By Jack Sumner @Jack_Sumner_
This Saturday, at the Thomas and Mack Center two miles to the East of the Las Vegas strip, two of the brightest lights in boxing meet in a battle that has thus far been defined by each man’s victory over another star attraction of the sport.
Timothy Bradley defends his WBO welterweight title against Juan Manuel Marquez, in what’s effectively been marketed as a clash between two men who beat Manny Pacquiao.
Bradley (30-0, 12 KO’s) claimed his welterweight crown beating the Filipino icon in June 2012, though what he’d dreamed would be his finest hour soon became a nightmare. The three judges at ringside collectively saw the fight going his way and Bradley triumphed on a split-decision verdict, though almost everybody in attendance, or watching at home, saw the fight clearly in favour of Pacquiao.
The decision was condemned and Bradley unfairly ostracised, receiving death threats and slipping into depression, as he spent nine months on the sidelines through injury. He returned this March and came through an epic, unexpected war with Ruslan Provodnikov, a fight that once again endeared him to the boxing public though he would take plenty of punishment and suffer some lingering after effects as a result.
Marquez (55-6-1, 40 KO’s) had been on the receiving end of more than one debated decision against Pacquiao, but left nothing to doubt in their fourth meeting last December. He won by stunning one-punch knockout, with one second remaining in the sixth round. It reinforced an already great career, but gave the Mexican legend a defining victory over his nemesis and although he also faced some time out of the ring in the aftermath, he returns this weekend to further cement his legacy.
For Bradley, a win over Marquez would go some way to building a legacy of his own and earn him the respect he’s long felt he deserves and ought to have received for his win over Pacquiao. For Marquez, a win over Bradley would land a world title in a fifth weight division, becoming the first fighter in the illustrious history of his boxing crazed country to do so.
In his fight of the year candidate with Provodnikov, Bradley was badly hurt in the opening round, but instead of opting for survival tactics, fought fire-with-fire, a decision that set the tone for the remainder of the fight. Bradley would use his superior boxing skills to win rounds with relative ease, but whenever the hard-punching Russian caught the champion and hurt him again, he refused to retreat and came swinging back with his own fists.
Provodnikov looked close to stopping Bradley on several occasions and dropped the Palm Springs native in the final round, but Bradley survived to the final bell to claim a deserved win on the scorecards. For weeks after the fight however, he would suffer from slurred speech and memory loss and as such, there are question marks over his health going into this fight.
Could it be a dangerous assignment for Bradley against one of the greatest counterpunchers in the sport, who’s cultivated real power with his newfound welterweight physique? Though he proved he could take a shot against Provodnikov, they were career-shortening blows and he could well be a little shop-worn. Despite having recently turned fourty, Marquez claims to feel the same as he did when he was twenty-five and he’s certainly hitting harder than he did fifteen years ago.
If Bradley elects to wage war in this fight the way that he did Provodnikov, he’ll play right into Marquez’s hands. He’ll leave himself open to counters and if Marquez hurts him he has the experience and intelligence to close the show. Bradley meanwhile, probably lacks the punching power to concern Marquez. A crowd-pleasing brawl no doubt favours the Mexican.
There’s no need for ‘Desert Storm’ to be a crowd-pleaser here though, he’s simply got to go out and get the job done. If he listens to Joel Diaz in his corner this time and utilises his strengths, he has the tools to beat Marquez.
Marquez is a great boxer, but Bradley has advantages in youth, athleticism and speed. If there’s one thing that Juan Manuel has struggled with over the years also, it’s movement. Many say that Floyd Mayweather was too big for Marquez at the time they fought and it’s no shame of course to be out-boxed by the man known as ‘Money’, but Floyd showed that by not coming to Marquez and forcing him to take the lead, a boxer who can move elusively and box effectively on the back foot, can cause him all kinds of problems.
Marquez has suffered defeats to other movers, like Freddie Norwood and Chris John. Bradley can be a very slick boxer and when he chose to be evasive in his last fight, Provodnikov couldn’t get near him.
Though this is a toss up fight, very much is dependant I feel on which Timothy Bradley turns up. You can’t write off a guy like Marquez and there’s a big reason of course for him to remain motivated, but he’s also been to the pinnacle of the sport and has less to lose. Bradley is still trying to get there and I would say is the more motivated of the two at this point. In a close battle between these two incredibly hard-working fighters, each with so many more strings to their bow than their respective victories over Manny Pacquiao, that could ultimately be the difference. Prediction? Bradley to play matador and box smart, en route to a competitive triumph by decision.