The 1st and 12th rounds were the same, Tim Bradley in mortal danger, just about out on his feet, punching back with all his might. When the final bell rang, Ruslan Provodnikov dropped to his knees and pounded the mat in tears of rage, agony, lust, and joy. Minutes later, Bradley admitted to HBO’s Max Kellerman that he was still dizzy and definitely had a concussion, a condition he’d been in since the 1st round. 

It would be cliched drivel if it hadn’t actually happened just that way, but it did. Mar. 16, 2013 in Carson, Calif. on HBO.

Boxing fans mainline speedballs of cynicism and nostalgia in a 50/50 mix, so much so that even ecstatic moments are often shrouded in a level of irony. That was not the case on this night and it’s not the case any other time you sit down to rewatch. 

Bradley, fresh off an undeserved victory over Manny Pacquiao the previous summer admitted that he was stung by criticism. Nostalgia and cynicism are the hallmarks of a broken-hearted romantic. Romantics are known to be vindictive when they feel wronged. It was the judges who’d wronged Pacquiao and the paying fans, but precision is never the hallmark of a torch and pitchfork mob, so their ire had been unjustly directed at Bradley.

For his first title defense, Bradley selected relatively unknown Siberian junior welterweight Ruslan Provodnikov. Provodnikov had a couple of good wins, a forgivable loss to Mauricio Herrera, and was trained by Freddie Roach. If Herrera, a ridiculously skilled but athletically limited technician, could outbox Provodnikov, then certainly a highly skilled and ridiculously athletic technician should be able to do so easily while providing some entertainment. Or so the thinking went.

The first 90 seconds of the fight were relatively quiet. Bradley circled, Provodnikov probed. With about a minute and a half left, the pair traded hooks, then another set, then another, and suddenly they were fighting in a phonebooth. Provodnikov was clearly the harder puncher, but Bradley was unwilling to concede a moment. With just under 30 seconds left in the round, Provodnikov uncorked a mortar round of an overhand right that landed flush. Bradley’s legs were scrambled, and in the ensuing flailing, he fell forward. Referee Pat Russell ruled it a slip (incorrectly), and as Bradley attempted to rise he fell backward in an awkward splay. Bradley beat the count and the round ended. 

Provodnikov began the 2nd round with a predatory smile. The smile dripped blood, and it was his own as much as Bradley’s. There is a delight in a certain kind of battle because you know that it brings something greater out in you. This fight already had that feeling about it. Provodnikov landed a big right hand a minute into the round and followed up strongly. Bradley fired back with the same ferocity, but not power. A leaping left hook put Bradley in the corner and a following hook put Bradley on ketamine legs. They traded wildly as Bradley staggered around the ring, seemingly detached from his body. Both landed brutal shots, but it felt like Bradley was done for. 

In the 3rd, both fighters appeared arm weary, but Bradley got on his bike, popping jabs when he needed to. Before long, Bradley was darting in with combinations, and by the 4th, he was in control. Bradley wasn’t just dictating space, he was dictating tempo. According to CompuBox, Bradley landed 48/107 punches in the 4th round. If he was going to beat Provodnikov, it appeared, he would have to outbox him while outpunching him. In the 5th, Bradley went 47/118 to Provodnikov’s 19/54. Where Bradley was overwhelming Provodnikov with volume and movement, the Russian was landing hard overhand rights and left hooks, periodically drawing Bradley back into an inside slugfest. It seemed Bradley couldn’t help himself.

In the 6th round, Bradley reasserted control. Provodnikov chugged forward with power punches and Bradley continued to move, pop combinations, and rip Provodnikov to the body. With 30 seconds left, Provodnikov trapped Bradley in the corner and landed a right hand that sent Bradley’s legs epileptic. They traded unevenly until the bell rang. Bradley unwilling to wilt, and Provodnikov unable to finish the kill.

After the round, the referee checked on both corners because the punishment was piling up. Joel Diaz threatened to throw in the towel if Bradley doesn’t fight smarter. HBO’s ringside scorer Harold Lederman remarked that Provodnikov’s work looked more impressive because every time Bradley was hurt, his chin went straight up in the air. He’s not wrong.

Bradley spent much of the 7th on his bike. By the 8th, they both looked tired, but the occasional hard shot from Provodnikov didn’t mask the fact that Bradley was having his way. Provodnikov’s face had become a complete mess, and every Bradley shot was flinging blood from multiple cuts and exacerbating the swelling around both eyes. In the 9th, Bradley pinned Provodnikov to the ropes, and kept him there with meaningful punches. With 75 seconds left, Provodnikov fought his way off only to take more punishment. Lashing out nearly blind, Provodnikov landed a huge left and right. The fight was becoming grotesque, and there were still three rounds left.

In the 10th, Freddie Roach admitted that he was on the verge of stopping it because of the accumulation of punches Provodnikov had taken, but tempered that by saying that every time he gets close, Provodnikov rallies. Provodnikov landed a thudding body shot that stopped Bradley in his tracks. They traded again. If Provodnikov was going to lose, it was clear he would ensure he inflicted a Pyrrhic victory on Bradley.

The 11th was a goon fight. Neither man had energy enough to do anything but punch. And they did. And all of them were hard. They somehow made it to the 12th. Provodnikov knew he needed a knockout to win, and so did Bradley’s corner. Bradley tried to box smartly, but just as in 8 of the previous 11 rounds, he failed. With 50 seconds left, Provodnikov landed a huge left that staggered Bradley. They traded. With 35 seconds left, a right buckled Bradley. He was fighting back, but every system in his body was out of sync. A flurry finally forced Bradley to a knee with 12 seconds remaining. He beat the count, passed the tests, and the bell rang. 

Bradley stumbled back to his corner. Provodnikov dropped to his knees and wailed. 

The cards read 114-113(2x) & 115-112 for Bradley. No one cared to bitch about them. Not after that fight.


2010-2019 Fights Of The Year

2019: Naoya Inoue vs Nonito Donaire

2018: Kosei Tanaka vs Sho Kimura

2017: Anthony Joshua vs Wladimir Klitschko

2016: Francisco Vargas vs Orlando Salido

2015: Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

2014: Francisco Rodriguez Jr. vs Katsunari Takayama

2013: Timothy Bradley vs Ruslan Provodnikov

2012: Brandon Rios vs Mike Alvarado

2011: Akira Yaegashi vs Pornsawan Porpramook

2010: Humberto Soto vs Urbano Antillon


(Photo via Chris Farina/Top Rank)