Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Opinions and Observations: Bradley-Provodnikov

I. Timothy Bradley beat Ruslan Provodnikov by a unanimous decision.

In a thrilling fight where Bradley was staggered in the 1st, 2nd and 6th rounds and knocked down in the 12th, Bradley won enough of the remaining frames to squeak by with a victory. Scores were 115-112, 114-113 and 114-113 (I actually had Provodnikov winning 114-113).  The official scores were fine.  To my eyes, rounds 3, 4, 7, 8 and 9 were clearly Bradley's.  A legitimate case could be made that either fighter won 5, 10 or 11. Assuming no additional 10-8 rounds, this leads to a range of scores from 115-112 for Provodnikov to 115-112 for Bradley. The official tallies were all in this acceptable band of scores.

I thought Bradley was at his best during rounds 3, 7 and 8, where he expertly used movement to confound Provodnikov. Bradley circled in both directions and got in and out effectively against his harder-hitting foe. Bradley opted for quicker combinations in these rounds and didn't give Provodnikov the ability to set his feet before firing.  Rounds 7 and 8 were beautiful examples of selective engagement, where Bradley consistently beat Provodnikov to the punch with his superior athleticism and footwork. 

These rounds reminded me of Bradley's relative success at the end of the Pacquiao fight. However, on Saturday, Bradley still remained active during these frames.  He didn't win these rounds solely on ring generalship, he plastered Provodnikov with quick combinations, featuring a variety of punches (in no particular order: jab, left hook to the body, left hook to the head, straight right hand, looping right hand and right uppercut).

This fight should have been easier for Bradley than he made it. Insisting on going toe-to-toe with Provodnikov (who was moving up from junior welterweight), Bradley tried to dominate from the outset of the fight with his physicality and sharper punching. Against the wishes of his trainer, Joel Diaz, Bradley decided to trade in the center of the ring. By the end of the first round, Provodnikov demonstrated his superior power and badly staggered Bradley. 

In the rounds where Bradley got hurt, he was often the victim of his success.  He won most of the early portions of these rounds and his ability to land at-will gave him confidence to string together longer-sequenced combinations.  In these moments, Bradley decided to disregard movement, providing Provodnikov with consistent opportunities to land his overhand rights and left hooks.  Ultimately, Bradley played into Provodnikov's hands at numerous times throughout the fight.  

II. Pat Russell was bad and then really good.  

Towards the end of the first round, Provodnikov won an exchange with Bradley and wound up hurting him with a right hand followed by a left hook. Bradley moved forward trying to punch but collapsed onto a knee. He got up from the canvas and then fell back to the ropes.  Referee Pat Russell ruled this sequence a slip; however, it was pretty clear that these two falls were the delayed reaction to Provodnikov's power shots.  Bradley was a fighter who had lost his equilibrium, not just his footing.

Russell's decision was a key determinant in the fight's final outcome. If Russell had ruled the slip a knockdown, two of the scores would have been draws; thus, Provodnikov wouldn't have lost the fight.

However, I will keep the flogging of Russell to a minimum.  He missed a knockdown – not the high point of his career, but it happens.  Far more important was his work later on in the fight.  Many referees would have stopped the fight in the 2nd or the 6th after Bradley had absorbed serious punishment. In these frames, Provodnikov's punches drove Bradley back across the ring like it was a movie version of boxing; he literally banged Bradley from pillar to post. During these hellacious frames, Bradley was essentially out on his feet, winging back punches from muscle memory and a refusal to quit. He was seriously hurt and had no semblance of balance or equilibrium. 

Russell would have been well within his professional discretion to stop the fight during these rounds.  To his credit, he gave the champion the opportunity to finish these frames and get his one minute of rest. Fittingly, Bradley emerged from these breaks with freshness and vigor; he won both the 3rd and 7th. 

It's clear that Russell was well aware of Bradley's ability to recuperate. In his fights against Pacquiao and Holt, Bradley withstood vicious assaults and two knockdowns on his way to winning both matches.  That Bradley was able to respond as well as he did after absorbing such punishment from Provodnikov confirms Russell's professional judgment.  Russell's homework clearly paid off for boxing fans and observers. This fight became a special event and Russell deserves his fair share of credit for letting the bout go the full 12 rounds.

