Although Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez couldn't be more different in terms of style and ring temperament, they share a monumental achievement -- a victory over onetime pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao. But even their biggest win provides a stark contrast, for Bradley's was a hotly disputed split decision while Marquez's couldn't have been more definitive: A one-punch KO that left the Filipino icon unconscious on his face.
Because neither man is afraid of a challenge their paths have brought them here, against each other. Can Marquez, a slight 6-5 favorite, continue to amaze at age 40 or will he be swallowed up by Bradley's "Desert Storm?" Statistical factors that may determine the outcome include:
Marquez's Hidden Concerns: One major truth about sensational single-shot knockouts is that they overshadow everything that preceded it, and in Marquez's case it obscured the fact he was being badly beaten statistically. The final numbers last December revealed that not only had Pacquiao out-landed Marquez 94-52 overall, 26-11 in jabs and 68-41 in power shots, he had scored his own knockdown of Marquez in round five and was the far more accurate puncher (37%-21% overall, 24%-11% jabs and 46%-27% power).
Pacquiao's 46% accuracy on his power shots is a particularly troubling sign for a fighter who, in his prime, was a defensively-oriented ring scientist. That said, his supporters can say that his troubles on defense may be due more to Pacquiao's greatness than any erosion on Marquez's part, for while Pacquiao also landed 43% of his power shots in their third fight, Sergiy Fedchenko (24%), Likar Ramos (0%), Michael Katsidis (32%) and Juan Diaz in their rematch (30%) didn't enjoy the same success. After what his younger brother Rafael recently experienced against Efrain Esquivias, one must keep a close eye on the 40-year-old future Hall of Famer's defensive numbers against the still-undefeated Bradley, who is 10 years Marquez's junior.
While Marquez's defensive performances can be debated, his growing inaccuracy on offense may be a sign of slowing reflexes. Once known as a supreme sharp-shooter and still known as a superior counter-puncher, Marquez landed just 28% of his total punches and 35% of his power shots against Fedchenko and in blowing out Ramos in 106 seconds he connected on 27% overall and 31% of his power shots. In his two most recent fights with Pacquiao, Marquez landed 32% overall and 39% power, then 21% and 27%. The average welterweight lands 32.1% overall and 38.7% power. Is Marquez's triggering mechanism slowing to the point that he can no longer consistently catch younger men? That question may well be answered against Bradley.
But if anyone can cope with high-level competition, it is Marquez. It can be argued that no fighter on earth has faced a tougher slate of opponents than "Dinamita" over the past 11 years, one that includes 10 titlists and opponents whose combined records were 818-76-17, or a .898 winning percentage. Since meeting Robbie Peden in March 2002, Marquez has gone 18-4-1 but one can argue that the record should be 22-1, for only Floyd Mayweather had comprehensively beaten him. Will Bradley?
A Stormy Time: On the surface, Bradley's numbers against Provodnikov are excellent. Averaging 83.3 punches per round (well above the 58.2 welterweight average), Bradley prevailed 347-218 in total connects, 129-32 in landed jabs and 218-186 in connected power punches, was the more precise fighter (35%-32% overall, 26%-20% jabs, 43%-36% power) and his jab was particularly effective as his 40.8 jabs and 10.8 connects per round were far more than the division averages of 24.5 and 5.6.
The optics, however, were bad. In an effort to quiet the critics who labeled him a "boring" fighter, Bradley went toe-to-toe with the Russian windmill and paid a heavy physical price. Not only did he survive a hellacious beating in the first two rounds, one in which he suffered an unofficial knockdown, he also was officially decked in the fight's final 15 seconds and admitted to suffering a concussion whose symptoms persisted for several weeks.
Bradley's fortitude against Provodnikov shouldn't be surprising given his courageous showing against Pacquiao in which he fought with a fractured left foot since round two and a injured right ankle since round five. Bradley might have won the Pacquiao fight based on sheer activity as he out-threw Pacquiao 839-751 overall and 493-390 in power shots. But Pacquiao out-landed Bradley 253-159 overall, 63-51 jabs and 190-108 power and was more accurate (34%-19% total, 24%-11% jabs, 39%-28% power).
When Bradley is at his best, he throws a torrent of punches that far out-strip his opponents. During his no-contest with Nate Campbell Bradley averaged 90.7 punches per round 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).
But if an opponent manages to slow Bradley's attack, Bradley struggles. Luis Abregu's quirky style limited Bradley to 44.2 per round but his 43% power accuracy enabled him to win the decision. 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. Marquez's experience and savvy could well have that effect on Bradley as well.
Prediction: If Bradley is to win, volume is the key. If he generates it, he wins. If he lets Marquez's science and experience intimidate him into inaction like Mayweather and Hopkins do with their opponents, he won't. Marquez remains a skillful and wily fighter but his defensive skills are not what they used to be, nor is his triggering mechanism. If he chooses to push the pace, Bradley's volume, grit and youth will be enough to win a 12 round decision.