by David P. Greisman
It can be but one mistake, one opening, one opportunity. It can be a single moment that changes an entire fight. And it is because of this that nearly every moment of a bout must be dedicated to consistent discipline and copious decisions, to preventing your opponent from exploiting any vulnerability, and to set him up for that one second, then striking once he is susceptible.
It took a single round for Ruslan Provodnikov to make the most of his moment, a single shot altering any assumption Timothy Bradley may have held about the way their fight would go.
It took Bradley nearly every moment after that to keep himself from being undone and upset. It took digging deep for the duration, a constant, concerted effort, first at attempting to regain control, then to maintain his momentum, and — when that failed — to endure extremes he had never experienced, persevering through pain, pressure and punishment, and stubbornly striving to survive.
Provodnikov would be left battered and bloodied himself, with just one more round remaining, one last chance to land the punches that could deliver him to victory. He succeeded, scoring a knockdown in the fight’s final moments.
And then one more moment changed it all.
Bradley had until the referee reached the count of 10 to keep from losing everything he had worked for, not only in this fight but also, possibly, throughout his career. The 12 seconds on the clock, meanwhile, were all that needed to pass for Bradley to potentially pull out a win on the judges’ scorecards.
He stood up — and was saved by the bell.
It was one last dramatic turn in a fight in which action gave way to suspense, and in which that suspense was satisfied when it culminated with an exciting conclusion.
It was a storyline driven by many moments, all because they would not quit, all because they could not lose.
That latter line shouldn’t have been the way to describe Timothy Bradley, not when he was still young, still undefeated, a world titleholder still in his prime — and not when he was coming off a win in the most important, most lucrative fight of his life, a highly controversial decision in June 2012 over Manny Pacquiao.
That victory hadn’t heightened his career, but had hindered it instead. He was seen as having been rewarded by three judges for boxing Pacquiao instead of beating him. This was not his fault, but this did not limit the ire of fans who felt he was undeserving, that he was an accessory to robbery, that he was a villain.
Rather than settling this dispute in a rematch, Pacquiao and Top Rank — also Bradley’s promoter — moved on as if Pacquiao had truly won, and went forward with a fourth fight against Juan Manuel Marquez. Bradley would instead fail to fight again for the remainder of the year, returning not on pay-per-view but on an HBO broadcast against Provodnikov, a keep-busy bout against an opponent believed to be tough but limited. Bradley was seen as being on a lesser stage with a lesser foe.
Provodnikov needed this fight to prove otherwise, to show that he was more than just a brawler whose ceiling was against a certain level of fighter on a certain echelon of boxing broadcasts. He had been relegated in the minds of many to the realm of ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights,” where he had been featured on several occasions. He could dispel that description — or else be confined to living within those limitations.
It’s possible that Bradley took Provodnikov lightly, that he either did not respect Provodnikov enough or did not expect that Provodnikov would hit him as cleanly or could hurt him as badly as he did.
It’s also possible that Bradley still felt the sting of the criticism that came from the way he beat Pacquiao, that he sought to show fans that he could entertain, that he had earned his position, that he deserved their attention.
He stood in close with Provodnikov in the first round and traded toe-to-toe. It was a mistake, one that left his chin open. Provodnikov landed an overhand right, followed by a left hook and another overhand right, and Bradley was hurt. Bradley tried to hold on, then ducked forward beneath a Provodnikov right hand before falling forward to the canvas, aided slightly by Provodnikov’s glove on his back.
Bradley rose, his legs still not beneath him, and toppled backward to the mat. Yet referee Pat Russell didn’t rule it a knockdown. Maybe it was due to the apparent little push, or maybe it was because he didn’t feel that Bradley had gone down as a delayed result of the prior punches.
Either way, it would prove to be a crucial call
Bradley was able to finish the first round but still needed to recover as the second began. He needed to box, yet he continued to send shots out in combination, remaining within range for Provodnikov’s punches, and allowing himself to get hammered and hurt time and again.
This was not the only poor start for Bradley. He had been knocked down in the opening round by Kendall Holt nearly four years ago, but got up, took over and earned the victory.
