by David P. Greisman
Even in a sport in which the phrase “undisputed champion” exists, rare is there any conclusion without some amount of contention.
That’s no surprise, not in a sport where fights can be decided on subjective scoring and inconsistent interpretation of the rules, and where the opportunity to earn significant money or challenge for a world title is as dependent on relationships with promoters, networks, managers and sanctioning bodies as it is on skill and talent.
And so prospects, contenders, world titleholders and even some undisputed champions will be described as overrated or overhyped or dirty or boring or limited. People will say that they are ducking certain other fighters and insist that they will soon be exposed as a fraud.
There will be those, then, who still don’t believe in Timothy Bradley despite his split decision victory over Juan Manuel Marquez this past Saturday. There will still be questions and doubts and flaws worth mentioning.
He’s undefeated, but there is one battle he can’t win. He will never win over everyone.
He’d learned that through his years of accomplishments.
There was the title win at junior welterweight over Junior Witter five and a half years ago, followed by a successful defense against Edner Cherry and victory in a unification bout with Kendall Holt. Yet there also were the knockdowns Bradley suffered against Holt, one at the beginning of their fight, the other at the end.
There were accusations saying that Bradley tended to use his head as a weapon, allegations bolstered when accidental head butts left Nate Campbell with blurred vision and a gaping cut. That August 2009 fight was initially called a third-round technical knockout, a result later overturned and ruled “no contest.”
There was an excellent performance against Lamont Peterson in December 2009 followed by a brief move to welterweight and a win over Luis Carlos Abregu in July 2010. Yet there were those who felt Bradley needed to look far more impressive against Abregu in order to ever be considered a top fighter at 147 pounds.
Then came the fight between Bradley and fellow titleholder Devon Alexander, two of the three best at 140. Yet the story of their January 2011 match became the dreadful amount of clinching, wrestling and missed punches brought out by styles clashing — and strategies based on being too aware of what the other could do. There also was the cavernous former football stadium hosting the fight — a worn-down arena in a struggling area outside of Detroit. The attendance was poor, a result of a fighter from California facing a fighter from St. Louis on neutral ground. Bradley won a technical decision brought about by a clash of heads.
Months later, Bradley failed to capitalize, turning down a very good financial deal for a bout with the other top junior welterweight, Amir Khan.
Bradley ultimately left his promoter, signed with Top Rank, and returned in November 2011, on the undercard to the third fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. Bradley stopped Joel Casamayor and soon left the 140-pound division behind for good. His next fight would be as the headline of a pay-per-view and against Pacquiao, one of the best and most famous fighters in the world.
Everything that had come before had been worth it.
Except the highest point of his career would lead to his lowest.
Bradley brimmed with confidence in the build-up to his June 2012 bout with Pacquiao. He brought to pre-fight press conferences a mock-up poster and an oversized ticket for a rematch, a presumption of victory and the sequel that would logically follow.
Bradley indeed beat Pacquiao, taking a close split decision. Yet the two judges who scored the fight for Bradley were in an overwhelming minority. Most felt Pacquiao clearly deserved the win. Top Rank, which also has Pacquiao within its stable and makes far more money from him than from Bradley, called for an investigation into the judges. Nothing came from it.
Nor would there be a rematch. Though controversy can be a valuable marketing tool, there were other pairings that could make more money.
Pacquiao went on to face Marquez for a fourth time, suffering a highlight-reel knockout. While Pacquiao was out in the ring, Bradley remained out of the ring for the remainder of 2012.
The ire over Bradley’s win over Pacquiao wasn’t just limited to the judges. It extended to the man who benefitted from them. Bradley said he received death threats. He was derided, disliked and disregarded.
He got another chance.
Bradley came back this past March against Ruslan Provodnikov, a brawler who had made his reputation on broadcasts such as ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” and now was being put on HBO in what seemed as if it should be a showcase for Bradley.
Bradley perhaps still felt the sting from the past. He cast aside his game plan and came out aggressively, got caught by Provodnikov and sucked into a war. At times he was out on his feet, fighting out of instinct and desperation. At times he boxed, surviving and seeking to regain control. It was a fight that at many moments could have and perhaps should have become a Bradley loss. Instead, he made it out with a close unanimous decision and a leading part in one of the best fights of the year.
It was dumb, yet smart. He made himself more marketable, all while looking more vulnerable. People would want to see him. And he still had the world title he’d won from Pacquiao.
