By Francisco Salazar
(CARSON, Calif) - It may not have been the all-out war he had with Ruslan Provodnikov over two years ago, but Timothy Bradley sure makes for compelling fights in Carson.
The fight also includes a rather bizarre ending on Saturday night. It was reminiscent of the closing moments of Bradley's fight with Provodnikov, where Tim was in serious trouble.
Officially, Bradley won a 12 round unanimous decision over Jessie Vargas, but the real drama took place in the final thirty seconds, where none of the boisterous crowd of 4,711 at the Stubhub Center knew what was going on.
Instead of the focus being on what Bradley did for almost 12 rounds, the focus was more on the actions of referee Pat Russell.
The win snapped a two-bout winless streak for Bradley and he won the interim WBO welterweight title in the process. Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the full WBO champion and has until the first week of July to advise the sanctioning body if he intends to keep the title.
Some in boxing wondered whether all the hard-fought bouts Bradley has fought in, including the Provodnikov fight, would begin to slow Bradley down. He was facing a fighter in Vargas, who was youth and strength to his advantage.
Bradley dismissed all that talk with a resounding and dominant performance against Vargas, who did come to win, but simply could not match talent and skill of the Palm Springs, Calif. resident.
From the opening bell, Bradley was able to establish landing repeated right hands to the head. Whether it was a lead or counter straight right hand, Bradley landed plant of those through Vargas' guard.
Vargas, who holds the WBA junior welterweight title, was able to do well in the third round, landing some lefts to the head, but Bradley swung momentum his way in the fourth round.
Both fighters exchanged excellent combinations towards the end of the fifth round, with Vargas landing two huge right hands to the head of Bradley. Those and a number of Vargas rights began to close Bradley's left eye, but Vargas' left eye also showed worse for wear as well.
Vargas' punch output seemed to drop in the second half of the fight. The pace suited Bradley fine as he worked from the outside, moving in and out of Vargas' reach and landing lefts and rights to the head.
Vargas attempted to press the action in the final round and struck pay dirt with about 20 seconds left in the round. Vargas landed a right hand to the head that hurt Bradley. While Bradley circled away, Vargas went in for the kill, landing three to four more punches before Bradley held onto him.
After the 10-second bell sounded, referee Pat Russell, who was the same referee for the Bradley-Provodnikov fight, broke the fighters apart and waved his arms across his body, signaling the end of the fight. Vargas began to celebrate, presuming he won the fight by technical knockout because Bradley was hurt. Instead, Russell had to explain that he misinterpreted the 10-second count as the bell sounding to end the round.
The 12th round officially ended at 2:53.
"I thought I heard the bell," was what Russell said after the fight.
All three judges scored the bout in favor of Bradley, 116-112, 117-111, and 115-112.
According to CompuBox, Bradley threw 676 punches, connecting on 232, while Vargas threw 630, connecting on 203.
"I got hit with a hard shot," said Bradley after the fight. "I stepped back and I knew where I was at. The ref stepped in and waved his arms. I didn't know what was going on. I thought he was stopping the fight because it was the end of the round."
Vargas had a different take.
"It was a close fight and I knew I had to win the final round because I knew the fight could've gone either way. I heard something and I hit him with three or four good shots. Then the fight was stopped. Those seven seconds cost me the fight."
Bradley improves to 32-1-1, 12 KOs, while Vargas suffers his first first defeat as a pro, dropping to 26-1, 9 KOs.
Bradley also stated after the fight that he is open to a rematch with Vargas, but that may be a hard sell on boxing fans, considering Bradley was up considerably on the scorecards. No word on whether Vargas would drop down to the 140-pound division to defend his WBA junior welterweight title.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (CA) Star newspaper, RingTV, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing