By Graham Houston
One thing that boxing has always taught us is that if you don’t give in, if you just hang on and somehow, some way, keep in the fight, you can sometimes win when all seems lost. Timothy Bradley reminded us of this in Saturday night’s welterweight championship bout on HBO.
Boxing doesn’t get much better than this welterweight championship bout. Bradley looked out on his feet in each of the first two rounds against Ruslan Provodnikov, the Russian rock who surely exceeded almost all expectations with the tremendous fight he waged, and he suffered a knockdown in the closing moments — but Bradley piled up so many points in the majority of the rounds that he richly deserved the close but unanimous decision in his favour.
If ever a fighter has been saved by the bell, it was Bradley in the final round of this amazing contest.
He had been pounded across the ring, his legs almost caving in beneath him, until finally he went down, slumping to his knees as if the weight of the world was crushing him to the canvas. Yet he picked himself up, to hear the sweet sound of the final bell as referee Pat Russell completed the eight count.
Years ago I read a magazine article — and I wish I had the source of reference — in which a fighter in a gym told a visiting reporter that he felt sorry for people who didn’t have boxing in their lives.
Watching Bradley and Provodnikov do battle, I was reminded of this long-ago quote. These two proud, courageous, fighters put on an inspiring demonstration of heart and skill, power and a sublime level of conditioning that was astonishing.
Bradley’s rally from the third round up to and including the 11th — broken up and almost brought to a standstill by wobbly moments in the sixth and 11th — was astonishing to behold.
Just when Provodnikov must have thought that victory was at hand, so Bradley came back at him, pumping out the jab, blazing away with hooks and right hands, ripping shots to the body.
It is discouraging in the extreme for a boxer to have inflicted the damage that Provodnikov did in the first two rounds only to have his opponent bring the fight to him in such a vigorous fashion.
Yet while Bradley slowed the Russian fighter’s tank-like advance, he couldn’t stop it completely. HBO’s Max Kellerman — on the top of his form as the drama unfolded — reminded us that no matter how bad things might have looked for Provodnikov he was always dangerous, always “in” the fight.
Bradley seemed to me to be in constant peril, and every time Provodnikov landed that heavy right hand one wondered if this was the moment when Bradley might finally “go” — but no, Bradley moved, he boxed, he jabbed, he fought, he called on all his knowledge of the mechanics of boxing, all of his mental and physical toughness, to come through each new crisis.
Provodnikov’s broad Siberian features showed the marks of battle as the fight went into the later rounds, and briefly he looked on the verge of going out of the fight in the ninth round as Bradley pounded him against the ropes and a right hand sliced the flesh above Provodnikov’s left eye to bring a flow of blood. Yet Provodnikov came on again, and each time he landed — even if with the jab — he seemed to be taking a little more out of Bradley, whose own visage wasn’t exactly unscathed as blood came from his nose and a swelling appeared ominously above his right eye.
The last round was three minutes from hell for Bradley. One wondered how he could stay on his feet, and I don’t think there would have been an outcry had referee Russell stopped the fight. Provodnikov ran out of time, though — he needed this bout to have been held in the era of the 15-round title fight.
Provodnikov came so very close — behind by just one point on two of the judges’ cards, three points on the third card. I can understand why Provodnikov believed he had won, but I found this fight easy to score — rounds one, two, six, 11 and 12 to Provodnikov (10-8 in the 12th, of course), and the rest to Bradley for a tally of 114-113 in the WBO champion’s favour.
Where Provodnikov was unlucky was in a disputed incident in the opening round when Bradley, stunned by a right hand, went down on his hands and knees in what looked like a delayed reaction to the blow. Referee Russell ruled that this had been a slip and not a legitimate knockdown, thus depriving Provodnikov of a 10-8 round, which was, ultimately, the difference between the challenger getting a draw and losing the decision.
Provodnikov had landed the bigger punches throughout even though Roy Jones Jr., who didn’t have his best night, sometimes seemed to be disputing this fact in the HBO commentary, but Bradley scored more points — and that is what counts when a contest goes to the scorecards.