“In his line of work, the actual was all.” – Richard Ford, A Multitude of Sins
Only seven months removed from a slugfest with Ruslan Provodnikov that left him slurring his speech for months, Tim Bradley entered the ring against Juan Manuel Marquez as something of a mystery. At his best, Bradley had the intelligence and athleticism to defuse Marquez, but there was a chance that the actual Bradley, the one poised to face Marquez in Las Vegas last night, was only a shadow of himself. Would last night’s Bradley be able to dart safely in and out of range, or slip and roll with the punches of boxing’s foremost marksman? If not, how would this Bradley respond to the blows Marquez crashed into his skull? Bradley answered these questions and more in winning a split decision at the Thomas and Mack Center.
The fight was a tale of two halves, with Bradley, Palm Springs, California, carrying the first six rounds before Marquez closed strong. Using quick movement and a jab that he sprinkled to the head and body, Bradley dictated the action early. Marquez was throwing the right punches, but Bradley remained just out of reach.
By the sixth round, Bradley had control of the fight. He was making Marquez, Mexico City, Distrito Federal, Mexico, chase him, forcing the master counter-puncher to pursue rather than react. Booing began to drone up from the predominantly pro-Marquez crowd. It is a sound that resonates with Bradley, who has heard this monotone chant mar some of his greatest moments. There is something of an existential crisis about Bradley: he is constantly struggling to validate himself in his relationship to boxing and its audience. It is interesting to wonder what effect the crowd’s displeasure had on Bradley’s approach to the final six rounds. In those rounds, Bradley moved less, exchanged more, and in doing so, gave Marquez a chance to win the fight.
With Bradley spending more time against the ropes, Marquez let his hands go, whipping hooks to the head and body and luring Bradley into exchanges. Bradley, 146, tried to keep Marquez from gaining the upper hand, but unlike the first six rounds—where he used movement and his jab to control the action—Bradley was now fighting to keep control. Fighting meant leaving himself open to Marquez’ counters; and when the action heated up, so did Marquez.
Marquez, 144 ½, got his right hand going in the ninth round, producing the first hint of distress in Bradley with a left-right combination at the end of the round. It was not inconceivable that Bradley was squandering the lead he had built in the first half of the fight. When Bradley wasn’t coasting through rounds, he was obliging Marquez with exchanges; either not fighting at all, or fighting Marquez’ fight was no way to preserve a lead. But in the end, the actual Bradley bore enough resemblance to the best Bradley to stick and move his way to victory. Scores read 115-113 and 116-112 in Bradley’s favor, with Glen Feldman giving a dissenting score of 115-113 for Marquez.
In his last three fights, Bradley, 31-0 (12), has bookended the war with Provodnikov with victories over Pacquiao and Marquez. That is as strong a three-fight run as you will find in recent years. One could argue that Bradley lost all three fights, but such criticism, once so hurtful, is unlikely to phase “Desert Storm.” In the afterglow of another workmanlike performance, Bradley seemed to find a comfortable distance from the slings and arrows of that “jury disguised as an audience.” He has left the scrutiny of his accomplishments to those who cannot achieve them. The truth is he continues to win. And in his line of work, the actual is all. Bradley will undoubtedly be watching the upcoming Pacquiao-Rios and Alvarado-Provodnikov fights closely, as a fight with either winner is a logical next step.
Marquez, should he fight on, will probably eye the same targets. Bradley was a stylistic nightmare for the smooth countering forty year-old; but Marquez, 55-7 (40), could probably still julienne top fighters willing to pressure him. Pacquiao, Rios, Alvarado, and Provodnikov fit that description to varying degrees. At this stage of his career though, Marquez has nothing to prove. No win, not even against a bigger man like Miguel Cotto, will be held in greater esteem than his anesthetizing of Manny Pacquiao last December. It may be time he left the hardest game to the young, secure in the knowledge that his great shadow will loom over Mexico’s best fighters for years to come.