There were echoes of the Thrilla in Manila. There were shades of Chavez-Taylor. There was even a taste of what an unscripted Balboa-Creed might look like.
This is not to say that Tim Bradley vs. Ruslan Provodnikov was as thrilling, as memorable, or as iconic as any of those (real or fictitious) fights. There would be varying levels of blasphemy involved in making such direct comparisons. All we're saying is that Bradley-Provodnikov provided elements of all of the above. And that it was thrilling, memorable, and instantly iconic in its own right.
At the conclusion of 12 heart-pounding rounds, including a final round in which he was quite literally saved by the bell, Bradley retained his welterweight belt by a single point on two scorecards. He successfully followed up his highly disputed decision over Manny Pacquiao and subsequent nine-month layoff with a far less disputed victory. Before the opening bell of Bradley-Provodnikov, ring announcer Lupe Contreras injected the unpopular opinion that Bradley's "previous performance catapulted him to boxing superstardom." Twelve rounds after Contreras' proclamation, however, the case could rightly be made that Tim Bradley had arrived as a boxing superstar.
Bradley looked from the start like a man determined to win over some fans, as he walked right in and began fighting Provodnikov's fight in round one. Nearly a 10-1 favorite with some oddsmakers, Bradley gave up his advantages in skill and speed and elected to trade punches with his relatively one-dimensional Siberian opponent. "I came out fast because I wanted to jump on him, I wanted to control the action and work at my pace," Bradley later explained. It didn't take long for the folly of that strategy to become clear. A Provodnikov right hand late in the round hurt Bradley, and he held on and soon fell to the canvas. Referee Pat Russell ruled it a slip, a dubious decision that became demonstrably incorrect when Bradley tumbled backward and down again upon trying to stand up.
The second round was pure caveman combat. It would do it no justice to try to describe any of the single punches that were thrown. This was about the totality of the three minutes, Bradley getting walloped over and over but refusing to go down, just standing in the Russian's range and punching back. To anyone with the slightest interest in a liberal application of the 10 points available to each boxer, this was a 10-8 round without a knockdown.
Whatever you thought of the decision in the Pacquiao fight, Bradley showed his heart by remaining competitive for all 12 rounds on two bum wheels. By the end of the second round of the Provodnikov fight, his heart had been proven beyond any doubt. So quite correctly, Bradley shifted to proving his superiority in skill -- at least whenever his legs would allow him to do so. Bouncing on his toes, popping quick jabs and combinations, "Desert Storm" began to win rounds and climb back into the fight against an opponent who was slow to regain his energy after the high-output second stanza.
But in the final half-minute of the sixth, a sudden left hand from Provodnikov along the ropes brought an end to Bradley's boxing lesson, and again the fans at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, were treated to inhuman toe-to-toe warfare until the bell rang.
Bradley, 29, boxed successfully in the seventh and eighth, but in the ninth he caved to the urge to slug--and got the better of it this time, cutting Provodnikov, also 29, on the left eyelid and winning a dangerous exchange as he opened himself up to the Russian's power punches.
By round 10, both Joel Diaz in Bradley's corner and Freddie Roach in Provodnikov's corner had admitted to HBO's Max Kellerman that they'd seriously considered stopping the fight. It was a scenario reminiscent of the third Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight, which was stopped by Frazier's corner after 14 rounds but might have been stopped moments later by Ali's corner otherwise.
Entering the 12th round, both fighters sensed that Provodnikov needed a knockout, or at least a knockdown or two, to win, so Bradley came out moving and Provodnikov came out stalking. With 50 seconds left on the clock, Provodnikov hurt his man with a left hook, knocking him halfway across the ring. With 30 seconds to go, a right hand hurt Bradley again and he wisely held on. But another right drilled him with 22 seconds left on the clock, and after a follow-up barrage, Provodnikov finally put his opponent down with 12 seconds remaining. Bradley got up at the count of six. He was dazed, but coherent enough to fulfill Russell's request that he take a step forward. Unlike Meldrick Taylor in his 1990 battle with Julio Cesar Chavez, Bradley was permitted to hear the final bell, and Provodnikov didn't have the opportunity to land another punch.
Tweeted respected boxing blogger Tim Starks of The Queensberry Rules, "Really, you think you've seen it all in boxing. You never have."
Judges Marty Denkin and Jerry Cantu both scored it 114-113, and Raul Caiz Sr. had it 115-112, all for Bradley. Had Russell called a knockdown in the opening round, it would have been a majority draw.
"It's up to the judges, but I thought I did everything in there to prove myself," said Provodnikov (22-2, 15 KOs) after turning in a breakout performance in defeat. "I did not feel his punches. He felt my punches, and everybody knows that."
Bradley (30-0, 12 KOs) said he'd suffered a concussion early in the fight and admitted to still feeling dizzy after the bout. But he had himself together enough at the end to heap praise upon his opponent. "This guy's a powerpuncher, he's a great warrior. I take my hat off to him. He'll beat any 140- and 147-pounder out there, he's the real deal."
In the opening bout of the telecast, someone's "O" had to go in a battle of welterweights Jesse Vargas and Wale Omotoso, and someone's "O" did. It just wasn't certain who that someone was going to be until the judges' scorecards were read. Omotoso scored a flash knockdown in the second round, Vargas arguably earned a 10-8 round without a knockdown in the fifth, back and forth they went down the stretch, and when all 10 rounds were over, the only thing everyone could agree on was that it was close. Official judges Jonathan Davis, Fritz Werner, and Gwen Adair all sided with the busier boxer, Vargas, scoring it 96-93, 96-93, and a surprisingly wide 97-92, respectively, to lift the 23-year-old Las Vegas resident's record to 22-0, 9 KOs. With the narrow defeat, the 27-year-old Omotoso falls to 23-1, 19 KOs.
It was a fairly entertaining co-feature. It just didn't seem all that entertaining an hour later because Bradley vs. Provodnikov proved a nearly impossible act to precede.