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Azad Championship Report - Bradley Weathers the Storm

(Photo © German Villasenor)
(Photo © German Villasenor)


There was no official head count given this past Saturday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson. With one-third of the cozy tennis stadium closed off, most ringside media estimated there was about 2,000 or so fans who attended this weekend’s fight card. But after the donnybrook staged by Tim Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov, there will probably be about 250,000 claiming they were there.
 
In another classic at this small, intimate venue that seems to bring out the best in boxers, Bradley retained his WBO welterweight belt with a hard-fought (to say the least) unanimous decision over the stone-fisted Russian, who just never stopped coming.
 
It was beautiful and brutal all at the same time. This fight showed that you don’t “play” boxing.
 
“Win or lose, you are a true warrior,” said a weary Bradley, who believed he was concussed early on, to Provodnikov inside the ring in the immediate aftermath of their memorable contest. If true, this means there is a good probability that Bradley won’t remember large segments of this fight. But what took place on this cool Southern California night will never be forgotten. For 12 stanzas, in a fight filled with a certain ebb-and-flow and momentum shifts, they battled tooth-and-nail. Bradley was shook by the powerful punches of Provodnikov in the first and second rounds (when it seemed referee Pat Russell missed a knockdown or two). Bradley admitted, “He’s got far more power than [Manny] Pacquiao because his punches are shorter and tighter. He hits extremely hard.”

Then in the middle rounds, Bradley regained control by boxing from the outside and landing quick combinations that cut and busted up Provodnikov. But no matter how much control the “Desert Storm” seemed to have, Provodnikov was always just a volley away from turning things around. And after winning much of the sixth round, Bradley was hurt, stunned and dazed. However, while seemingly out on his feet, he was still able to throw punches in unison with Provodnikov. At several points in this match-up, Bradley was boxing’s version of the chicken that is able to run with his head cut off. But chicken, he is not. He may lack certain things - such as power - but he’s as well-conditioned and as tough as any prizefighter today.
 
What Bradley did was run a marathon for 26.2 miles while getting hit with a baseball bat all over his body and head. And in that last round, he faltered as if he was going up “Heartbreak Hill,” getting sent to the canvas late as his body seemed to give out from Provodnikov’s constant assault. As the bell sounded to end this slugfest, Bradley didn’t so much finish the fight; he survived it. Neither man may come out of this fight, the same way he came into it. It was one of those fights.
 
“Tim tried to prove a point tonight and go head-to-head with this guy,” said his trainer, Joel Diaz. “He was hurt in every round. He had a lot of pain in every round this fight.”
 
Bradley didn’t just have to win on this night. He had done that plenty. Coming into this contest, he was undefeated in 29 professional contests and had put together a distinguished career, winning numerous world titles. But in recent years, he was stigmatized by a string of awkward and aesthetically displeasing affairs and the immeasurable heat he received for an undeserved decision versus Pacquiao last June. A boxer who was among the most respected just a few years ago, was now among the most derided. There had been a mob-fueled perception that Bradley was never, ever in a good fight and simply incapable of ever being in one - but that was simply a lazy and untrue narrative.
 
His past victories against a difficult Junior Witter, the quick-fisted Kendall Holt and the talented Lamont Peterson were all well-received by the public. Add to that, Bradley had under-the-radar victories versus the likes of Miguel Vazquez and Luis Abregu. It’s interesting; for some fighters, it’s enough to win and exhibit skills. But I guess there’s a double-standard for those who aren’t high enough on imaginary fantasy pound-for-pound lists.
 
And the manner in which Bradley fought on this night proved that perhaps he understood that as well as anyone.
 
“Because [Bradley] knows, it’s not only winning the fight as a boxer; you have to be an attraction,” said an effusive Bob Arum, whose union with Bradley has been strained (to say the least) in the aftermath of the Pacquiao controversy. “You have to give the people some excitement and he sure as hell gave the people some excitement.” On this evening, Bradley made Arum’s job a lot easier in promoting him. “He sure did.”
 
