(Timothy Bradley, left, shares a moment with Ruslan Provodnikov, right, after the fight; photo credit: Chris Farina, Top Rank)
With all the business maneuvering in the boxing news the past couple days, and despite heaping helpings of social media love, Timothy Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov still might not have gotten the attention it deserves. Fights rarely come more stupefying, with a big underdog nearly upsetting the favorite, one man throwing caution to the window against another man who doesn't know the meaning of "restraint," dangerous and thrilling exchanges, and a race to the finish. It's as though Top Rank and HBO hired a dramaturge to coach both men beforehand. Just when you think you've seen it all in boxing, the sport does something to remind you that you never, ever have.
Revisiting the fight doesn't preclude a look at its business side, though, or else that headline would be a big lie. It's an almost entirely Bradley-Provodnikov-focused edition of Weekend Afterthoughts.
Bradley strategy vs. Provodnikov pressure. As much as I would like to give credit to a pal who predicted Bradley-Provodnikov as an exciting, well-matched welterweight fight, I can't. That view was the extreme minority and the bout simply exceeded all expectations for a very specific reason. I've watched it twice now and I remain convinced that if Bradley doesn't come out trying to engage far more than he should've with Provodnikov, and insisted on continuing to brawl with him even after getting hurt repeatedly, he wins this bout running away. Certainly, Bradley claiming to be concussed early in the bout and his behavior afterward suggest he might've lost full control of his facilities at some point, but he STARTED the bout brawling. And it's true that Provodnikov's pressuring style is more likely to guarantee action than not, and that style might've led to Bradley getting wobbled once or twice even if Bradley fought in the moving/outclassing style he did in, say, the 7th round. I'm not ungrateful to Bradley for what he did at all. After watching Bradley get staggered around the ring for 36 minutes, I understand why fighters don't take risks sometimes. When they don't have to and do anyway, I offer them my thanks. P.S. While I think the Bradley-Provodnikov scores were reasonable, I could also understand someone scoring it for Provodnikov, depending on how many 10-8 rounds you gave him. That still doesn't warrant the decision, or Bradley, being booed the way it was.
Next for Bradley, Provodnikov. You have to be worried Bradley won't be the same after a fight like that, but at the same time his stock as a fighter people want to see probably can't be any higher. Bradley-Provodnikov II is mighty attractive, but so too are the other match-ups that might be in the works for both men. Juan Manuel Marquez is now eyeing* Bradley in a battle of Manny Pacquiao's most recent conquerors. Whatever you think of Bradley's stock as a pound-for-pound boxer after the harrowing Provodnikov experience, he still remains one of the best in the world at any weight, a designation Marquez shares, plus Marquez is so action-oriented and Bradley was so action-oriented against Provodnikov that it won't be a bad fight in any way. Provodnikov trainer Freddie Roach said* he could be in line for the winner of Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado II in what figures to be another all-action bout, plus with Provodnikov contending pretty well against Bradley, it figures to be more competitive than I once might've thought, too. It would be hard to lose with any combination of fights involving all these men.
Ticket sales/TV ratings/pay for Bradley. Bradley-Provodnikov reportedly sold 2,256 tickets, yet the outrage level over that was far inferior to the likes of Sergio Martinez-Darren Barker and its effort to sell tickets, a fight which a reported 4,376 people attended yet somehow led to weeks and weeks of constant tweeting about poor sales from the afore-linked scribe. If the Home Depot Center can't sell well without Mexican fighters, then why no wigs flipped over the bout being located there? On the other hand, Bradley's TV ratings were solid for recent HBO efforts, which isn't terribly odd considering that Bradley-Devon Alexander did pretty well despite all the carping about that show's ratings, too. There are some differences -- Provodnikov was not expected to be competitive with Bradley, and Alexander was, but then, maybe that translated into more viewers and more pay for both fighters. As it was, Bradley somehow got a reported $1.75 million this weekend for a bout that HBO almost turned down. By contrast, this card doled out purses of a similar total to Andre Ward-Chad Dawson, did worse ratings and sold less than a third of the tickets. This isn't me badmouthing the fight or the Bradley business, by the way -- the TV number is respectable, and in retrospect, he earned the hell out of his his money. It is only to point out that past cards that did the same or better for similar amounts of money got raked over the coals in a way this one didn't -- although there were still a fair number of mocking tweets out there about the empty HDC.
The Rest. In retrospect, I think I was too hard on the welterweight undercard bout on HBO between Jessie Vargas and Wale Omotoso. It was a pretty solid fight, especially early on, and while both guys had some flaws on display, I definitely would be down for seeing them matched well on a future undercard or in a main event on ESPN2's Friday Night Fights or the like. After Bradley-Provodnikov, Vargas-Omotoso was bound to suffer retroactively in comparison... Roy Jones was abysmal behind the HBO mic Saturday, repeatedly talking about Provodnikov getting hurt when he wasn't and ignoring how Bradley was getting wobbled all over the ring while talking about how much the fight was going Bradley's way. I'm also getting sick of the moment that happens every broadcast where he compares a fighter to himself... For how this weekend's results affected the upper ranks of boxing, don't forget to visit the Transnational Boxing Rankings update each Tuesday, or follow along on Twitter for notifications of changes and upcoming bouts that could affect the divisional and pound-for-pound standings.
*BoxingScene is an invaluable resource, but periodically -- too frequently -- they accept damaging advertisements that turn BS into an "attack site." That is the current designation as of this writing via Google. If you want to read their stories about Marquez, Roach, et al, you can do so at your own risk by finding them on a search engine, but I will not link to them until they've corrected the problem. (Full disclosure -- this site once also included some troublesome ads, but with BS it's a common occurrence, not a one-time slip-up. And if someone didn't want to link to TQBR after it happened a few times, I wouldn't blame them.)