Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Timothy Bradley Fights "Stupid" For Reason X: Unwarranted Criticism?
There is a notion. It has been floating around the world of boxing. I'm not sure how or when it started, but if I had the type of fire I thought would kill it, I'd be using it right now. Instead, I've got some web space to see if I can do even the slightest bit of damage to the notion I've seen in full bloom recently. It pertains to Timothy Bradley, one of America's best and least credited athletes, the way I see him. Tim Bradley is someone that I have been rating highly to others for years as an under-appreciated fighter. First as a top notch titlist among very many titlists, then as a top pound-for-pound talent among few contemporaries. There's a way some fans have of introducing backhanded compliments about some of the top names of our sport. A way of finding a little dig while thinly veiling their disapproval of the fighter or the perception of them being overrated. It's not usually crafty stuff and it's often unwarranted. Examples abound, for instance:
"Floyd Mayweather is a great talent. I just wish he wouldn't avoid the fights to prove it."
"Timothy Bradley has a lot of heart and good skills but he fights stupid."
"Manny Pacquiao is a great athlete. He's just not a technically skilled boxer."
"Andre Ward is a great boxer but he has an obligation to move up in weight and seek real challenges."
"Wladimir Klitschko is the best out there...of a really bad bunch..."
It goes on and on and on. Not one of those comments have I not heard spoken or seen typed. And many times at that, in one wording or another. Not one of those comments do I put any stock in either. At least not the backhanded parts. They're almost ironically oblivious in their dismissal of what it means to be one of the best athletes in a major international sport. Often the criticisms make virtually no sense to me and often they stand up to no critical thinking that I put to them. But I see one or two of these lines perhaps every day, as I regularly check in to read the feedback of boxing fans on all headlines great and small that I can find. I'm not exaggerating. There really isn't a day I don't see something like this that makes me roll my eyes, whether it's at Boxing Scene's forum or the comments section of Richard Dwyer's videos on YouTube (both Dwyer's YouTube Channel and Boxing Scene's site are regular and recommended stops for me).
My Notion & Motive:
I consider myself a fan of the sport over that of Timothy Bradley. I like a lot about him but I won't be defending Tim Bradley's boxing brain because I'm a fan of his, only as a fan of boxing. Listen, Tim Bradley has made millions of dollars from boxing and is a grown man. I'm not worried about random fans, commentators, and whoever else not giving him his dues because I'm worried about his feelings. I don't want anyone I like to feel badly, granted, but that is not my reason for this post. It's about the notion that I have that whether you like a fighter on a personal level or like to watch that fighter's fights, it's irrelevant in that the sport always benefits from understanding what a fighter does to get to the top ranks of the sport. That's an appreciation of the sport of boxing. That's a goal of true fans. Not fans of certain fighters, but of the whole sport over any one fighter. That's what I see in the true boxing fans, the desire to understand the sport on a deep level and appreciate the best that it has to offer of its participants.
Contrarily, missing the point of why a guy is successful, and thoroughly minimising what he does to get himself that success and how good he is- that is damaging to the sport. That's disrespectful to boxing and I feel it should be fought whether I'm a fan of the fighter suffering from the minimization or not. The types of backhanded compliments I listed can only oppose the understanding and appreciation of the sport itself-because these are among its top practitioners. So, my bottom line reason for giving my opinion on what I feel is growing unfair misconception of Tim Bradley isn't for Bradley's sake. It's from my own notion that the health of the sport is largely built on appreciation for rating a fighter's abilities, both mental and physical, as accurately as possible. I feel with Tim Bradley, there's been a selling of a storyline that essentially gives a backhanded compliment to his heart and athleticism while actually denigrating his intellect.
Addressing the case against Bradley's ring IQ:
Section 1/3: Pacquiao I
By the time Tim had unified major world titles twice at Light Welterweight, and decisively defeated three undefeated fighters in a row, in two weight classes, I was telling people that he was highly under-appreciated for being one of the best in the world. At this point, though I found performances like the Lamont Peterson fight to be aesthetically pleasing, he had some almost apologising for him after the Alexander fight. There were a lot of statements about "Well, he's not pretty but he's effective." or "He's not outstanding at any one thing, but he's so well-rounded..."
When we got Tim Bradley in the Pacquiao fight, I, like almost everyone who watched (a few respectable voices to the contrary existing though) had Pacquiao winning the match by at least a few points. I was so used to Bradley finding a way to win, was so used to people, in fact, talking up that he adjusted his style so that he would find a way to win, that I was surprised by certain adjustments I didn't see being made. I thought Bradley's big overhand rights would be converted to straighter punches, getting through the guard more often, be deflected less by Pacquiao's guard, working on a supposed weakness that had been exploited quite successfully by Juan Manuel Marquez. It didn't happen. Operating at the high levels of the sport, against one of its more unorthodox stars, a southpaw with blazing hand speed and every offensive angle being used, Bradley missed the mark more than I thought. Big deal.
