Zahir Raheem can certainly feel Timothy Bradley's pain. In September 2005 the tricky "Z-Man" comprehensively out-pointed Erik Morales to score the biggest victory of his career and he had every right to think he would be vaulted into the elite in terms of standing and purse money. Neither happened; the Pacquiao-Morales superfight Raheem supposedly scuttled was made anyway while Raheem sat on the sidelines for seven months before losing a split decision to Acelino Freitas and fading into obscurity.
As for Bradley, his victory over number-one pound-for-pound Manny Pacquiao last June 9 has merited no fanfare whatsoever, mostly because the split decision in his favor was almost universally panned. The "mandated" rematch clause was never exercised -- who'd want to see that fight again? -- and thus Bradley lost out on a second huge purse. Few times in history has a career-defining win resulted in so little reward. Coming into Saturday's fight with Ruslan Provodnikov, Bradley has endured a 280-day layoff -- the second longest of his career -- and that comes on the heels of a career-long 287-day hiatus.
Will "Desert Storm" be motivated enough to fight at his best Saturday or will Provodnikov score his own massive upset? If he does, he'd better hope he has better luck than Bradley had with his:
Factors that will shape the result of Bradley-Provodnikov include:
Bradley's Big "Win": Bradley's superior activity -- he out-threw Pacquiao 839-751 overall and 493-390 in power shots -- may be the only explanation for why Duane Ford and C.J. Ross saw him a 115-113 winner and why Jerry Roth had Pacquiao a slim 115-113 leader. Otherwise, Pacquiao enjoyed huge statistical advantages -- 253-159 in total connects, 63-51 in landed jabs, 190-108 in power connects and big edges in accuracy (34%-19% total, 24%-11% jabs, 39%-28% power).
A Desert Storm: When Bradley is going well, he throws far more punches than his opponents. During his no-contest with Nate Campbell Bradley averaged 90.7 punches per round -- far above the 60.4 junior welterweight norm -- while Campbell threw 55.7. In stopping Joel Casamayor Bradley out-threw "Cepillo" 480-290 and out-landed him 192-41 (total) and 177-33 (power). The pattern held against Edner Cherry (790-514 thrown, 265-149 total and 185-103 power), Kendall Holt (744-415 thrown, 245-145 total and 179-91 power) and fellow volume-puncher Lamont Peterson (1,063-765 thrown, 360-237 total and 275-202 power).
Plus, not only did Bradley throw a lot, he landed a high percentage of his power shots -- 47% vs. Peterson, 48% vs. Holt, 50% vs. Cherry, 51% vs. Casamayor and 43% vs. Campbell. Bradley is a rhythm fighter but his rhythm is puzzling to others, even those who are just watching him fight.
When Bradley struggles with his volume, his effectiveness is hurt too; against Luis Abregu Bradley averaged just 44.2 punches per round but still landed 43% of his power shots. Against left-hander Devon Alexander -- who nobody looks good against -- Bradley threw 41.9 per round, landed 35% of his power shots and was out-landed 129-128 overall. And then there were the problems against Pacquiao.
In short, if Bradley is to win, he must rev up his engine and let it run. But that may present a Catch-22 because...
Provodnikov Is High Octane Too: Win or lose, Provodnikov engages in TV-friendly wars. Against Ivan Popoca (KO 8), Provodnikov thrived under Popoca's 96.8 punch-per-round pace as he averaged 75.2, out-landed Popoca 253-172 (total), 93-69 (jabs) and 160-103 (power) and was far more accurate (43%-23% total, 34%-18% jabs, 52%-27% power). In stopping David Torres in six, Provodnikov fired 83 punches per round, out-landed his foe 181-87 (total), 75-16 (jabs) and 106-71 (power) and was more precise (36%-24% total, 34%-11% jabs, 39%-33% power).
Against stylists Provodnikov doesn't do as well. Veteran DeMarcus Corley held Provodnikov to 62.2 punches per round and limited his accuracy to 22% overall, 12% jabs and 30% power but Corley was still out-landed 164-122 (total) and 125-70 (power) en route to a wider-than-reality 119-110, 118-111, 117-111 decision in Russia. Provodnikov's only loss came against Mauricio Herrera, who somehow blended style with volume as he out-threw the Russian 912-700 and out-landed him 302-240 (total), 121-74 (jabs) and 181-166 (power) en route to a unanimous decision.
Bradley can box better than Corley and Herrera, but doing so might prevent him from doing what he does best. What to do....what to do?
Prediction: Strike one -- Provodnikov is a career 140-pounder who is fighting his first major contest in a higher weight class. Strike two -- Provodnikov's eyes swell and cut easily. Strike three -- Providnikov is a face-first fighter who's fairly easy to hit with power shots. To this point Bradley's work ethic has been prodigious and if disillusionment hasn't set in expect him to emerge with a workmanlike 12-round decision.