Whether Martyr or Magus

By David Matthew on March 20, 2013
Whether Martyr or Magus
If Tim Bradley didn't already know it, he certainly does now: Boxing is the loneliest sport.

If your first reaction after Saturday’s epic was to boo anything or anyone involved in that fight, then boxing is not for you…

After Timothy Bradley’s war against Ruslan Provodnikov, Bradley was unceremoniously being ushered into an ambulance outside the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. Only a faint clap could be heard in the background as Bradley hugged family members. Some had tears in their eyes, some looked upon the reigning champion with awestruck admiration. Even Bradley’s no-frills father—a man who first stoked the break-to-build fires in his son—had concern all over his face as his son gingerly boarded an ambulance for tests to measure the severity of any concussion or neurological damage suffered in the brutal 12 rounds of seething hot firebrand boxing. It is already being touted as “Fight of the Year.” Despite this, a stunningly hollow Home Depot Center (filled with less than 4,000 fans) had the audacity to boo Bradley and give him the “thumbs down” like Roman politicos unimpressed with a Gladiator’s performance and ordering their deaths. It was just yet another stark reminder that in boxing, whether you are a beaten down martyr who obliges in high-risk warfare or a scientific magi pugilist who thinks his way out of danger, there will always be a bastion of frenzied fight fans lusting for one’s downfall.

Despite a herculean effort by Timothy Bradley, apparently fans weren’t impressed. Perhaps they hadn’t gotten over the debacle of a decision that was Pacquiao-Bradley, or perhaps they still had an unpleasant aftertaste after Bradley’s incomplete win against Devon Alexander, which many feel he head-butted his way to. Whatever the reason, Bradley was met with lukewarm praise as he hoisted himself up on the ropes—concussed— seeking affection from a crowd he had just poured his heart out for. If he didn’t already know it, he certainly does now: Boxing is the loneliest sport.

Forget the fact that Bradley has risen to the top ranks of the sport the hard way, fighting tough opponent after tough opponent, going overseas to snatch titles away in foreign countries and hostile environments. Forget the fact that after the Pacquiao fight, Bradley spent months in boxing’s twilight zone, abandoned by fans, potential opponents, and even his own promoter. Never mind that Bradley himself admitted that he owed Pacquiao a rematch, never gloating about his “win”, but instead always being honest and accommodating to opposing views without losing his own sense of pride.  He is still spending time in the hole, dismissed. No matter what Bradley does, he can’t seem to get the respect of fight fans en masse, even if he’s taking risks against a slugger, making a fight of the year, and channeling warrior spirit in a manner that would make any observer’s “Gatti List.”

After hunting for a credible opponent, Team Bradley settled on Ruslan Provodnikov, a hellacious slugger from Beryozovo, Siberia. A member of a unique and dwindling ethnic group called the Mansi known for surviving off the land and reindeer herding, Provodnikov is the kind of fighter you’d like your top fighter to spar with…with headgear on. Indeed, Provodnikov spars with Manny Pacquiao, and you can see why. While some rolled their eyes at this matchup, those in the know already knew of the very real dangers of fighting Provodnikov after witnessing him mow down opponent after opponent on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights. Perhaps some simply labeled him a club fighter because of the lukewarm level of competition he has faced. Thus, Provodnikov was still a question mark as nobody had seen him tested against top fighters.The realm of the unknown can be unpredictable and full of surprises, as Bradley emphatically discovered on Saturday night.

Nicknamed “The Russian Rocky”, Provodnikov instead was the Ivan Drago to Timothy Bradley’s Apollo Creed. As soon as the fight started, Provodnikov stalked forward, wildly grinning as Bradley popped him with shots on the outside as if to say “you can’t hurt me.” Then, before it seemed the HBO telecast crew even finished their opening statements, an unpredictably scintillating war broke out.

“I knew that even though we worked on a plan to outbox a straight forward, flat-footed fighter by using angles, I knew that Tim had other plans of his own,” explained Bradley’s trainer Joel Diaz after the fight. “He wanted to show the world—especially after the Pacquiao fight—that he could fight toe-to-toe, but he got in trouble, almost in every round.” Indeed he did.