III. Both trainers did an excellent job.

Joel Diaz was visibly irate with Tim Bradley after the second round.  Telling his fighter to be smart and stick to boxing, Diaz had a firm sense of how Bradley should best Provodnikov. The game plan was sound.  Unfortunately, Bradley had other ideas. 

In the past I have been critical of trainers when their boxers decide to go rogue.  To me, these instances suggest a lack of communication or trust between trainer and fighter.  However, throughout Bradley's career, he has worked very well with Diaz and has adapted a multifaceted ring identity that makes him a tough fighter to beat in the ring.  I won't look past Bradley's freelancing in the ring on Saturday, but his decisions cannot be attributed to a lack of forceful guidance from Diaz in the corner. For now, I will put a pin in this performance and remark that Diaz's fight plan and verbal instructions in the corner were on point. Perhaps the punishment that Bradley took on Saturday will reiterate the need to rely on his trainer's wisdom.  If Bradley realizes this prior to his next fight, it's a wonderful lesson learned. 

Freddie Roach has definitely received his fair share of criticism in this space over the last 18 months but I thought he did a wonderful job on Saturday.  Before the final round, Roach said to Provodnikov that he needed to hurt Bradley.  That was the correct instruction. With the exception of calling for Provodnikov's non-existent jab, the trainer didn't try to force his banger to be cute (for example, Adam Booth can sometimes outsmart himself in the corner by encouraging his power punchers to be ring technicians). Roach knew how Provodnikov needed to beat Bradley and he instructed his fighter accordingly. 

Ultimately both corners considered stopping the fight; it was that kind of bruising match. However, the trainers gave their fighters the best chance of winning and that is all you can ask for at this level. 

IV. Tim Bradley put his career on the line, and paid the price. 

Bradley made a premeditated decision to take the fight to Provodnikov. Against his corner's wishes, Bradley fought toe-to-toe.  There could have been many contributing factors to the decision: Bradley didn't believe that Provodnikov's heavy hands played up at 147, he had a new-found belief in his own power, he consciously wanted to provide a fan-friendly bout, or he had pent-up anger from his performance in the Pacquiao fight and its negative aftermath. I try not to play armchair psychologist. What is paramount is that he decided to go to war; I will leave it to others to speculate on his reasoning.

Bradley's decision resulted in absorbing gobs of unnecessary punishment. It was the type of fight that cuts careers short.  But give Bradley credit, when the chips were down and he was left with just instinct and will, he showed that he was a real fighter. He didn't spend the last part of the match in retreat mode, merely trying to survive. He was presented with the ultimate fight-or-flight scenario, and Bradley proved that he was 100% fighter.

V. Bradley and Provodnikov both won the event.

For Provodnikov, his performance yielded perhaps the most important result for a boxer: he now matters.  Previously an obscure fighter who had a cultish following on the ESPN 2 circuit, Provodnikov was able to demonstrate that he can compete at the top levels of the sport.  As a fan-friendly action fighter, he created more demand for his services. 

Aligned with the smaller Banner Promotions, Provodnikov makes a tasty opponent for the Top Ranks and Golden Boys of the world; the welterweight division has no shortage of attractive options.  Although it's unlikely that he becomes one of the faces of boxing, there's no shame in ascending to the Marcos Maidana/Josesito Lopez level of compelling B-sides. These fighters help make the boxing world go round.  Provodnikov found himself at the right place at the right time on Saturday.  He seized his opportunity and significantly changed his career trajectory for the better.

Before Saturday, Tim Bradley had title belts and major victories. What he lacked was fan engagement.  More often respected from afar, on Saturday, Bradley did much to alter his perception as a fighter.  He no longer can be dismissed as a tricky neutralizer. His willingness to sacrifice blood and guts was inspiring and one of the most courageous efforts in boxing's recent past. In addition, his vulnerability against punchers will create even more demand for top opponents to fight him.

Bradley will most likely never bring an outsized fan base to the negotiating table.  But he's a compelling figure who's personable, down-to-earth and as tenacious as they come. HBO and Top Rank believe in him, and in the modern boxing landscape that's boxing's real currency. Saturday's performance bought him years of good will and return engagements on premium television, a big win in any context.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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