by Kieran Mulvaney
The crowd booed, as it did the last time Timothy Bradley won a decision in Las Vegas. But on this occasion, unlike when Bradley was awarded a hugely disputed win over Manny Pacquiao last June, the catcalls were not sentinels of controversy. The crowd was there to support Juan Manuel Marquez, had cheered every punch of his that landed and even those that missed; many -- perhaps most -- of those supporters doubtless genuinely believed he had won. But although this was a close contest, the right man prevailed, as Bradley remained undefeated and retained his welterweight belt on a split decision.
It was a bout that had simmered without ever truly exploding, but was no less commendable for that. This was twelve rounds of boxing of the highest quality, two experienced and skilled combatants looking to out-think, outsmart and out-punch each other in a contest of shifting momentum.
Bradley, who runs his record to 31-0 (12 KOs), started with understandable caution, wary of the vaunted Marquez counterpunches. He circled, and flicked out his jab, not wanting to over-commit himself. But Marquez is like a spider waiting for prey to fly into his web, and over the second half of the first round, he began to find his range, scoring with a counter left, then an uppercut, and another counter left.
Bradley darted in and out over the next couple of rounds, jabbing to body and head and seeking to move out of range before Marquez could land. He was not always successful, notably eating a trilogy of right hands at the end of the third, and by the fourth there was a sense that maybe Bradley was becoming a little befuddled, over-thinking his strategy, focusing too much on not getting hit and not enough on hitting.
But the fifth was the start of a sequence in which the American asserted control, relying on his footwork and a beautiful fast jab to land punches on Marquez, while contorting his upper body to avoid most of his Mexican opponent's counters. By the seventh and eighth, the hunter had become the hunted, the counterpuncher forced to turn aggressor as Marquez, frustrated at his lack of success, sought to take the action to Bradley. Marquez rarely looked comfortable doing so, however, and his most effective moments in the latter rounds came in the ninth, when Bradley, losing concentration for just a second, was sloppy in his execution of a combination, giving Marquez the small amount of space he needed to respond with a powerful sequence of punches including a right hand that appeared to cause Bradley to do the briefest of dances.
Bradley returned the favor in the tenth, rocking Marquez with a short punch inside and then landing a hard right to the side of the head that looked certain to send his foe to the canvas. But Marquez regained his balance and his bearing, fought on even terms for the rest of the round and possibly edged the eleventh, setting up a tense finale. Marquez appeared to be shading it, Bradley looking all too comfortable with what he believed to be a lead on the scorecards, until with the very last punch of the night, he sent Marquez reeling with a counter left hand to the chin that once again had Marquez doing battle with gravity and fighting to stay on his feet.
The scores -- 115-113 Marquez, 115-113 and 116-112 Bradley -- reflected that fact that many rounds were desperately close. They did not meet with the approval of Marquez, who is now 55-7-1.
"I came to win," he said. "I thought I did win. The judges took it away from me. You don't have to knock out the other guy to win. I did my job. I clearly won. I've been robbed six times in my career."
Bradley, however, was ebullient, even as the fans voiced their displeasure.
"It was a perfect fight," he said. "I gave him a boxing lesson. Everything worked. My jab, over and over. He couldn't touch me. There were a lot of missed punches in that fight. When you look closely, there were a lot of missed punches on both sides. I controlled the fight. I always fight for the fans. A lot of times they don't appreciate it, but I do fight for the fans."
In the co-main event, Mexico's Orlando Salido was relentless in pursuing and ultimately beating down Orlando Cruz, winning a vacant featherweight belt with a seventh round TKO. Cruz -- who had garnered much attention and support as the first openly gay boxer to fight for a world title -- simply didn't have the power to prevent Salido, now 40-12-2 with 28 KOs, from marching forward, throwing a seemingly endless barrage of punches to the body and head. Cruz, 20-3-1, showed heart as he fought back even while he was forced to retreat, but whereas his punches seemed to bounce off Salido with no effect, Salido's blows appeared thunderous in their effect. With the exception of a brief period in the fifth, where Salido was evidently pausing to gather a second wind, Cruz wasn't able to find the distance he needed or the angles he wanted; he couldn't keep Salido off him, and while the Mexican's body punches softened Cruz up, it was his overhand right to the head that landed with the greatest effect and frequency. One such right hand, a minute into the seventh, caused Cruz to sag against the ropes, and a left uppercut finished the job, leaving Cruz a heap on the canvas.
Vasyl Lomachenko looked little short of sensational in his professional debut. The two-time Olympic gold medalist dropped fellow featherweight Jose Ramirez, who entered the ring with 28 professional fights on his ledger, with a body shot in the first round and another body shot at the very end of the fourth. That second shot crumpled Ramirez, who dropped like a stone and didn't beat the count. In between those two moments, the Ukrainian showed a poise and preternatural calm not normally associated with professional debutants, and looks to be a natural, as Ramirez himself acknowledged.
"The punches to the body hurt more than the punches to my head," he said. "He's such a fast fighter. When I signed for this fight I knew what I was getting into: a world class fighter. He'll be a fine champion. I tried to attack, but nothing happened."
In light-heavyweight action to open the pay-per-view, Anthony Smith was game but hopelessly outmatched by Seanie Monaghan, who climbed to 19-0 with 12KOs after battering Smith with a series of combinations that turned him into a human bobblehead before referee Tony Weeks stepped in to halt the action.