The opening two stanzas of the fight provided more fireworks than most 12-round fights. Bradley was badly hurt in both opening rounds, and was even knocked down in the first (although referee Pat Russell missed it) by a blistering Provodnikov combination.  Bradley would continually shift between two different gears in the fight. The first gear was the well-trained, well-timed boxer who showed great movement, ripping Provodnikov with brilliant uppercuts and body work, leaving the Siberian slugger chasing him while simultaneously getting tagged. Then there was the second gear, which featured Bradley unable to resist the urge to trade with Provodnikov in a game of boxing “chicken” to see who hits the hardest at the end of each exchange. When Bradley was riding the second gear, it quickly became demonstratively evident that Provodnikov was the stronger man and harder puncher, but Bradley didn’t care—he was on a mission to entertain which turned into a martyred performance of concussive grit and glit.

Bradley would fight the fight of his life, showcasing brilliant boxing mastery in some rounds where Provodnikov barely even scored. Then—instead of awing fans with pugilism—Bradley amazed fans with his propensity to take devastating punishment. A short, looping overhand Provodnikov right hand would land, again, and again, and again. A lead left hook would rip Bradley, followed by a straight right hand, repeat sequence. Provodnikov barely landed a jab in the fight, but he landed a myriad of power shots. Lots of them. Bradley was buzzed, hurt, and stumbling off balance into the ropes so many times that it became almost a regular feature of each passing round to see Bradley wobbled. There were even moments where Bradley was actually out on his feet, held up only by the ropes yet still flailing away as he was getting rocked with lumbering shots that looked like machine-gun fire mowing down Sonny Corleone in The Godfather, pelting him as he seemingly lost consciousness yet still instinctually throwing punches back as if his DNA was programmed to do so. It was a brand of modern barbarism—a warrior spiritual that produced civilized savagery in graphic detail—and we couldn’t keep our eyes off as 1.4 million viewed the fight at its peak, clearly product of the social media-sphere blowing up mid-fight as talks of “Fight of the Year” lit up twitter.

“What is Timothy Bradley made of?!” asked an incredulous Max Kellerman commenting on Bradley standing up and screaming at Provodnikov after being seriously hurt and seemingly out on his feet at the end of round 6. “Steel! Steel!” exclaimed Roy Jones Jr. Unfortunately for Bradley, he’s not made of steel. He’s made of flesh and bone, alike the rest of us.  Bradley’s trainer threatened to stop the fight multiple times, but amazingly, Bradley would recuperate fairly quickly after being hurt, boxing vibrantly just moments after it seemed the fight might be stopped, a true testament to his uncanny will and unforgiving training regimen. Then, just as it seemed Bradley would escape the fight without being knocked down (at least officially), he was hit by a final Provodnikov barrage and Bradley finally succumbed, taking a knee as the final seconds of the fight expired. Bradley escaped the knockdown, and the fight, but at what cost? He took more punishment in a singular fight than many fighters take in an entire career. Frankly, it was more punishment than I find appetizing. “I know they’ll be happy when Bradley gets knocked out on his back one day” lamented Diaz after the fight. “That’s what they want to see.” Despite the graphic display of brutality exhibited in the ring, the most barbaric occurrences took place in the stands, where tragic boos echoed throughout the ring in the aftermath of the judicial verdict which awarded the razor-thin decision to Bradley. If Timothy Bradley did not win you over Saturday night, he never will. Further, if your first reaction after Saturday’s epic was to boo anything or anyone involved in that fight, then boxing is not for you, and would be better off without you.

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  1. AKT 07:32am, 03/22/2013

    David, I am completely with you on this one mate. I think Bradley needs to learn the no.1 rule, “You can NEVER please everyone; no matter what you do.”

  2. Darrell 05:24pm, 03/21/2013

    Excellent wrap up…Bradley was impressive & abysmal all at the same time.  I recall a boxer of note saying something about “...not be messed up by a street fighter…”, or words to that effect.  Bradley did just the opposite.

    He deserved the decision, just.

    I’m sure the Pacfan’s will get over their hero’s loss to Bradley eventually.

  3. Don from Prov 12:23pm, 03/21/2013

    The kind of hurt that these two fighters gave and took is what often pulls us to boxing—but the reality of the give and take is brutal and, coincidently, addressed in another article that is now up on the site.  Boxing—love/hate.

