Last night’s match between Jessie Vargas and Wale Omotoso was thrilling. I was expecting much less from both fighters because even though both were unbeaten, neither had much experience against veterans. Vargas sought to come out with power against a fighter who had unofficially weighed in with a ten pound weight advantage. Omotoso showed his power early with a knockdown, but was later rattled himself after foolishly taunting Vargas. The scorecards were far from objective, one of them giving Vargas a five point lead in the decision, but most likely the right man won the fight. I doubt either one of them will go on to make a good opponent for the elite in the welterweight division, but they’ll both be fun to watch as they learn more, sharpen their skills and become better counter punchers.
In the main event of the evening the storyline revolved around Bradley’s win over Manny Pacquiao almost a year ago. Supposedly he received death threats and heavy criticism for “stealing” the decision, leading him to question his success, his profession and even his life. Fans were led to believe Bradley’s iron will and insatiable ambition would bring him even closer to greatness in this most challenging position. I have loved watching Provodnikov in the past, but I thought he was actually bigger than Bradley and that he had a chance, even as a 4-1 underdog, using his power early. It turned out that neither one of those assessments was accurate. Bradley came to the ring nine pounds heavier than Provodnikov and rather than run around the ring holding and taking pages from Bernard Hopkins, Bradley spent the first two rounds standing straight up and trading shots with Provodnikov. Maybe he really did mean to adjust to a more aggressive style, even with a puncher. The plan backfired, sort of. Provodnikov had him flopping around the ring bouncing off the ropes and staggering for almost all of the first six minutes, but then the fight became Bradley’s. Shades of Bradley-Pacquiao came to mind as he used sensational foot speed and quick combinations to make Provodnikov look helpless for almost all of the rest of the fight. Every once in a while, when they began to trade, Provodnikov gained a foothold, but it wasn’t until the last round, when trainer Freddie Roach implored his badly bloodied and bruised fighter to go for the knockout, that things really changed. If anyone had 12th round stamina in that fight, I thought, it was Bradley. And for the first two and a half minutes, it seemed I was right. In the last thirty seconds of the fight, however, Provodnikov staggered him again. Bradley was hurt no worse than he had been three times earlier in the fight, keep in mind, but the referee refused to call those incidents knockdowns. This time, Bradley made the decision, taking a knee with only about 20 seconds to go. Provodnikov came on strong staggering Bradley badly again in the last five seconds, but too little too late. The bell rang and everyone knew Bradley had gotten by with a win. The fight was sensational. Bradley is capable of much more exciting fights than I ever would have imagined. I would love to see a rematch. And yet, it’s ironic, I didn’t buy into the fight hype or have any feelings that Bradley had stolen his success until this fight ended. The way I saw the fight, there were a potential four knockdowns. The first in the first round, when Bradley touched the canvas and flopped over backwards, and the second when he was clearly only held up by the ropes and because his arm was caught underneath Provodnikov’s. The third in round two, basically the same thing, but you could choose your moment, because Bradley was held up by the ropes more than once. The fourth, and undeniable knockdown was in the final round. Another referee would have started a count for at least two of those moments of delirium. This fight is the one that I think makes Bradley the thief, at least more than the one against Pacquiao. This time I think he wears the crown.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day