This was a different situation, though. Provodnikov threw more often than Holt preferred to. He also seemed to be strengthened by this move from junior welterweight up into the welterweight division — and he had improved under the tutelage of Freddie Roach and training at the Wild Card Gym. Roach also trains Pacquiao; he was already quite familiar with Bradley.
Bradley, meanwhile, hadn’t shown much power previously when he was at 140, scoring knockouts in less than half of his wins. That hadn’t improved with the additional seven pounds on his frame. Nor was he helped out by an admitted gain of 40 pounds between the Pacquiao and Provodnikov fights. He had needed to lose a lot of weight while training, and he had gained about 12 pounds back between the weigh-in and fight night.
Perhaps drained, and perhaps slowed, he would have less of the foot speed that he had demonstrated in an excellent win over Lamont Peterson in 2009. It would be more difficult for him to get away from Provodnikov.
And when Bradley threw hooks, his hands were coming back far too low.
Yet Provodnikov’s activity suddenly dwindled; he went from 97 punches in the second (an average of 32 a minute, or about one every two seconds), to 15 shots in the third (an average of 5 a minute, or one every 12 seconds), according to CompuBox.
That helped Bradley sturdy himself for what shots Provodnikov landed in the fourth, and it helped rejuvenate him for a round in which he threw 107 of his own, landing 48, including crisp shots to the head and clean blows to the body.
Bradley turned to movement and volume. Provodnikov was protecting his body with elbows at his side, sending out fewer salvos, and Bradley was showing that he could duck under his hooks.
One moment can change everything, though. That danger loomed as Provodnikov stalked, searching for that opening, seeking that opportunity. He continued to walk forward into Bradley’s punches in the sixth, pressuring him into a neutral corner, trapping him and then landing a left hook, which was soon followed by a right. Suddenly Bradley was hurt again; the 103 shots that Bradley would throw in the round were in naught.
Bradley was badly hurt, his back against the ropes. He tried to slug away with Provodnikov but was fated to lose these exchanges when all he could muster were arm punches. It was foolish courage not to hold, not to move, not to protect a chin that might not be able to withstand one more flush shot.
He survived. But once again, Bradley was still in danger of being stopped. His own trainer, Joel Diaz, threatened to do so himself after the sixth. Bradley responded by boxing in the seventh and eighth rounds.
And once again, Provodnikov’s output dropped; he went just 15 of 36 in Round 7 and a mere 6 of 26 in Round 8, a round in which he was credited with landing only one power punch.
Bradley didn’t have the single-shot power of Provodnikov, but was able to open up a cut over his eye in the ninth. Bradley had enough pop on his punches that Provodnikov’s face began to swell, and Roach soon voiced his own concern, saying he, too, was considering stopping the fight.
Bradley had regained control, and he was maintaining the momentum. Before the 11th round could begin, Roach told Provodnikov that he needed to knock Bradley out, an instruction that normally is saved for before the final round. In this instance, the line was given earlier, allowing his fighter twice the time to do it.
Provodnikov threw 95 punches in Round 11, more than doubling what he had done in the 10th. Bradley opted to respond in kind, sending out 101 of his own but getting hurt again.
Diaz saw this and wisely told his fighter to box in the final round. But Bradley was either too hurt or too brave to listen — and he came too close to paying the price.
Bradley didn’t have his legs under him, which was no more apparent than after he lingered on the mat after being pushed down by Provodnikov a little after the halfway point of the 12th round. He would soon be wobbled once by a left hook, then again by a right, leaving him leaning forward to hold but failing to succeed.
Provodnikov was running out of time. He kept throwing, and he kept landing — and finally he forced Bradley to take a knee with 12 seconds left.
The knockdown in these last moments of the last round wouldn’t be enough. Bradley rose at the count of six. The bell rang. The fight went to the scorecards. And Bradley won, taking a close unanimous decision; two judges scored the bout 114-113, while the third had it 115-112.
The knockdown Provodnikov had appeared to score in the first round, meanwhile, would have changed this result. Had Russell called that differently, the scorecards would have shifted by one point and become a majority draw.
And had the judges opted to score the second round 10-8 based on the lopsided manner in which Provodnikov won it, he would have been awarded the narrow win.
