by Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney
You know the drill by now: When it's a major fight week, the CompuBox crew crunches the relevant numbers, they send them along to HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney, and once the mini-bars in their hotel rooms are empty, Raskin and Mulvaney get to work analyzing what it all means. For Saturday's showdown between veteran welterweight stars Juan Manuel Marquez and Timothy Bradley, boxing analysts need all the help they can get figuring out who will have the edge when the bell rings. With the stats to guide them, Raskin and Mulvaney sit down to talk through this fascinating matchup:
Raskin: It's that time again, Kieran. No, not the time when we paint each other's toenails and gossip about who's dating whom. I'm talking about Fight Week. And this is one I'm looking forward to perhaps more than any other all year, Marquez vs. Bradley. Before we get into the stats, I have to ask: Have you been struggling to pick a winner here as much as I have?
Mulvaney: I have. For me, this has been the hardest pick to make so far this year--in a long time, even. Both are top-quality fighters who bring different strengths and styles to the ring, and there are good cases to be made for either man, and either style, prevailing. There are few outcomes that would shock me on Saturday, let's put it that way.
Raskin: Well, by the end of this chat, hopefully we'll both be able to make picks. If there's one statistical revelation that makes me feel like Marquez might be the underdog, it's his diminishing connect percentages in the last couple of years. He is 40 years old. Do you believe his incredible one-punch finish against Pacquiao last time out obscured the reality that Marquez is slowing down and having a little trouble pulling the trigger?
Mulvaney: This may be a little off script, but the first thing I thought after looking at both guys' connect percentages is that I may need to reevaluate Manny Pacquiao. I've been on the "Pacman is declining" bandwagon for a long time--I may even have built it and put the wheels on it--but it's fascinating to see how much the connect percentages of both Bradley and Marquez dropped in their outings against him. So, sometimes, the other guy in the ring can affect your success rate. Also, I wonder with Marquez how much is age--which is surely a factor--and how much is the fact that he has transformed his upper body into The Great Humungo. It has to affect his connect rate given that with all that bulk, his hand speed must have diminished some.
Raskin: There's nothing wrong with getting a little off script to talk about Pacquiao, and I'll quickly say that he was fighting brilliantly against Marquez other than getting caught with two punches, so I'm fascinated to see how he performs against Brandon Rios. But back to this fight, excellent point about Marquez. Aside from those two enormous shots he landed--the knockdown in round three and the knockout in round six--he did look slow and a bit stiffer than usual. From the training footage I've seen, his body looks similar heading into the Bradley fight. Do you expect Bradley to be the quicker man?
Mulvaney: I do, and I think he has to be. It seems, if you'll excuse the pun, counter-intuitive to say this, but in this matchup, Marquez, the counter-puncher, is probably the fighter, and Bradley--who can fight himself--is the boxer. I think Bradley needs to show angles, throw plenty of punches--which the stats support as being a strength--and keep Marquez guessing, preventing him from getting off those big, dangerous counter right hands.
Raskin: I'm glad you brought up Bradley's activity--indeed, the stats suggest that's a huge factor in his fights. He threw 83.3 punches per round against Ruslan Provodnikov. He threw 90.7 per round in dominating Nate Campbell. Can volume prevent Marquez from being able to set and counter? Or, is an offensive-minded game plan from Bradley going to provide Marquez with just the opening he needs?
Mulvaney: That's where I think footwork comes into play. I don't think Marquez is quite the twinkletoes he once was--indeed, one could argue that ever since he moved up to lightweight he's been more of a static puncher than before--and the key for Bradley is to not get trapped into standing in front of Marquez and throwing. He has to keep moving, ideally staying outside Marquez's left hand as much as possible. But Marquez is so dangerous it only takes one mistake. Pacquiao followed the game plan to near perfection, except for a couple of seconds, and those seconds cost him.
Raskin: And if you're going to pick Marquez, you do so probably factoring in not only his ability to change a fight with one punch, but the questions that now exist about Bradley's punch resistance. Tim Bradley has a heart the size of Nicolai Valuev, no doubt. But he got hurt badly on multiple occasions by Provodnikov, he says he was badly concussed, and he says he was still slurring his speech two months later! I've suffered a couple of concussions myself (as astute readers can probably infer from my writing), and I know how much less it takes to get you dizzy once you've had a concussion or two. Are you concerned that Bradley won't yet be--or will never be--fully recovered from the Provodnikov fight?
Mulvaney: I get the impression that Tim has probably done all the right things to recover: He took time off, he sought treatment, and he gave himself time for his symptoms to end. Even so, any time a fighter takes punishment like that--whether he's knocked down or out, or is just in a hellacious fight--then it clearly is going to severely deplete his reserves. Some people are just never the same after a really tough fight, even when they are victorious. Diego Corrales never won again after beating Jose Luis Castillo, for example.
Raskin: Okay, time to cut to the chase and make picks. And rather than put the pressure all on you, I'll go first. I'm picking Marquez because, well, he's Juan Manuel Freaking Marquez, and if the opponent isn't Floyd Mayweather, I simply can't not make him the favorite. Bradley might turn out to be a nightmare for him, and if Bradley is the guy who makes him look like an old man, it will be entirely logical and understandable. But I think Marquez finds a way. And I'm even picking him to stop Bradley late in a thrilling fight. You?
Mulvaney: And just to highlight how close this fight is, and how difficult it is to pick, I'm going with Tim Bradley. Bradley doesn't excel at any one thing, but he is very good at a lot of things, and though there have to be concerns, as you mentioned, about what he has left after the Provodnikov fight, I see him being busy enough, and tricky enough, to build an early points lead and withstand a strong second-half charge, in which he gets rocked a couple of times. Bradley on points.
Raskin: Very well, one of us will be right, one of us will be wrong. Specifically, I will be the former, you the latter, but that's not important right now. What is important is that I suspect both of us will be highly entertained. Enjoy the fight.
Mulvaney: I do not doubt for even a second that this will be a good one. I'm excited to see it.