All of this helped land him the fight with Marquez, who turned down a fifth fight with Pacquiao in favor of a different challenge, and an opportunity for the former 126-, 130-, 135- and 140-pounder to win a world title in a fifth weight class.
Bradley was back on pay-per-view, a smaller one than his show with Pacquiao, but another big chance.
Marquez, at 40, was still considered one of the top three or four boxers in the world, an extremely skilled fighter with extraordinary intelligence who had made a career out of solving the problems that his opponents present.
Bradley would not make himself as easy to hit against Marquez as had happened with Provodnikov. A fighter like Provodnikov had hurt him. A boxer like Marquez could finish him.
Bradley’s offensive style leaves openings for opponents to counter-punch. Yet his tendency to lead with his head can distract them from that task. Bradley and Marquez had their heads collide in the first, then again in the second. Both men sent out counters in these rounds, and they traded punches as the second round came to an end.
Bradley’s defense also is underrated. He showed up to the Marquez fight resembling the boxer who had blocked and slipped many of Pacquiao’s shots, not the brawler who Provodnikov hammered. Marquez had to deal with the speed and reflexes of his younger opponent. Bradley bounced and moved and threw from different angles. He sent out more punches than Marquez, and he turned with Marquez’s punches and took them well.
Three things can slow or stop a moving fighter: well-timed counter punching, pressure and activity. Marquez’s ability to throw a punch at the perfect time and in the perfect location wouldn’t be enough. He threw fewer punches than Bradley, and Marquez’s legs couldn’t match Bradley’s speed. Bradley ended the fifth round with his gloves down, his head out, taunting Marquez, who landed a right hand just as the bell rang. Bradley just stood toward the center of the ring and pounced his right glove against his own chest.
They were competitive rounds. It was clear that Bradley was winning more of them, though.
Bradley’s pace began to fade. Marquez’s best round was the ninth; Bradley appeared to be momentarily hurt. Marquez landed well again in the 10th with a good left hook. Bradley soon retaliated with a good right hand. These were the kinds of exchanges that Marquez would need, providing openings for him to lace in hard shots.
Marquez had broken down Joel Casamayor in 2008. He’d come back against Juan Diaz in 2009. He’d come off the canvas and stopped Michael Katsidis in 2010. He’d troubled Manny Pacquiao in 2004, 2008 and 2011 and taken him out in 2012.
Bradley was too smart and too quick, too unorthodox when Marquez would have wanted him to be controlled, and too controlled when Marquez would have wanted him to be wild.
Bradley was a difficult problem to solve, even for a fighter whose reputation was built by solving such problems.
One judge saw Marquez winning 115-113, or seven rounds to five. The two other judges scored it 115-113 (seven rounds to five) and 116-112 (eight rounds to four) for Bradley.
Marquez stormed back to his dressing room. Bradley soaked in the moment, a moment that wasn’t as big as the decision over Pacquiao but seemed even more important.
He had unified titles at junior welterweight twice and had been one of the two top fighters in that division. He had gone up to welterweight and fought Pacquiao. He had gone to war with Provodnikov.
He was undefeated in the official record books. In the eyes of most boxing fans, his lone loss had come against one of the best of this generation.
It wasn’t enough for the doubters and dissenters.
There will still be those who don’t believe in Timothy Bradley. That’s no surprise.
There can still be questions and doubts and flaws. But there are also results. And it was with this win over Juan Manuel Marquez that Bradley will finally begin to get more of the respect he’d long deserved.
The 10 Count
1. Despite Juan Manuel Marquez’s post-fight protestations, and despite the split decision verdict, there was little controversy to Timothy Bradley’s victory. This was a close, competitive bout in which Bradley did more, did better and did enough to win.
It’s still interesting to note the fact that the judges disagreed with each other more often than they agreed.
The three judges were only unanimous with the way they saw five rounds, giving Rounds 2, 5, 6 and 7 to Bradley, and Round 9 to Marquez. If you take away judge Glenn Feldman, who scored the bout 115-113 for Marquez, there’s still no further agreement between the two judges who had Bradley winning 115-113 and 116-112. Those judges, Robert Hoyle and Patricia Morse Jarman, again only agreed on Rounds 2, 5, 6 and 7 for Bradley, and Round 9 to Marquez.
Hoyle had Bradley winning Rounds 1-3 and 5-8, and had Marquez winning Round 4 and 9-12.