As for Provodnikov, he has also arrived. But he will have to capture a major world title on another day. “I deserved to win. I deserved to win. This should not have been left to the judges.” Marty Denkin and Jerry Cantu gave Bradley the edge by the scores of 114-113 and Raul Caiz Sr. had it 115-112. But if a knockdown or two is counted (where Bradley was held up by the ropes), then we’d have a new champion. “I’m very proud of this kid; he fought his heart out,” said his promoter, Artie Pelullo, who still wore the smile of a winner. “First big fight ever and [Provodnikov] takes the toll to [Bradley] and in my opinion, he dropped him three times and Pat missed the knockdowns. When the ropes hold you up, that’s a knockdown.”
 
Going into the fight, this match-up was derided as an “ESPN2 fight” and Provodnikov a “Friday Night Fights”-level fighter - which is odd. In an era when neophyte boxers get on the HBO and Showtime stage quicker than ever by sheer virtue of their connections, it’s not a pejorative to have actually appeared on this platform a few times. Never mind that for a quarter-of-a-century, fighters had to go through this apprenticeship (on the “Worldwide Leader” and - before its demise – USA’s “Tuesday Night Fights”) and really learned their trade slowly before graduating to the next level. And nowadays, certain entities get to handpick European cannon-fodder to face on the network instead of fighters like Provodnikov, who plied his trade and improved steadily in a country that is so foreign to him. In fact, as word leaked out on Bradley vs. Provodnikov leaked out, HBO had second thoughts based on the early comments from social media and blogs. Top Rank stood firm with this pairing.
 
But again, it makes you wonder; had these armchair Teddy Brenners ever watched Provodnikov, who has never been in a boring fight?
 
No, he didn’t win but he has graduated to the next level (and tax bracket). Between 140-147, Provodnikov is now firmly in the mix. “I think he became a star tonight,” said Pelullo.
 
So we have our first “Fight of the Year” candidate for 2013. Can you believe it; Tim Bradley in a “Fight of the Year”?
 
“This was a classic; this is how the old-timers used to fight,” Arum told press row on Saturday. “You used to see these fights in the ‘50s and the ‘60s all the time. I’m glad that we were able to show the people two really good fights. The last one was a classic.”
 
HBO
 
Bradley-Provodnikov gave HBO Boxing a much needed boost. They needed a night like this, one that was memorable and created more intriguing opportunities for the future. And their future schedule looks promising (from the March 30th rematch between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado to the April 13th bout between Nonito Donaire and Guillermo Rigondeaux to the April 27th card from Argentina featuring Sergio Martinez defending his middleweight crown versus the rugged Martin Murray). Much of 2013 has been focused on HBO’s loss of Floyd Mayweather to Showtime/CBS and their other shortcomings but things aren’t hopeless over there. But they are certainly in a state of transition.
 
That said, I have to say Roy Jones had another bad night as the color commentator. Listening to him, you would’ve thought Bradley handled Provodnikov with ease and wasn’t affected by his punches. More and more, it seems he comes into these broadcasts underprepared and with an agenda. No, none of us know more about boxing inside the ring he does but we can certainly sniff out bad announcing when we hear and see it.
 
Jones makes me pine for the days of George Foreman (never thought I’d ever type that out).
 
And it looks like HBO will be shuffling its announcing crew with Bob Papa heading over to the Golf Channel for a full-time gig.
 
FINAL FLURRIES
 
I had both HBO co-features as draws this past weekend. I scored Jessie Vargas-Wale Omotoso 94-94 and Bradley-Provodnikov 113-113...Young hopeful Oscar Valdez just has that “look” about him...The upcoming edition of “Real Sports” on HBO has a segment on Mike Tyson...So did Orlando Cruz wrap up a shot at WBO featherweight titlist Mikey Garcia with his strong outing on Telemundo on Friday night?...Andy Ruiz won’t make the cover of Muscle and Fitness anytime soon (or ever) but he has good hand speed and natural fluidity. I think he can make some noise as a heavyweight...Can you believe the Hurricane hoopers have won both the regular season and ACC tourney?...So the “tuck rule” is gonna get the kibosh? That’s about a decade or so too late for the RaidersI can be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com and I tweet at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing, where you can discuss our content with Maxboxing readers as well as chime in via our fully interactive article comments sections.
 


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