(Timothy Bradley, left, Ruslan Provodnikov, right)
The defining trait of Timothy Bradley vs. Ruslan Provodnikov, both before and during, was how little sense it made. Choosing an opponent from the ranks of ESPN's Friday Night Fights for Bradley's comeback on HBO after a long layoff? Nonsense. Expecting a competitive fight out of it that fans might want to watch, with Provodnikov moving up from junior welterweight to welterweight? Nonsense. Watching the Fight of the Year materialize from all this, as Bradley threw his game plan out the window and stood and traded with the Russian puncher? Nonsense and more nonsense, especially that deliciously foolish brawling by Bradley. There are pleasures to be had in the joyful surprise of the unintelligible.
Hardly anyone saw a fight like this coming; Bradley wouldn’t remember it going, either. He took so much sustained punishment, fighting with a concussion from the 2nd round on, that in the post-fight interview he didn’t remember telling HBO’s Max Kellerman that he felt concussed. Later, he would reveal he didn’t recall much of the fight at all.
Looking back at it now, it makes considerably more sense why we got such a sensational battle. The desire to win back fans was a powerful motivator for Bradley. Provodnikov was just plain powerful.
Bradley is driven by a personal desire to be one of boxing’s best, frequently talking about how he wants to be considered one of the pound-for-pound greats. That internal mania, combined with all the nastiness he heard from fans after his undeserved decision win over Manny Pacquiao, transformed Bradley into an action hero for a night when he would have been better served moving and boxing. (Bradley’s self-belief and determination is so enormous that he still insists he beat Pacquiao, and probably truly believes it.)
For Provodnikov’s part, he had always been a menace in boxing’s equivalent of the minor leagues. We just didn’t know he could translate it against the elite. We got our first indicator of it when he took Bradley to the brink. We got full-fledged confirmation of it when he stopped Mike Alvarado in his next fight.
Bradley, then, half on his own momentum and half because Provodnikov dragged him there, waded fearlessly into near-disaster from the very 1st round this spring. Bradley did not have the weaponry for such a brawl and Provodnikov was packing the equivalent of a militia compound’s arsenal. Referee Pat Russell could’ve ruled a knockdown in that opening round, as Bradley was held up by the ropes. Bradley was back on the ropes again, figuratively and literally, in the 2nd, but his senses returned to him somewhat and he boxed more cautiously thereafter – at least until the 6th round, when he went back to slugging, prompting trainer Joel Diaz to threaten to stop the bout if Bradley didn’t knock it off. He did, mostly, but found himself indisputably on the canvas in the 12th and flirting with a decision loss because of it.
He got the win, with some mild controversy. The fans who booed Bradley in his post-fight interview live in Carson, Calif. should be forever ashamed of themselves, to have witnessed such reckless bravery and a showing for the history books and to have responded so ungratefully. Of all the TQBR year-end award categories, this was the only one where the staff vote was unanimous. From March until December, Bradley-Provodnikov was the standard by which all other 2013 fights were judged. Nothing else measured up.