CARSON, California (AP) — Timothy Bradley overcame an early beating and a 12th-round knockdown to win a narrow unanimous decision over Ruslan Provodnikov on Saturday night, defending his WBO welterweight belt in dramatic style.
Bradley (30-0) barely survived a thriller with the unheralded Provodnikov (22-2) in the champion's first bout since beating Manny Pacquiao in a much-debated split decision last June.
Bradley appeared to be out on his feet at times the first two rounds against his Russian challenger, even tumbling to the canvas in a fall that was ruled an accidental slip. Bradley then was forced to take a knee with 10 seconds left in the 12th round after one last barrage from Provodnikov.
"I gave it everything I had," Bradley said. "Every ounce I had, I gave."
But Bradley also punished Provodnikov with multiple shots all night, causing huge cuts and swelling on the face of the "Siberian Rocky," who excelled in the biggest fight of his career.
Judges Marty Denkin and Jerry Cantu scored the bout 114-113 for Bradley, and Raul Caiz Sr. favored Bradley 115-112. The Associated Press also scored it 114-113 for Bradley on the strength of his middle-round dominance.
"He's much more powerful than Pacquiao," Bradley said. "He hits harder, and has shorter punches. He's a great puncher, and I take my hat off to him."
With steam rising from his shaved head outdoors on a chilly Southern California night, Bradley guessed he might have a concussion after absorbing dozens of big shots from Provodnikov, the Freddie Roach-trained slugger who pressed the action all night.
"I was the clear winner," Provodnikov said through a translator. "I hurt him. I knocked him down. I don't know what else to do."
Bradley's heart and resourcefulness could redefine a fighter who got no credit for beating Pacquiao, the former pound-for-pound champion and global superstar. Pacquiao was widely thought to have won their fight, and Bradley couldn't land a rematch with the Filipino congressman.
Bradley had a reputation as a headfirst, unexciting fighter with little power after stopping just one of his past 11 opponents, but few decision victories in recent boxing history have been more spellbinding than the 12 rounds fought by Bradley and Provodnikov.
"He's going to be a world champion someday," Bradley said. "He's a very strong puncher because he steps into his punches and he hits really hard. It was a really difficult fight. I want to show him by those exchanges that I wasn't afraid of him. That's why I kept trading with him. I didn't want to show any fear. I can brawl and box with anyone."
The pro-Bradley crowd was stunned when Provodnikov repeatedly rocked the champion in the first two rounds, leaving Bradley woozy and wobbly on his feet while the Russian whaled on him. Bradley didn't lose a point when he fell to the canvas in the first round in what appeared to be a knockdown missed by referee Pat Russell — and the champion appeared to be senseless on his feet again while Provodnikov pounded him into the ropes late in the second round.
Bradley was willing to brawl with Provodnikov early, but finally got his legs in the third round and began fighting with more strategy and caution. It all disappeared again in the final minute of the sixth round, when Provodnikov tempted Bradley into a vicious brawl featuring dozens of punches with both hands from both fighters, leaving Bradley defiantly spitting blood while yelling at Provodnikov after the bell.
Provodnikov attempted to force the action, but Bradley backpedaled and picked him apart, causing cuts and swelling across his face. Bradley opened a serious cut near Provodnikov's left eye, and the challenger appeared to be fighting on will.
Provodnikov rallied for one last assault in the 12th round, and Bradley repeatedly staggered backward and bounced off the ropes. With Provodnikov desperately pressing forward, Bradley bent down and took a knee while the clapper sounded for the final 10 seconds of the round, barely making it to the bell.