Thursday, October 10, 2013

Marquez-Bradley: Keys to the Fight

Saturday, at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, one of the most intriguing matchups of the year will transpire between welterweights Juan Manuel Marquez (55-6-1, 40 KOs) and Timothy Bradley (30-0, 12 KOs). For Marquez, the future Hall of Famer, this fight presents an opportunity to win a title in his fourth division and for Bradley, he gets another shot at convincing the boxing world that he's among the top fighters in the sport.
Both boxers are coming off memorable performances. Last December, Marquez finally defeated his nemesis, Manny Pacquiao, with one of the greatest knockout blows in boxing lore. Earlier this year, Bradley, in his most captivating fight on the world level, survived 12 rounds of hell against heavy-handed Ruslan Provodnikov. On paper, Marquez-Bradley figures to be a matchup between Marquez's power and precision, versus Bradley's hand speed, athleticism and volume. Read below for the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.
1. Will Smart Timmy Show Up?
As exciting as Bradley-Provodnikov was, all can agree that Bradley made the fight more difficult for himself than it needed to be. When Bradley boxed, as he did very well in rounds three, four, five, eight and nine, he proved that he was on a far different level than his counterpart. At one point in the fight, Provodnikov's trainer, Freddie Roach, talked about stopping the fight because his charge was getting hit too cleanly and frequently. However, when Bradley decided to trade, he couldn't compete with Provodnikov's firepower. Barely surviving the 12th round, Bradley eked out a win. But the aftermath of the fight had a significant impact on Bradley. He suffered a concussion during the fight and admitted to slurring his words for two months after the bout.
With his gutty performance against Provodnikov, Bradley finally received adulation from boxing fans. Prior to that fight, Bradley was more often respected or tolerated than enjoyed. The high of adulation can be a mighty drug. After winning over the fickle boxing public, does Bradley have the temperament to alienate his growing fan base by fighting in a more technical manner, or is the allure of adulation too much to pass up?