The fighters had no way of knowing what the scores were, however. So while the conclusion may have been different, the action would have been the same.
Timothy Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov showed themselves to be men of war, powered by an abundance of courage and heart.
A single moment can change an entire fight. On this night, a few of these moments combined to deprive Provodnikov of victory, and to save Bradley from defeat. Yet many more moments meant the opposite; Bradley also had the physical will to survive and the mental ability to adjust, allowing him to battle back and win rounds.
A single fight can change an entire career. Despite the difficulty and the drama, Bradley gained esteem with his valiant, if sometimes foolish effort. And despite the decision, Provodnikov proved that he belonged at a higher level.
They did not quit, not when so much was on the line. And no matter what Provodnikov’s record reads, they truly did not lose.
The 10 Count
1. It’s a shame that Bradley-Provodnikov played out in front of what appeared to be a paltry crowd.
This was Bradley’s 22nd fight to take place within about two hours of his home of Palm Springs, Calif. All but nine bouts in his career have been in that region. He has now been there four times since winning his first world title in 2008.
At least Bradley and Provodnikov made heroes of themselves in front of those few in attendance — and those many who were captivated in front of their TV screens, as well as everyone who missed the fight but has since heard the word of mouth and caught a replay.
This was the kind of fight that can make a fighter. This was also the kind of fight that can break a fighter.
Provodnikov knew no other way and had no other option than to fight how he did. Bradley, meanwhile, better hope that his flawed strategy will turn out to be worth it.
It will only be worth it if his team can capitalize on this thrilling performance.
We can take solace in the knowledge that Bradley will be back on television again, that he will probably get another sizable payday from HBO. But it would be nice to know that he’s appreciated at home as well.
2. And suddenly the question about the March 30 rematch between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado isn’t just whether it can live up to or surpass their first fight, but also how it will compare to Bradley-Provodnikov — which as of this moment is the early leader for Fight of the Year.
3. Early on in a “Real Sports” segment on Mike Tyson — which premieres this Tuesday night (March 19) on HBO — correspondent Bernard Goldberg recalls the Tyson of old as “the baddest man on the planet,” as “insane and out of control,” and then says that people are “still paying to see him because you don’t know what he might do.”
That latter line is in reference to Tyson’s one-man stage show, which is attracting people because of the aforementioned reasons, due to the heights of fame and depths of infamy that Tyson had reached, and because — as Goldberg shows himself — most people never realized that there were other facets to Tyson’s personality. He was not stupid, but rather he was constantly troubled, prone to derailing himself through his inability to properly handle his emotions and his addictions and his relationships.
Goldberg, at one point, asks Tyson if he is a thespian, and Tyson answers, “I don’t know about that.” Goldberg, believing that Tyson doesn’t know what the word means, jokes that he’s not asking about the former fighter’s sexuality. Tyson then responds with a historical explanation of where the word “thespian” came from.
“That is the verbal equivalent of hitting me right on the jaw and flattening me,” Goldberg says.
Later on, Goldberg peruses the philosophy books on Tyson’s shelves: “I can’t believe I’m talking to Mike Tyson and he’s talking about Nietzsche.”
Tyson remains a matter of curiosity, and this is a good thing for a man whose wife says he is still in debt to the IRS to the tune of seven figures.
The more people that are willing to watch his appearances in movies and television shows, see his documentary and interviews on Oprah, and pay up for his one-man show, the closer he will be to leaving one more vestige of his turbulent past behind.
He will always struggle with a troubled mind and a history of regrettable decisions and incidents. But he should continue to vie for stability, and he should continue to try to be at peace within this new life. Much of Tyson’s celebrity came from the way he entered the headlines. All we should want for him now, though, is for the only news to be good news.
4. One footnote regarding Bernard Hopkins’ place in the history books:
He is indeed the record-holder for oldest person to win a lineal championship, having dethroned Jean Pascal in May 2011 at the age of 46 years, 4 months and 6 days.
He is also the record-holder for oldest person to win a major world title, having impressively stifled Tavoris Cloud earlier this month at the age of 48 years, 1 month and 22 days.