Morse Jarman had Bradley winning Round 2, 4-7, and 10-12, and had Marquez winning Round 1, 3, 8 and 9.
Feldman had Bradley winning Round 2, 5-7 and 12, and had Marquez winning Round 1, 3, 4, and 8-11.
2. While we’re talking about scoring discrepancies, there was quite the example in Vivian Harris’s split decision win over Danny O’Connor this past Saturday in Philadelphia. One judge had it 9 rounds to 1 for Harris. One judge had it 10 rounds to 0 for O’Connor. The third judge had it 6 rounds to 4 for Harris.
I haven’t seen the fight. A friend of mine, boxing journalist Peter Czymbor, was there for the bout and said he felt O’Connor won.
“I thought he swept 5-10 after close and uneventful early rounds,” Czymbor said.
As I haven’t seen the fight myself, I’m not sure which of those two ends of the spectrum is right, or even if the 99-91 card for Harris and the 100-90 card for O’Connor are actually both wrong.
The shutout win for O’Connor came from judge Pierre Benoist, who is the same guy who saw Paul Williams beating Sergio Martinez 119-110 in their first fight, while the other two judges saw that competitive battle at 115-113 for Williams and a 114-114 draw. He also had Juan Carlos Burgos beating Cristobal Cruz 98-90 last year in a card that was far too wide for the liking of ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael.
“The 98-90 scorecard of Pierre Benoist was an utter joke, but Benoist has shown himself to be a judge who is seemingly in another world,” Rafael wrote afterward.
The wide win for Harris came from judge Alan Rubenstein. Rubenstein also drew Rafael’s ire for his 119-109 scorecard turned in for Tomasz Adamek’s win over Eddie Chambers. The other two judges had it 116-112, while some observers felt the fight was narrower than that or even had Chambers winning a close one. Rafael called Rubenstein’s score “ludicrous.”
3. We all have our bad days at work and make our mistakes. But highly questionable performances need to be noted to see if they’re part of a trend of ineptitude. The sad thing is that we tend only to notice bad scoring in the higher profile bouts, and so we have no idea whether these judges are having off nights or if such scorecards from them are far more common.
4. By the way, this was Harris’ first win over a fighter with a winning record since October 2008. And even that victory, over a 7-4-1 fighter named Octavio Narvaez, came controversially.
Since then, Harris had gone 1-6-1 with 1 no contest. That lone victory came just this past March, ending the winless streak with a decision over an opponent listed on BoxRec as being 11-18-3.
Many have worried about Harris’ health. At least in O’Connor, he was facing a foe with just 7 knockouts in 23 wins.
The bad news is that the win over O’Connor will probably keep Harris in the sport.
5. I enjoyed ESPN’s “No Más” documentary, a film about the infamous end to the 1980 rematch between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran that will premiere this Tuesday (Oct. 15) as part of the network’s award-winning “30 for 30” series.
I enjoyed it, but I didn’t leave feeling satisfied after watching a preview version of the film last week.
Perhaps that is because, nearly 33 years later, there still is no satisfying reason for what was an unsatisfying conclusion. No one expected Duran to quit. No one understood Duran quitting or believed the myriad reasons and excuses that came out afterward.
And it’s probably also because the film largely takes the perspective of Leonard and the rest of us who still want answers, or a resolution, more than three decades later. There is little heard from the modern-day Duran in the film in terms of insight regarding the first and second Leonard fights.
Late in the documentary, Leonard flies to Panama, meets Duran in the center of a ring and asks him about the “No más” incident, Duran again insists that he never actually said those two words, and cites reasons we’ve heard before for his quitting: his gaining weight and partying after his win over Leonard in their first fight, the quick turnaround for the rematch, a very hot cup of coffee Duran had prior to the fight.
Leonard does not push.
“I felt bad. I wanted to protect him. I wanted to let him know that as far as I’m concerned, it’s OK,” Leonard said afterward. “There was nothing else that I could do but let him go. He’s been trapped for so long. He’s been isolated, stationary for so long, dealing with ‘no mas.’ ”
No great fighter wants to believe that another boxer is better than him, that his best day wasn’t good enough. Duran’s better day clearly was in his first fight with Leonard, and he had to find reasons (which may or may not be reasonable) why he wasn’t having as much success halfway through their rematch.
“There will always be questions or debates on what actually happened. To be honest with you, that really doesn’t make a difference with me anymore,” Leonard said. “I’m just going to be the bigger man and let it go. I’m going to give that to him. As far as I’m concerned, Duran doesn’t have to fight anymore.”