He fought the far-and-away best fighter he'd met as a professional and didn't figure him out, but as offensively gifted as that fighter was, Bradley still nullified plenty of his shots as well. He still found a way to turn it on when his senior star was taking his foot off the gas, even while hurt, he didn't just survive. And he managed to be one of only two fighters that have fought Pacquiao in years and years that didn't manage to either be badly beaten down while trying to be competitive or soundly outworked throughout while trying to survive, in a defensive prison. How many times did Manny Pacquiao make a man look like he'd been thrown down a mountainside and trampled by wild horses or, to prevent that punishment, shell up or run away?
So, this is the first piece of evidence against Tim Bradley's ring IQ? Because this is when I noticed the talk of Bradley adjusting and adapting turning the opposite, even under highly difficult circumstances. If this is the only evidence, it's not just weak, but pathetic. We can all see on tape where Bradley likely injured himself. I certainly have no reason to doubt injury, but he didn't get stuck in a defensive shell, and he didn't get a disfigured face and he did win rounds. How is performing better against Manny Pacquiao than everyone but Juan Manuel Marquez in so many years and so many weight classes any kind of a case against Tim Bradley's ring IQ? It's not. Plain and simple.
However, enter Ruslan Provodnikov. A fighter many labeled "ESPN Level" and meant in an unfairly derogatory fashion. A fighter who most thought Tim Bradley would soundly outbox. This is where opinion comes in harder with speculation, and this is where the Bradley "stupid fighting" theory really heated up and I really start to question how I'm seeing it so differently than what most seem to see. Before Provodnikov, Bradley was just being rated highly enough to develop some animosity and those trying to sell the idea that Bradley was not a top shelf fighting man. Some because they didn't like Pacquiao and wanted to downplay what's been known as an unofficial victory over Bradley to the majority. Some because they loved Pacquiao and held Bradley's official victory against him. But still, here it's just started making me take notice in a big way.
Section 2/3: Why did this Siberian Rocky have Bradley in a war?
My questions regarding how this match played out:
A. Did Provodnikov improve so much from where he was regarded leading up to the Bradley fight that he became a top shelf 140-147 fighter capable of doing so much damage to an elite fighter like Tim Bradley?
B. Did Bradley get concussed early and somehow manage to wage a FOTY candidate while concussed (most of that time?) against a powerful brawler?
C. Did Bradley match up poorly with Provodnikov's style, rather than suffer from a lack of discipline in applying a game plan where he really could have "easily" out-boxed him, and never been damaged? In other words, was "fighting stupid" a credible accusation and explanation for this unexpected war?
D. Did Bradley abandon something similar to what he later did with Marquez, something that he would also be capable of doing with Provodnikov in order to "prove himself" as a fan-friendly warrior out of insecurity he felt during the Pacquiao backlash, as well as some grumbling about the entertainment value of a few of his other previous fights?
A: I say, it was a little bit of A, that Provodnikov had improved his fighting style under Roach and probably gained valuable experience against Herrera (who I thought he beat), and that the Alvarado fight should at least help strengthen that position that he either improved that significantly, or perhaps he was just better than assumed from the beginning and we hadn't appreciated his level of dangerousness in this era.
B: I say with admittedly little medical knowledge that, as a layperson, I must seriously consider B that Tim Bradley really did fight while concussed in a way that should earn the respect of all boxing fans, for the rest of his life. And, I think if the exact same action took place and there were no concussion, you could say the same, that he still earned lifelong respect for the fight. But, in assuming early concussion, I don't think there was brawling for the sake of pride or entertainment but fighting on instinct while very seriously injured and probably unable to think as clearly as he ordinarily would.
C: I say that C is a genuine question mark. There are many fighters, even truly great ones likes Evander Holyfield that get accused of fighting "down" to their lesser opponents during their career. I'm not sure I'd call Tim Bradley a truly great (historically speaking) fighter, nor am I sure even if Provodnikov's level is really "down" from where Bradley is, regardless of a large difference in accomplishments. It's up in the air to me and I've underestimated this Siberian fellow before. I do suggest that Provodnikov's pressure-fighting style may be the key to the trouble Bradley suffered. I wouldn't call Pacquiao a conventional pressure fighter, if any kind, and Marquez certainly isn't. Peterson flips on and off but he's never shown pressure fighting ability on a Provodnikov level to me, and so on. I do wonder if Bradley, for all the intelligence I attribute to him, would not always have trouble with a Provodnikov, who isn't really much like anyone else Tim has faced. I don't believe we have another frame of reference that would be telling in Bradley's career.
