In a bout staged to determine who the best Top Rank welterweight is at the moment, Timothy Bradley defended his portion of the championship against Juan Manuel Marquez. But in addition to the WBO belt itself, the encounter’s appeal was enhanced by pitting Bradley’s undefeated record against Marquez’s wish to make history by becoming the first Mexican prizefighter to earn a fifth title in a fifth different weight class. Bradley vs Marquez was expected to unfold as a duel of wits that would perhaps fail to reach the dramatic and exciting heights of each fighter’s previous battles, but would entice boxing purists and hardcore fans given the combatants’ pedigree and desire to augment their legacy.
Just as expected, Bradley vs. Marquez resembled a chess match much more than a slugfest, but the meeting did away with preconceptions when it presented a smart and highly mobile Bradley outboxing and out-maneuvering a somewhat slow and trigger-shy Marquez. For twelve rounds, the Californian “Desert Storm” neutralized “Dinamita’s” renowned counter-punching abilities and perceived advantage in punching power by ducking and slipping the Mexican’s shots, but largely through lateral movement and constant ring displacement. The affair failed to inspire the 13,000-plus mostly pro-Marquez crowd inside the Thomas & Mack Center of Las Vegas, but delivered an interesting encounter in which footwork and handspeed tilted the scorecards in Bradley’s favour.
“Desert Storm” appeared surprisingly at ease in his role of boxer, making it seem as if his brawl with Ruslan Provodnikov in March had never taken place. With unending patience and in strict adherence to his gameplan, he refused to engage with the 40-year-old Marquez, leaving the master counterpuncher unable to decipher the puzzle confronting him. Bradley worked behind a flashy jab that he followed up with the right cross, landing shots often and emphatically on Juan Manuel’s visage, then quickly moving away to avoid retaliating fire. It was a simple but highly effective tactic whose success relied on flawless execution, a feat Bradley almost perfectly pulled off, demonstrating his pugilistic adaptability and adding to his case as a top-lister in the pound-for-pound rankings.
In the rare instances in which Marquez opened fire first, he failed to put together more than two punches at a time. Bradley used upper body movement to evade many of the Mexican’s shots, but at the same time he rarely missed the opportunity to shoot back with sharp counters, slowly frustrating both “Dinamita” and his thousands of fans. On top of showing off his defensive and countering skills, the champion provided further hints of having studied Marquez’ loss to Floyd Mayweather in 2009 by working behind a semi-shoulder roll from which he fired off lead right hands every once in a while, which landed cleanly on Marquez’ face and compounded the damage inflicted by the right hands he landed on his body.
Notwithstanding Howard Lederman’s unrealistically anti-Marquez scorecard, the end result was far from a shutout thanks to “Dinamita” ramping up the pressure in the second half of the fight. In the late rounds he successfully closed the gap with Bradley thanks to the champion coasting through several moments of the fight, and through his own willingness to open up and let his hands go. His punches evidently carried more power than the ones Bradley landed on him, but perhaps Marquez’ age and accrued wear and tear through his 20-year career disallowed him from pursuing his foe with the intensity a victory required. Had he opened up much earlier in the fight and taken more chances, perhaps Marquez would’ve been successful in affecting the final outcome of the contest.
Clearly, Juan Manuel’s effort was enough to earn him some rounds, but not sufficient to make him the definite winner. In fact, by the time the scorecards were read, the twitter-verse seemed to reach a consensus that saw Bradley doing no worse than a draw, with the action inside the ropes largely justifying that stance. The official verdict was a split-decision in favour of the champion, a result which left few fans at the arena—nor Marquez himself—satisfied, but one welcomed by those with a less biased disposition.
Bradley vs Marquez promised intrigue due to both combatants having much to win and much to lose, but the fight itself showed two fighters adamant in their refusal to be defeated, and thus unwilling to risk much. Unfortunately for them, and despite some outstanding exceptions, greatness is not only fostered by risk-taking, it usually demands it. Whether the result would’ve been the same if Timothy Bradley had fought a more engaging contest is as uncertain as whether Juan Manuel Marquez was unable or unwilling to take more risks to throw more of his famed combinations.
Thus, the aftermath of the encounter will leave both combatants’ statures in the sport neither significantly enhanced nor severely diminished: Bradley will be criticized by some for his safety-first approach, despite earning a completely legitimate win against a pound-for-pound great, and Marquez will still be regarded as one of the greatest talents of his generation. But this is precisely why Bradley vs. Marquez feels like a letdown at least partially, as it failed to yield a clear answer to the queries of whether Bradley can earn the respect and love of the boxing community—since he evidently opted for the “win today, look good tomorrow” mantra against Marquez—and whether the Mexican has what it takes to continue competing and winning at the highest level of the sport after (apparently) resolving his rivalry with Pacquiao.
In trying to figure out where each fighter goes from here, the one thing that is clear is that their options are severely limited due to the promotional Cold War. Top Rank manages at the moment a limited amount of talent at 147-pounds, the other relevant names being Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios—who will face each other in November—and Mike Alvarado and Ruslan Provodnikov, who will do battle next Saturday. Perhaps the natural choice for Bradley is to sign up for the winner of Pacquiao vs. Rios, but maybe he should give serious thought to finding a way out of his obligation to Top Rank to at least have the chance to fight names like Danny Garcia, Adrien Broner or even Floyd Mayweather himself.
For the great Juan Manuel Marquez, the future looks even hazier, as there’s still money to be made by matching up against fellow Top Rankers in Rios or Alvarado, but it’s unknown whether the Mexican legend is at this point inclined to fight on. As outstanding as his career has been, it must come to an end sooner or later, and there’s no shame in losing a close one to a fighter of Timothy Bradley’s caliber at this juncture of his boxing life. In fact, if the Mexican chooses to retire following last night’s performance, his effort against Bradley would rightly be regarded as a more than dignified last stand in a long and illustrious career.