The film’s director is Eric Drath, who was also behind a 2008 documentary about the infamous fight involving Billy Collins and Luis Resto.
6. Alas, I was disappointed in the inaccurate information passed along in the documentary’s epilogue.
“Duran went on to fight in 12 title matches across 9 weight classes, winning 3 more titles,” said the words posted on the screen.
Duran’s entire pro career spanned 10 weight classes, with him fighting in four additional weight classes after the Leonard bout. I’m not sure where the number of titles matches came from, but Duran won two more world titles: the WBA belt at 154 and the WBC belt at 160.
“Leonard went on to fight in 12 title matches across 9 weight classes, winning 7 more titles,” the documentary said.
Leonard’s entire pro career spanned five weight classes, and even his one bout at light heavyweight saw both he and Donny Lalonde weigh in at less than the super middleweight limit. His additional world titles were: WBA at 147, WBA and the lineal championship at 154, the WBC and the lineal championship at 160, and the WBC titles at 168 and 175.
7. My ballot for the 2014 International Boxing Hall of Fame class in the “modern” category will include votes for:
- 168-pound lineal champion and 175-pound RING champion Joe Calzaghe
- 140-, 147- and 154-pound champion and 130-, 135- and 160-pound titleholder Oscar De La Hoya
- 108-pound titleholder Yoko Gushiken
- 126-pound champion Naseem Hamed
- 112-pound champion Pone Kingpetch
- 147-pound champion and 154- and 160-pound titleholder Felix Trinidad
- 108-pound titleholder Myung-Woo Yuh
- 108- and 112-pound titleholder Hilario Zapata
Voters can pick as many as 10 “modern” names from the ballot. The top three vote getters will be announced in December and inducted into Canastota in June 2014. It’s likely that Calzaghe, De La Hoya and Trinidad will be the next class of “modern” inductees.
For a great breakdown of all the boxers listed on the modern ballot (compiled by boxing writers Lee Groves, Jack Obermayer, Cliff Rold and Springs Toledo), go to bwaa.us and click on “IBHOF.”
8. So much for the proposed rematch between Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Brian Vera going on as an independent pay-per-view if HBO didn’t have the ability to pay for that bout to take place in December.
That had been the indication of what could happen, according to comments from Chavez’s and Vera’s promoters in the week after Chavez-Vera 1 ended in controversy.
But instead, Chavez-Vera 2 seems destined for early next year, perhaps in February, according to a report that ran on this website last week.
That’s no surprise. There’s more money in it for the promoters waiting for the TV license fee instead of putting on a pay-per-view amid this packed end-of-2013 pay-per-view market. And it’s no surprise that HBO would want to pay for the rematch once the money is available; Chavez-Vera 1 was its second-highest rated boxing broadcast of the year.
A February date also might not keep a potential fight between Chavez and 168-pound champion Andre Ward from going on. Ward fights this November.
9. Vasyl Lomachenko has had just one pro fight (or seven if you count his “World Series of Boxing” bouts for which he was paid and wore no headgear), and is already closer to getting a featherweight world title shot than is Gary Russell Jr., who has fought 23 times in nearly five years.
It just underscores the quality of certain foreign amateur boxing programs, and the lack of recent success of the American Olympic boxing teams.
Lomachenko won gold in 2008 and 2012 representing Ukraine. That’s twice the number of total medals as the American men’s team, which had one fighter (Deontay Wilder) win bronze in 2008 and had no one getting a medal in 2012.
Guillermo Rigondeaux won gold in 2000 and 2004. He won an interim world title in his seventh pro bout and was a “full” titleholder after his ninth. Then again, he and Lomachenko entered the pros as refined, experienced fighters. The American prospects are not, and remain on an extended parade of gimme bouts as they continue to develop. Sadly, many of these fights represent significant steps down in opposition from what they faced at the amateur level.
10. Lennox Lewis said last week that reports saying he would come back to face a Klitschko brother for $100 million were overblown.
“A hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question does NOT equal reality,” Lewis wrote on Twitter, with his remarks slightly edited here for clarity. “Do I have any plans to unretire? NO. Would I consider it if $100 million was seriously on the table? Yes. Will it happen? No!”
I honestly don’t care one way or the other about a Lewis comeback. So long as he isn’t coming back to do commentary on HBO, I’m good. Hopefully we won’t ever need to raise $100 million to keep that from happening…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]