March 16, 2013: Bradley vs Provodnikov
No one cared about this fight; seriously, no one. A fact proven by shots of the stands at the Home Depot Center between rounds on HBO, which revealed row upon row of empty seats. And while one could be forgiven for thinking an official win over Manny Pacquiao would translate into ticket sales, the truth is that, rightly or wrongly, Timothy Bradley had received almost zero credit for his twelve round split decision victory over “The Pacman,” as few could take the judges’ verdict seriously. Bradley’s subsequent inability to be gracious about the bogus win also did nothing to endear him to fight fans.
Meanwhile, Ruslan Provodnikov was a complete unknown except to hardcore fight freaks making note of his victories over Emanuel Augustus and DeMarcus Corley. Otherwise, this was viewed as a tune-up for Bradley as he sought to get himself back in contention for some major paydays. Most expected another ho-hum “Desert Storm” fight with his superior athletic talent allowing him to cruise to a decision win. The contest was further guaranteed minimal hype and interest by its being scheduled on the same night as a major UFC event, Georges St-Pierre vs Nick Diaz. One wondered if the people at Top Rank were as uninspired by this match-up as most boxing fans.
But, as many noted afterwards, any fans who blew off Bradley vs Provodnikov to watch St-Pierre do his thing were no doubt regretting their decision the next morning. All low expectations were overturned, and fast, as the two welterweights collided at the opening bell like a pair of runaway trains, both men slinging hellacious shots right from the start. The more powerful Russian challenger got the best of it as he floored Bradley with a thudding right hand, but somehow referee Pat Russell blew the call and ruled what was clearly a clean knockdown a slip. Obviously hurt, Bradley absorbed a terrible pounding for much of round one, and the beating continued in the second as Provodnikov’s power shots sent the champion staggering all over the ring.
Showing astonishing grit, Bradley came back in the third, asserting himself behind flurries of sharp punches. Back and forth it went, with Bradley landing more, and at times clearly out-boxing the challenger, while Provodnikov never stopped stalking and firing back when he could. He hurt “Desert Storm” badly in the sixth and eleventh rounds, and finally scored a knockdown in the closing seconds of the fight, but in fact “The Siberian Rocky” indeed ‘rocked’ Bradley at numerous points. It was a grueling and violent struggle that took much out of both men.
A close decision hinged on whether or not rounds one and two were deemed two point stanzas, as well as how much credit one chose to give Bradley for his higher punch output. Some thought Provodnikov deserved the nod, but most agreed with the judges for whom Bradley did just enough to pull it out. However, had the referee got the call right on the first round knockdown, the official result would have been a draw which, all things considered, might have been the fairest of outcomes.
In terms of sheer carnage, this was a war for the ages, one which went on to be at the top of most “Fight of the Year” lists for 2013. Not at all surprising considering that one had to go back to Diego Corrales vs Jose Luis Castillo, or Micky Ward vs Arturo Gatti, to find similar high-drama showdowns where both boxers absorbed alarming amounts of punishment. At fight’s end Provodnikov’s face looked like someone had tried to put it through a meat grinder, while Bradley candidly told HBO interviewer Max Kellerman he was definitely concussed. After the decision had been announced, the champion was still so dazed he couldn’t even mount the ropes to celebrate, aborting his effort the second he got his feet off the canvas.
As Bob Arum stated after the bout, there were, in truth, no losers after this kind of thrilling slugfest, as the stock of both fighters went up dramatically after such a titanic struggle. Short of winning, the outcome for Provodnikov was as good as anyone could have hoped, with his exciting, crowd-pleasing style putting him in line for Mike Alvarado and Lucas Matthysse. Meanwhile, Bradley’s grit and heart could never be questioned again and his inspiring performance allowed him to finally leave behind the fallout from the Pacquiao debacle and later collect huge paydays in his subsequent rematches with the Filipino legend. Tellingly, a rematch with the iron-fisted Russian who came so close to derailing Bradley’s career never came close to fruition. –Neil Crane