By all accounts, even from the boxer himself, Bradley's best chance to beat Marquez centers on his speed, boxing skills and movement – traits that don't necessarily endear themselves to fans. To win, Bradley may have to run at times, stink it out, jab-and-grab or engage in other tactics that may break the flow of the fight. The crowd may get on him. They may pull for the Mexican favorite, the one with the knockout counters, but Bradley has to avoid getting into a firefight.
Bradley (and his trainer, Joel Diaz) knows what he needs to do to win the fight. But can remain disciplined over 12 rounds? If he starts having success against Marquez, will he stick with the game plan, or will he get greedy by staying in the pocket for extended stretches, throwing longer-sequence combinations that can more easily be countered? Smart Timmy can win this fight. The one who fought Provodnikov will be in a lot of trouble.
2. Marquez Must Move His Hands Enough To Win Rounds.
Over the trajectory of his career, Marquez has transformed himself from a boxer-puncher to a sharpshooter. Against Pacquiao last year, Marquez seemed content to give away rounds in hopes of landing big shots. It actually was a correct strategy. In their previous fights, Pacquiao had successfully swayed judges with his high punch volume and forward aggression. In the fourth installment of their series, Marquez was going for the knockout, or as many two-point rounds as possible.
In some respects, it would be very tempting for Marquez to apply the same strategy against Bradley, who certainly can be dropped by big shots. However, Bradley has been through wars and to this point he has survived them all. He absorbed a superhuman amount of punishment against Provodnikov but didn't capitulate. He also withstood two brutal knockdowns from Kendall Holt and a beating from Pacquiao in the first half of their fight. Sure, Marquez could land his best shot. But what happens when Bradley gets up and keeps coming?
Bradley figures to significantly outwork Marquez. Bradley most likely will throw over 60 punches a round and Marquez would need to be between 35-40 to ensure that he provides the judges with enough activity to win rounds. Certainly Marquez's shots will be harder and more impactful, but there needs to be enough of them. Three or four significant landed blows a round most likely won't be able to counteract Bradley's work rate.
Marquez, who often works his way into fights, can't afford to lose the first few rounds. Bradley will be in great shape down the stretch and Marquez can't expect a fade to help him late in the match. Sure, Marquez could knock Bradley down two or three times to secure a victory on the scorecards, but he could also lose by waiting for those opportunities that never come. Marquez must compete throughout the fight, round-by-round, with one exception that I will lay out later in the preview.
3. Make Marquez Use His Legs.
Come right at Marquez, whether it is with hand speed, power, pressure or volume, and he will eventually make the necessary adjustments. It's been a truism throughout his career. But give Marquez movement and he becomes vulnerable. The fighters who have troubled Marquez throughout his career – Freddie Norwood, Chris John, Floyd Mayweather and even an old Joel Casamayor, used the ring and their legs to win rounds against Marquez. The Pacquiao who was more mobile in the first, second and fourth fights had a lot more success than the straight-line version of the third engagement (despite Pacquiao's official victory in that match, I felt that Marquez won 116-112).
For Bradley, the blueprint on how to trouble Marquez has already been written and he possesses the athleticism and conditioning to make Marquez struggle to catch him over 12 rounds. This means that Bradley needs to hit-and-run, fight off the back foot at times, reset action by leaving the pocket and find spots in the ring to fire off quick combinations before disengaging. In Bradley's fight against Pacquiao (which almost all boxing observers had Bradley losing), he had a lot of success with this strategy over the last four rounds – and remember, Pacquiao possessed a lot more foot speed than a 40-year-old Marquez does. 
4. What Will The Judges See?
I'm not thrilled with this panel of judges. Glenn Feldman, an experienced judge from Connecticut, usually picks the right fighter, but his cards have often been generous to the A-side of a bout. Recent examples include a lopsided victory for Thomas Oosthuizen against Brandon Gonzales in a draw, a shutout for Edwin Rodriguez over Will Rosinsky in a competitive fight, a much closer win for Evgeny Gradovich over Billy Dib than it should have been and another wide win for Edwin Rodriguez over Don George.  In theory, his scoring may help Marquez.
Robert Hoyle, from Las Vegas, has had some bizarre cards over his career, including a wide-margin victory this year for Vegas fighter Diego Magdaleno over Rocky Martinez where the other judges had Martinez correctly winning. To Hoyle's credit, he at least had Pacquiao-Marquez III a draw, which was closer than the other two judges had it, but he still didn't have the right guy. Furthermore, he had a draw in Ortiz-Peterson where Peterson should have lost by a few points. In addition, he had Jorge Arce up way too much against Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. before that fight was stopped. These cards don't favor a house fighter over a B-side, a pressure fighter over a boxer or any other discernible pattern; they are just off.
Patricia Morse Jarman, also from Las Vegas, has similar issues. She somehow only gave Ashley Theophane two rounds against Pablo Cano last month, had Jessie Vargas beating Josesito Lopez wider than the fight would have indicated, also scored a draw in Ortiz-Peterson and filed just a terrible card in Campillo-Shumenov II, having Shumenov winning a fight by six points where most ringside observers thought that Campillo had earned the victory. Again, I don't necessarily see a particular bias here, besides cards I can't support.
Ultimately, there are at least two potential wildcards on this judging panel and another who has a slight bias to the A-side fighter. This may wind up helping Marquez or Bradley, or maybe it won't be a factor at all, but I'm just not feeling confident that this is the best possible slate of judges for a fight of this magnitude.
5. If Bradley Is Hurt, Marquez Must Go For The Kill.
I don't need to tell Marquez about the dangers of leaving fights in the judges’ hands. Three of Marquez's losses (John and Pacquiao II and III) are fights that he could have won with different judges.
Marquez has excellent finishing capabilities and he must use them if he has Bradley in peril. (This doesn't mean that Marquez should load up for a knockout blow. I'm referring to once he has Bradley hurt.) Although Bradley has tremendous intangibles that help propel him to victory, Provodnikov was only one or two punches away from ending their fight on multiple occasions. But Provodnikov got sloppy trying to finish things. His footwork was clumsy at times, he allowed himself to get tied up and he permitted Bradley escape routes along the ropes. Marquez most likely won't make the same mistakes that Provodnikov did, but as that fight demonstrated, Bradley is one tough guy to finish.
But Marquez needs to sell-out and aim for the knockout if he has the opportunity. Or at the very minimum, he must get as many two-point rounds as possible. If that means risking punching himself out or taking a break in the next round if he can't get the knockout, then so be it; Bradley doesn't have the power to seriously hurt him. Who knows what the judges will see over 12 rounds? Marquez must make their jobs much easier, or better yet, render them useless by ending the match within the distance. 
This fight will have beautiful ebbs and flows, with Bradley taking an early lead with punch volume, Marquez establishing his counters, Bradley making adjustments with his feet and Marquez having a late-round rally. It will be a classic case of what do the judges value. Bradley will have the edge in punches thrown and landed and will win a number of rounds easily with his fluid boxing ability and ring generalship. But Marquez will have his moments with damaging power shots, and I expect him to put Bradley on the canvas at least once. The judges will have to determine if Marquez's power counters or Bradley's work rate and ring generalship carry the majority of rounds.
I see the judges having acceptably divergent scorecards here. In other words, the spread of the cards will be wide, but each tally will be justifiable based on the action of the fight. In the final analysis, I'm going with the guy with the fresher legs. I believe that Bradley's volume, movement and boxing ability will be enough to take two cards.
Timothy Bradley defeats Juan Manuel Marquez by split decision.

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