Keeping with the theme of reviewing the sport's highlights of 2013, it is the war between WBO welterweight champion Timothy Bradley and bruiser Ruslan Provodnikov on March 16 at the Home Depot Center that earns Fight of the Year honors by Boxing 101.
The justification for this selection goes beyond it simply being a brutal, action-packed, exciting 12 rounds where both men gave it everything they had. While that certainly was the case, this fight was special for other reasons.
At the heart of this mega-drama is Bradley. Coming off a highly controversial split decision win over Manny Pacquiao in June 2012, the undefeated Bradley was at a crossroads. Instead of enjoying the fruits of his labor at an all-time career high, the undefeated Bradley hit rock bottom following the Pacquiao victory. Given universally no acknowledgement of or credit for defeating the Filipino star and enduring senseless threats against his family, Bradley was no longer fighting merely to defend his new title but rather to gain the respect he so desperately craved.
Bradley, a skilled boxer with limited punching power, stated that he would go toe-to-toe with the heavy-handed Provodnikov in an attempt to show the world who had so readily dismissed him that he was a worthy champion. While one could understand why Bradley would plan such a strategy, it was a notion that was difficult to envision actually being executed given his careful and precise boxing style.
It wasn't Provodnikov's style that was in question heading into the fight – the Russian was a straight ahead, sledge-hammering brawler who had stopped 15 of his 23 previous foes and there was no reason to believe he would employ any different tactics against Bradley. What was in question was his ability to rise above ESPN2 "Friday Night Fights" prospect level to face a world class opponent on the big stage of HBO in his first world title fight.
Each man did not disappoint. Bradley stuck to his word, drastically deviating from his conservative yet effective style and slugged it out with a slugger. He was in danger of being stopped within the first six minutes, was staggered numerous times during the contest and forced to take a knee in the final seconds of Round 12.
Provodnikov emerged as a legitimate and very scary contender in a stacked welterweight division, overcoming fatigue and a swollen left eye to go the distance and give Bradley all he could handle in an intense and thrilling battle.
Bradley did enough to not only maintain his WBO welterweight title via close unanimous decision and push his record to 30-0, he captured a new found respect and admiration from many who had once disregarded him, Boxing 101 being among them.
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