D: I say that D, even if Bradley and camp have supported the idea, I can't say I saw it like this the five or six times that I watched this modern classic. I've seen fighters resort to this idea that they made fights harder on themselves than they had to so many times and there are some times when I can buy it. But probably more times I think they were forced into fights that didn't suit them by their opponent, not their own ego. I think this is one of those times. I think Tim Bradley fought Ruslan Provodnikov, not the same way through the fight, but constantly changing to suit the moment. So, firstly, I didn't see one constant brawl-fest. When he was too hurt to stay mobile (or maybe even know where he was) he fought on instinct. When he had nowhere to go or no wherewithal to leave, he stood his ground. That's what I saw.
But I also saw that when he could he did pop his jab and move in a way that favoured him against a stronger man, and did so in several rounds. When he was forced by Provodnikov to stand his ground, he just did. He fought out of those moments like a true warrior does and he took advantage of being able to fight on the outside when he could like a smart boxer does in that situation. I don't buy that he put himself in an awful position because he was trying to prove something. Even on the inside, when Bradley initiated, as opposed to reacted, it's not as if Bradley has made a career of outside fighting and gave that up. He's gotten inside on and mauled the hell out of several fighters. He's a short fighter who knows how to play inside quite well. Bradley fights just fine at all ranges. It's partly why I rate him so highly.
Let's not act like he abandoned something he does exclusively at any time in this match. He's an adaptive fighter, always changing his style up. Granted, if it wasn't erased from his mind by Ruslan's fists, only he knows his motives. Regardless, I don't see that he did anything reflecting poorly on his intelligence or discipline in this fight. Even if his trainer thought so or he later felt like it. I think it's probably Provodnikov's credit being falsified as Bradley's fault. I think, totally to the contrary of "fighting down to Ruslan", or "fighting stupid" that he handled severe adversity brilliantly, and in a way most simply can't. I think if he did fight a stupid fight with a concussion against Ruslan Provodnikov, no matter how much heart he has, he'd have been laid out. But he wasn't.
The mistakes that his trainer thought he made, or maybe he thought he made or countless fans thought he made, are actually an illusion, the way I see it. It might be easier to say "I made the fight harder than I had to." but I think that actually makes Bradley sound less intelligent than he is. It may seem counter-intuitive, but that's what I think the case is, very often, the many times I've heard fighters go to this old chestnut. They actually downplay their own decision-making and often the opponents too, while in hopes of distancing themselves from the supposed level of their opponent. "Please, don't think he's on my level. I just made it harder than I had to." So, this is another piece of the case against Bradley's ring IQ and for his claimed sojourns into the fan-pleasing art of "stupid" fighting for reason X.
Section 3/3: The rematch - the most recent case for Bradley fighting "stupid" for reason X:
While I was frustrated with the decision in the initial bout, I'm still frustrated even if I agree with Pacquiao's recent victory. Why? Because I see now we've gone to a new, higher level of selling this stupid fighting angle. Throwing a random haymaker that fell well short here and there did happen. I won't say it didn't. But I've been seeing statements all over from some of boxing's most prominent voices like Jim Lampley about a Bradley who pinned his hopes on a kayo punch, made baffling strategic errors, did everything blatantly wrong, and in a few instances, all the way to Kevin Iole quoted saying "I thought he fought a stupid fight.".
I know Bradley talked up a knockout before the fight (God, who hasn't done that?) but again, maybe I'm the oblivious one. I don't see it. I see that as just talk that I've heard many times but in the actual fight I didn't see stupid fighting. No, I really didn't see this big problem that they tried to play up of Bradley swinging for the fences wildly for half the fight as though he wanted each punch to be a knockout. I didn't see this tactical decision hampering him that HBO and a lot of you saw. I saw him scoring more power shots to the head than he came remotely close to in the first fight, actually. I saw rounds that were closer. I saw a better fight even though I thought Pacquiao was more "on" in this bout than the first. To me, Bradley, once again probably had a perfectly real physical issue that hampered him a bit, and once again made the best of it and once again gets slated for doing well, this time even better. And, once again, I see a fake narrative being sold about it.
I think Bradley did what he could with Provodnikov after getting concussed against an ever-improving pressure fighter and he did what he could (and a hell of a job at it) against both Pac and Provo, while having a genuine injury in all three combined fights. Real things that give context are not excuses. We all saw when injury occurred in the first Pacquiao fight. I don't really have any serious doubt that he was hampered in the second fight by a different one either. I heard him say it to his corner clearly. Nothing suspicious about it, not some afterthought he threw in later to excuse doing something wrong. He didn't do wrong. He threw a few wild punches, as Pacquiao has certainly done. But overall, I would say Bradley makes pretty rational decisions and is a very smart fighter. He is constantly trying to adapt to circumstances like injury and I don't see that he's ever failed at doing very well to make those adaptations as well as you can expect. So, that's my take on The Desert Storm and the way he's viewed these days.
Work that bag,
Basement Gym Boxing