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Fight of the Year Candidate

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CARSON, CALIFORNIA – Timothy Bradley Jr. was taken to the limit over twelve rounds by Ruslan Provodnikov in the HBO-televised main event at the Home Depot Center on Saturday night, but managed to escape with his WBO 147-pound title in tact with a debatable twelve-round unanimous decision.

Bradley and Provodnikov wasted no time, opting to stand and trade shortly after the opening bell. In the midst of an exchange, Provodnikov (22-2, 15 KOs) of Beryozovo, Yugra, Russia beat Bradley (30-0, 12 KOs) of Palm Springs, California to the punch with a short right hand. The punch downed Bradley, but referee Pat Russell ruled the fall a slip. Bradley began to pop back up, but fell back down again, a clear sign that he was legitimately hurt.

The second round picked up where the first round left off, as the two engaged in more wild exchanges. Bradley, still feeling the effects of the first round, was getting the worse of it as one combination sent him into the ropes, nearly scoring a knockdown again.

The fight took a turn in the third, as Provodnikov punched himself out after his incredible output in the first two rounds. Bradley wisely fell back on his jab and took the third by keeping the drained Provodnikov off balance at arms length. Bradley continued to potshot at range, effectively sewing up the fourth to miraculously even up the fight after four.

Bradley was drawn back into some wild exchanging in the fifth, but did so a bit more intelligently and cautiously. The balance worked as Bradley clearly claimed his third round in a row after being taken to the brink of a stoppage.

The fight took another turn in the sixth. After Bradley boxed well enough for two-and-one-half minutes, Provodnikov came out of nowhere and cleaned Bradley’s clock again with a left hand. Bradley moved from one corner to the ropes on the other side of the ring, but Provodnikov followed him, throwing every step of the way. Bradley fought back, but it just gave the challenger more openings to exploit as the bell sounded.

Both fighters took off the seventh round, which all three official scorers would give to Bradley. The champion boxed just enough to take round eight as well to somewhat sneakily move ahead in the fight 77-75 on all three cards.

Provodnikov was able to sucker Bradley back into firefight in spurts during the ninth, but champion did not cave in and swing for the fences like in the opening two rounds. Feeling confident after a solid ninth, Bradley was flashy with his combinations in the tenth, but did not commit to his punches like earlier in the fight. Though he landed less, this writer felt Provodnikov edged the tenth with his few power shots. However all three official scorers wound up giving the round to Bradley.

With the fight slipping away, Provodnikov came on again in the eleventh, clearly landing the more effective blows. Bradley spent too much time circling and moving, while Provodnikov landed clean blows. Though it looked to be a clear Provodnikov round, official scorer Raul Caiz Sr. would end up giving the eleventh to Bradley.

Reportedly told by his trainer Freddie Roach he needed a knockout to win, Provodnikov aimed to do just that as he came out for the twelfth and final round. As was the case nearly every time Provodnikov had Bradley in the trouble, the damage would came in the last half minute of the twelfth. After a sustained barrage, Provodnikov would finally down Bradley with a short right hand. Obviously hurt, Bradley managed to get out of the round and force the fight to the cards. Judges Jerry Cantu and Marty Denkin handed in cards of 114-113 for Bradley, while Caiz Sr. had it a puzzling 115-112 for the champion.

Boos would drown out the cheers for Bradley as the decision was read before the Home Depot Center crowd, a response the champion did not deserve after such a valiant battle. Bradley’s quest for respect was a hot topic heading into Saturday’s contest, given the fashion in which he attained victory over Manny Pacquiao last year. Unfortunately for Bradley, it appears that quest continues after another hard-fought, but controversial victory.

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