  4. volti 08:04pm, 03/20/2013

    Well explained Mr. Matthew.

    I see a good future for BOTH boxers.

  5. Norm Marcus 03:24pm, 03/20/2013

    Hey David: Excellent piece on the fight from your point of view. That’s the fun of it. We all can have our own point of view. To me, Bradley definitely has heart and courage. But then again so does the Russian fighter. This fight last night will mark the 3rd time in a row that Bradley has squeaked out a doubtful win. He had to go to the hospital after two of these three “wins”. (Pacquiao and Provodnikov)
    He is the CHAMPION! He is supposed to send the other guys to the hospital!
    Until he beats a couple of good contenders decisively, the boos will keep coming.
    Really like your passion David!

  6. Matt McGrain 10:19am, 03/20/2013

    I think that’s a good post.

  7. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:34am, 03/20/2013

    David Matthew-Maybe boxing would be better off without fans like me or those in attendance at Staples Saturday night. In your article above you describe a professional fight where Ruslan beats Tim to within an inch of his life and then you fault paying customers for showing their emotions, directed in large part toward the bogus decision rather than Tim. We don’t doubt for a minute Tim’s heart and fighting spirit which was on display for all to witness or that he’s a great family. Just a reminder….Ruslan was there Saturday night too and though he may be from cold and barren Siberia, he’s a human being deserving of empathy as well because he fought his heart out Saturday night and got screwed for his unbelievable performance.

  8. NYIrish 07:28am, 03/20/2013

    That was a great fight. My hat is off to both of the warriors. Incompetent refereeing marred the event. Only incompetency or corruption can explain the lack of a knockdown being recognized in round one. Also the telecast showed the referee routinely sticking his head in the corners between rounds and asking questions or making comments to the cornermen. They have less than a minute to work and should not be interfered with routinely by a referee. He has ample opportunity to observe a cut during the action and if he is concerned can have the doctor take a look at any time. Let the corners work.
    The best referees do their jobs unobtrusively. Referees that routinely make themselves part of the performance affect the action and the rhythm of the fighters. Joe Cortez comes to mind; “I’m firm but I’m fair.” Always over the mike. I don’t care what you are, really. Do the job. We are here to watch the fight. Every time fighters get close or lean on each other they do not need to be broken by a referee. I wish him a happy and long retirement. Russell should follow suit.

  9. Dr. Erich Glavitza 06:29am, 03/20/2013

    ...it was one of a great fight, we wouldn´t forget
    ...it was one of a great article, we wouldn`t forget
    that was history in our “sweet science”
    regs from Vienna

  10. Mike Schmidt 06:06am, 03/20/2013

    Superb- well done—It is not that long ago, at all, that young Bradley was waiting on tables and pumping gas—here is a guy—all he does is work hard every day, comes in shape, no baggage of the out too late at the night club and shit happens, a family man, takes the kids to school everyday, very active in his community—boo right back at all the boneheads—Bradley does not do the scoring—he is not to blame for the judges—talk about shooting the non-messenger—ALL BRADLEY DOES IS FIGHT AND BOY DOES HE DO THAT WELL—AS FOR THE BONEHEADS BOOING AND ISSUING DEATH THREATS—well I am sure the Bradley camp is always in need of sparring partners—drop on down and man up for a few rounds…. GREAT ARTICLE.

  11. Matt McGrain 05:30am, 03/20/2013

    I can’t lie…i wasn’t impressed with Timothy Bradley on Saturday.  He’s definitely tough but he’s just gone life and death with a fighter that was supposedly not in his class - Bradley’s a pound-for-pounder, or so they try and tell me, whilst Ruslan’s best win may be over someone called Ivan Popoca.  And whilst I certainly wasn’t booing, my first reaction was mathematics…i’m not great with scorecards but even i knew within a minute or two that if the officiating had been up to scratch and the knockdown ruled a knockdown, Ruslan would have got the MD his own heart and guts probably deserved (a fight nobody “deserved to lose” that actually should have been scored a draw and isn’t is a sad thing! don’t happen often!).  So…mixed emotions for me.  Very absorbing write up though David even if i disagree with much of it.

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