A few hours before Saturday's Timothy Bradley-Juan Manuel Marquez fight, an acquaintance of mine, who happens to be a professional gambler (we’ll call him Mikey), was very concerned. Mikey saw value in Bradley being a slight underdog but he was still spooked by the Provodnikov bout, where Bradley just hung on to win. (For the record, I never bet on fights.) Mikey wanted my take on the matchup against Marquez and I told him that it was Bradley's fight to lose. Meaning, if Bradley stuck to his game plan, Marquez most likely wouldn't be able to beat him.
Cliché #1: Styles make fights.
I'd be the first one to tell you that I HATE boxing clichés. Find me an example where one works and I'll point to a counterexample. But let's examine this famous cliché for Bradley-Marquez. Sizing up the matchup, Bradley possessed better hand and foot speed, he had a higher work rate and he could be responsible defensively. In addition, Marquez had often struggled with mobile boxers (Mayweather, John and Norwood). If Bradley boxed and didn't stay in the pocket for too long, making it difficult for Marquez to counter, he would have a great shot to win. This style would help minimize Marquez's power edge and protect Bradley's chin.
On Saturday, Bradley – fighting in the right style – was too much for Marquez to overcome. Bradley didn't give up his edges throughout the fight. Or to put it another way, Marquez wasn't able to impose himself on the match enough to make Bradley give up these edges. Marquez didn't land more than a handful of really hard shots. He didn't build up an early lead. Thus, Bradley had no reason to change his approach. Give credit to Bradley for sticking to his game plan for 12 rounds against a great fighter.
Cliché #2: Speed Kills.
Begrudgingly, I have to admit that this cliché applied to Saturday's fight as well. Bradley was getting off first throughout much of the fight, piling up points with his jab and activity. Marquez did land some effective counters throughout the fight, but there weren't enough of them. And when Marquez tried to lead, he couldn't find a way to consistently crack Bradley's defense. Bradley's hand and foot speed presented problems all night for Marquez.
Cliché #3: Timing Stops Speed.
This is the cliché that explains Marquez's success against Pacquiao, but it wound up not pertaining to Saturday's fight. Marquez countered, but too often, Bradley was already out of the pocket. At other points, Bradley was already landing his second and third quick punch of a combination before Marquez could effectively time him. Marquez had a lot of success early with his counter left hook to finish up exchanges but Bradley made an adjustment with his right hand and Marquez didn't find a home for that punch often in the second half of the fight. Marquez did land well in some exchanges, but his punches weren't significant enough to counteract Bradley's speed.
Throughout the fight, Bradley presented Marquez with a series of looks. Whether it was drawing counters from Marquez and effectively countering them, controlling the action with the jab, using the ring to his advantage, fighting off of the back foot and making Marquez lead, scoring with short combinations or striking with lead right hands, Bradley won the battle of clean punching, activity, defense and ring generalship. These weren't dominant victories across the board, but Bradley did enough little things to put himself over the top.
Marquez also had his moments, but he wasn't the sharper puncher. In fact, Marquez's anticipated advantage in punching power didn't materialize. Much of that could be attributed to Bradley, who rarely stayed in one place, making it difficult for Marquez to load up on big counters.
For all the talk about Bradley's feather-fisted offense, this is the second consecutive fight where Bradley hurt his opponent. Earlier in the year, Freddie Roach considered stopping the Provodnikov bout because his fighter was taking too much punishment. On Saturday, Marquez was rocked by a few right hands and took a big left hook at the end of the fight. In addition, Marquez's left eye was in bad shape by the second half of the bout. Yes, there were a few head butts, but Bradley found a home for his right hand at many points throughout the fight, and they caused some damage.
Overall, it wasn't an overly scintillating affair, and that speaks to how well Bradley was able to neutralize Marquez's power counters. Bradley won by split decision (should have been unanimous) with scores 116-112, 115-113 and 113-115. Harold Lederman of HBO had it 117-111. I had it 118-110, with Bradley's activity rate, defense and ring generalship taking a number of close rounds. Yes, scores could vary for this fight but I think it would be a stretch to say that Marquez won more than five rounds.
For too much of the fight, Marquez was being outworked. His counters weren't overly sharp, missing often with his left hook and right hand as Bradley successfully ducked, slipped and took punches off of his arms, back and shoulders. Marquez's vaunted left uppercut wasn't a factor as Bradley did a wonderful job of controlling range and staying away from inside fighting. To his credit, I recall only one time in the fight where Bradley's back even touched the ropes, and that was for a split second.
Bradley certainly studied Floyd Mayweather's fight against Marquez, where Mayweather won handily by moving, making Marquez lead and varying the attack and pace of the fight. Bradley didn't beat an older Marquez as definitively as Mayweather did, but he learned the appropriate lessons from that bout. Forsaking the toe-to-toe combat of the Provodnikov match, Bradley stayed under control throughout most of the fight. Ignoring the oohs and aahs of the pro-Marquez crowd, Bradley stuck to his game plan, boxing and moving. However, it needs to be pointed out that whenever Marquez had success, Bradley immediately went right after him, not letting Marquez get an upper hand in the psychological battle of the fight or the round-by-round action on the scorecards.
Bradley boxed, sure, but he didn't stink it out. There were numerous quick exchanges with power shots. He didn't shy away from trading. He just kept it as quick skirmishes instead of all-out battles. More than anything, Bradley's intelligence and athleticism won him the fight. He didn't get drawn into a macho battle of supremacy.
Joel Diaz, Bradley's trainer, had an excellent night as he prepared Bradley with the correct game plan for victory. Bradley also deserves credit for listening to his corner, as he certainly didn't do during the Provodnikov fight. There was a wonderful moment on Saturday where HBO cut to Bradley's corner during a round. Diaz and Bradley's father were yelling instructions to Tim in the ring. They called for a double jab, and Bradley immediately responded and scored with the combination. That sequence illustrated the seamlessness of Team Bradley during the fight – great advice, exemplary execution.
In the other corner, Nacho Beristain was awful. For some reason, he kept telling Marquez that he was up all night, which was a terrible assessment of the fight. Marquez was consistently being outworked by Bradley and his own punches weren't particularly impressive. In addition, after the second round, Beristain instructed Marquez to go away from the left hook to the straight right hand, even though the hook was the only punch that was consistently scoring for his fighter. Ultimately, the right adjustments weren't made and neither trainer nor fighter could take Bradley out of his game plan.
By my count, this is the third fight that Beristain has helped lose for Marquez – sending Marquez to Indonesia to face Chris John and telling his fighter in the third Pacquiao bout that he was far ahead were the other two. Beristain is one of the best teachers in boxing, but he's had a number of questionable moments in Marquez's corner and he certainly won't be remembered as a manager.
Marquez and Beristain are very prideful fellows; it helps explain their greatness. But their high self-regard can also provide some understanding as to why they have come up short in close fights. It's easy for Team Marquez to complain about robberies, which they again did on Saturday. That trope excuses them from needed self-examination. Ultimately, their whining act has gotten tiresome.
Marquez should've fought with more urgency on Saturday. It's a fault of both the fighter and trainer for not springing to action. It was a difficult but winnable fight for them; this wasn't the Mayweather experience where Marquez was summarily outclassed. No, Marquez was just outworked. That may be a bitter pill for Team Marquez to swallow and perhaps they never accept the decision. But the boxing public has, and that suffices.
Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Contact Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org
@snboxing on twitter
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