless abandon he showed against Provodnikov, he’ll become a Benihana lunch special, chopped up and eventually swallowed by counter punches. He’ll have to remain elusive to defeat Marquez, and as long as his feet are active, he’s difficult to catch with a flush blow. His head movement is a nuisance at range, a vexation accompanied by a keen sense of anticipation, an active jab, and a determined body attack– all tools that can be used against Marquez’ diminished foot speed.
But Bradley’s physical advantages can be offset by discipline that occasionally slips. Most of the orderliness that accommodates his skillset was non-existent against Provodnikov. If his feet become heavy, Marquez’ surgical combinations will swell eyes and cut brows, and even if they don’t, a concussive blow potentially awaits any overextended right hand or any jab a half-beat tardy. If this fight had been made a year ago, most observers would have allowed Bradley some space for misadventures on the inside–and other prideful delusions–but Marquez’ one-punch conquest of Pacquiao and Bradley’s scant escape from Provodnikov Hell has forced us to reconsider how much margin of error Bradley really has. He hasn’t needed to be perfect in the past, but something near perfection may be necessary here.
Juan Manuel Marquez has already seen whatever demons Bradley’s been dealing with for the last 15 months. He, eventually, came out an icon. For Bradley to beat Marquez, he’ll have to emulate that adherence to the formula.