Respect (Fighter of the Year, 2013)

1. Theatre of the Unexpected

Going into 2013, we knew a few things about Timothy Bradley. First, we knew that Tim Bradley was an incredibly skilled fighter and supremely conditioned athlete. Second, we knew that Tim Bradley did not defeat Manny Pacquiao in their 2012 contest despite what the official ringside judges had to say. Third, we knew that the botched judging was not the fault of Tim Bradley. Nonetheless, Bradley remained a target of disrespect, a rather kind way of describing the overdramatic reaction of some fans who pinned the injustice as much on Bradley as on the judges.

At the close of 2013, a year in which he stepped into the ring against monster Ruslan Provodnikov and legend Juan Manuel Marquez, we know a few more things about Tim Bradley. We know that having stood at the brink of disaster, Tim Bradley boasts a frightening sense of resilience and determination that could easily be his undoing. We know that for Tim Bradley, boxing is not just sport or profession, something that carries risk for him and his family and which must thus be approached with caution.

To judge by his performance against Provodnikov, fighting is probably Tim Bradley’s means to self-fullfillment and self-respect, an endeavour in which failure is not just a loss in an athletic contest, but a loss of self-worth and failure in the great mission of his life, a failure to catch his own white whale.

Given that Bradley’s 2013 comprised of a fight in which he showed his greatest vulnerability and a closely contested bout that he won fairly if not outright decisively, there are more obvious candidates for fighter of the year. Every fan will make their pick based on the facets of boxing that most resonate with them.

For this writer, boxing remains resonant for its ability to take those who experience it into the unknown, triggering a sensation that one is seeing a feat of strength, determination, skill, and perhaps recklessness that had never been seen before – the “theatre of the unexpected.” To show both relentless determination against a beast of a puncher and also the skill to dissect one of boxing’s great professors, Tim Bradley feels to me the only choice for fighter of the year.

2. Resilience

The story of Tim Bradley’s bout with Ruslan Provodnikov is largely told in the first two rounds of the fight. In these rounds, we see a Tim Bradley that we have never seen before. It was well known that Bradley was not a power puncher and this fight would not change that, but we would certainly see Bradley step out of his comfort zone, engaging with a clearly harder puncher and natural brawler rather than employing his superior athleticism to outsmart his opponent.

Logic dictates that this fight should have ended in the first round. With every flurry of punches thrown by Provodnikov, all hard enough to do damage, Bradley shows a desire to answer back immediately, charging hard to put himself right in front of his opponent in a statement of arrogance, signalling to Provodnikov that he is not intimidated and will not be cowed into retreat by the Russian’s power. This is obviously false, as a right shot buckles Bradley and sends him to the canvas, albeit in a delayed manner. Referee Pat Russell erroneously called it a slip.

Though Bradley stays on his feet for the second round, he may have sustained even more damage than in the first. While he begins the round using fancy footwork, each right hand from Provdnikov proves irresistible to Bradley, who wants to keep trading and fight his way through his opponent’s onslaught.

Provodnikov is at his scariest in the final minute of the second round, when his charge becomes so intense that he throws himself down while trying to hammer Bradley in the corner. For that final minute, Bradley is on his feet, but his legs are clearly jelly as he flays around the ring like a wintertime drunk negotiating ice patches and battling intense winds. Bradley’s punches are without reason, again leaving him looking like a drunkard picking  a fight in which he can’t possibly be effective. Somehow he survives.

Bradley’s survival of those first two rounds was astonishing in itself and will inevitably be the main story of this fight. What is even more shocking is that throughout the remainder of the contest, which managed to last its scheduled twelve rounds, Bradley salvaged a superlative performance. In the middle rounds, he looks like Tim Bradley, keeping busy and throwing anywhere between seventy and one-hundred punches per round and consistently beating Provodnikov to the punch.

As the Russian hulks forward, clearly exhausted from his blitzkreig in the first two rounds, Bradley throws a series of lefts in rapid succession to back his opponent off and leaves Provodnikov with no room to pull the trigger. Bradley’s superiority in stamina and skill is vivid in the middle to late rounds. As Bradley moves in and out at every conceivable angle, his opponent cannot keep up and is baffled that a man who was visibly concussed twenty minutes prior is still standing and working at such a prolific rate. After surviving those first two rounds and also another knockdown in the twelfth, Bradley has thrown a total of 1000 punches.

3. Respect

So now we know a little more about Tim Bradley, namely that he wants to win at any cost and is willing to fight any kind of fight that is put in front of him. He earns from the public the kind of respect garnered by daredevils, an acknowledgement that they have accomplished something beyond convention, but with an accompanying acknowledgement that doing so may have been insane. There are some who claim, not unjustifiably, that Provodnikov was the true winner of that contest, especially if one scored the first two rounds 10-8. Bradley’s great achievement is not his victory, but his show of resilience.

In his second fight of 2013 against Juan Manuel Marquez, the story is different. The fight lacks the ups and downs of the Provodnikov fight, unfolding instead as two superb technicians slipping punches and landing quick shots. The fight is close, but ultimately it cannot be denied that Bradley, to greater effect than anyone in recent memory, made Marquez look puzzled.

Rather than ever letting himself get lured into traps to switch his gameplan as he did against Provodnikov, here Bradley remains steadfast in slipping punches and landing shots to the body before Marquez can counter. That work to the body, and his high rate of activity, ultimately allows Bradley to walk away with more rounds. Marquez is still fast and powerful at fourty, showing little to no signs of decline, but Bradley is just a few steps ahead of him throughout.

Self-control is key in boxing. Overconfidence can easily snatch victory away, as it did for Manny Pacquiao in his fourth fight against Marquez and as it damn near did for Bradley against Provodnikov. Against Marquez, however, Bradley shows discipline and remarkably outfoxes Marquez over twelve rounds, which is an almost unheard of feat against a man like Marquez who is known for figuring out opponents.

There is no doubting it now. Timothy Bradley is a gifted fighter and an incredible showman. He is capable of taking the audience to places they’ve never been through his mind-boggling skill and athleticism as well as through his psychotic determination. He outsmarts the smartest in the game and continues fighting through calamity in a way that makes the viewer question if what they are seeing is real. He takes the viewer to the unexpected and we are all eager for future travels.

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