He is not, however, the oldest person to be champion — as Jeremy Foley of the Pound4Pound Ireland blog pointed out on Twitter last week.
George Foreman no longer held a major world title for the final two years of his career. The International Boxing Federation had stripped him in 1995 after he declined to face Axel Schulz in a rematch. Yet Foreman was still the true heavyweight champion, a distinction he’d earned by knocking out Michael Moorer in 1994, lineage that dated back to 1980 and Larry Holmes.
And Foreman was still the true heavyweight champion when he stepped into the ring against Shannon Briggs on Nov. 22, 1997, at the age of 48 years, 10 months and 12 days. (Briggs was awarded the victory in that bout.)
Hopkins, by the way, isn’t the true light heavyweight champion; Chad Dawson took that throne from him in April 2012. That’s not to minimize Hopkins’ accomplishments. He will be well deserving of a significant spot in boxing’s history books — although he keeps delaying when his entry will be able to written, and adding more and more to what will need to be said about him.
5. Sticking with Bernard Hopkins and history, let’s talk about Don King.
Hopkins had once been promoted by King, a business partnership that devolved into an acrimonious relationship. They ultimately would sue each other, with the arbitration continuing even after Hopkins had left King’s stable.
And so it wasn’t too surprising that Hopkins taunted King prior to the Tavoris Cloud fight. Cloud was King’s only remaining world titleholder; Hopkins said he would send King into retirement by beating Cloud, putting the last nail in the promoter’s coffin — not the nicest turn of proverbial phrase when speaking of an 81-year-old man.
But while it might end up being Hopkins that symbolically ended King’s days as a prominent promoter, those days had actually ended long ago — apparently due to King himself.
A fantastic article in St. Louis newspaper The Riverfront Times delved into the legal battle between King and another light heavyweight, Ryan Coyne. Within were accusations against King we’ve heard time and again for more than 25 years, from boxers allegedly being woefully underpaid to them being forced to sit on the sidelines waiting for fights to be made.
King has had far less influence in recent years. This has been due to a vicious circle: boxers leave him because he allegedly can’t get them the fights or money he promised, and the television networks don’t give him broadcast slots because he no longer has a significant stable.
6. It’s a long article, but it’s worth a read. You can find it at http://tinyurl.com/donkingcoyne
7. The early signs that the fight between Paulie Malignaggi and Adrien Broner would be built up with some quality verbal sparring are not very promising.
For those of you who care about such things, though, you should take solace in the prospect that things could easily get better.
Malignaggi speaks quicker than he punches and has long seemed good at coming up with extemporaneous lines. Broner, meanwhile, has a mix of nonsensical improvised lines and decent-to-funny bits that sound as if they have been rehearsed and repeated beforehand.
Give Broner and his team time to come up with better lines about Malignaggi. And given how much they love talking to the press, there will be plenty of bickering, which could mean plenty of buzz by the time their bout comes around.
8. It’s a good thing Malignaggi and Broner aren’t British fighters, because otherwise they would be mum for fear of being fined if they crossed the line with their trash talking.
That’s what has happened to heavyweight prospect Tyson Fury, who was fined £3,000 (about $4,532) for a tweet he sent in October insulting fellow British big man David Price.
This fine came from the British Boxing Board of Control, which also threw a fit in 2011 when David Haye tweeted a misogynistic joke.
Boxing isn’t exactly a gentle, genteel sport. And it’s not like British boxing fans aren’t just like the rest of us — they also come to see people pummel the hell out of each other. They’re not going to care whether a fighter is uncouth.
The world didn’t end when Janet Jackson’s nipple showed during the Super Bowl halftime show. The Marquess of Queensberry isn’t going to roll over in his grave if a heavyweight lets expletives fly.
9. Coming soon: British boxing regulators will mandate that fighters say “I’m dreadfully sorry” after every shot they land.
10. Because no boxing news is irrelevant, basketball player Lamar Odom and his reality-TV celebrity wife Khloe Kardashian have named their new boxer dog “Bernard Hopkins.”
The dog has a long way to go to catch up with the man — 2021, to be exact, when both Bernard Hopkins the pugilist and Hopkins the puppy will be 56…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]