Before 2014, the Best of 2013

By Kieran Mulvaney

Photo Credit: Will Hart

Households across the country have had the opportunity to exchange gifts and wear garish sweaters. But for boxing fans, the most wonderful time of the year presents a special challenge. Granted, you're grateful for that tie, and who doesn't need more socks, but where's the sanctioned, televised violence? Sure, Uncle Ernie and Cousin Jerome might square up after too much eggnog, but it's hardly the same, is it? And it may very well be a wonderful life, but I think we can all agree that James Stewart is no Ruslan Provodnikov.

Never fear, HBO Boxing is here. To help bridge the gap until our first live fight card of 2014 on January 18, we're bringing you the best of 2013. If you missed any of these 10 fights the first time around, you can watch them now on HBO.com:

Carl Froch vs. Mikkel Kessler II

Three years after Kessler scored a narrow decision win over Froch in his native Denmark, the Englishman extended an invite for a rematch in London, and the result was another 12 rounds of first-rate action.

Round to Watch: In round 5, Kessler landed a hard left-right combination that buckled Froch, only for the Brit to shake it off and take it to the Dane for the rest of the round.

 

Sergey Kovalev vs. Nathan Cleverly

Kovalev's reputation as a fearsome puncher preceded his HBO debut against Cleverly, and it was only enhanced after he blew away Cleverly and took his light-heavyweight belt in the process.

Round to Watch: Although it wasn't the final frame of the contest, round 3 was the one in which the fight was effectively knocked out of the Welshman, courtesy of a pair of heavy knockdowns.

 

Timothy Bradley Jr. vs. Ruslan Provodnikov

Bradley's first outing since his highly controversial 2013 win over Manny Pacquiao was nearly a disastrous one, as he (and the world) was introduced to the relentless punching power of Siberia's Provodnikov.

Round to Watch: Round 12 was the most dramatic final three minutes of professional prizefighting since Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. nearly pulled victory from the jaws of defeat against Sergio Martinez last fall.

 

Miguel Cotto vs. Delvin Rodriguez

Fan favorite Cotto returned to HBO after back-to-back losses in 2013, and rebounded in style, with arguably his most emphatic victory in years.

Round to Watch: Officially, the contest ended in the second, but it was all but over before that, as Cotto came bouncing out of his corner on his toes and spent the first three minutes tearing into Rodriguez with his long-vaunted but much-missed left hook.

 

Brandon Rios vs. Mike Alvarado II

In a rematch of their hellacious first encounter, Rios and Alvarado once again thrilled fans with a bruising battle in which neither man gave any quarter, both ended the night battered, but only one man was beaten.

Round to Watch: Just try and watch the second round without your jaw dropping. Go ahead. Try it.

 

Gennady Golovkin vs. Matthew Macklin

After rolling to two stoppage wins on HBO, Golovkin took on the sternest challenge of his professional career in the form of former title challenger Macklin. The aftermath saw a lot more passengers clambering aboard the Golovkin bandwagon.

Round to Watch: The third-round ending is a study in violent artistry, as Golovkin maneuvers Macklin into position before dropping the hammer blow.

 

Timothy Bradley Jr. vs. Juan Manuel Marquez

Bradley's reward for escaping Provodnikov was a pay-per-view bout against Mexican veteran Marquez, and the result was two men putting on one of the year's best displays of skilful boxing-punching.

Round to Watch: For the second Bradley fight in the row, the final round had the most drama, the result of the contest seemingly hinging on the final three minutes – and even the very last punch of the fight.

 

Adonis Stevenson vs. Chad Dawson

Dawson was returning to light-heavyweight after an unsuccessful attempt to wrest the super-middleweight crown from Andre Ward. Few had heard of Stevenson before the opening bell; it only took 79 seconds for that to change dramatically.

Round to Watch: Let's put it this way. Once the fight begins, try not to go to the bathroom or the kitchen, or even to sneeze.

 

Manny Pacquiao vs. Brandon Rios

Eleven months after the sudden and disastrous end to his fourth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao returned to action against Rios, in the first pay-per-view boxing card to be broadcast from China.

Round to Watch: Bit by bit, round by round, Pacquiao's speed proved too much for Rios; the final frame, when Rios made one last effort to turn the tide, was the best of the bunch.

 

James Kirkland vs. Glen Tapia

There are boxing bouts, and there are fights. This was a fight.

Round to Watch: All of them. Seriously. All of them.

 

Bradley Out-Counters the Counterpuncher and Stays Undefeated

by Kieran Mulvaney

Juan Manuel Marquez, Timothy Bradley - Photo Credit: Will Hart

The crowd booed, as it did the last time Timothy Bradley won a decision in Las Vegas. But on this occasion, unlike when Bradley was awarded a hugely disputed win over Manny Pacquiao last June, the catcalls were not sentinels of controversy. The crowd was there to support Juan Manuel Marquez, had cheered every punch of his that landed and even those that missed; many – perhaps most – of those supporters doubtless genuinely believed he had won. But although this was a close contest, the right man prevailed, as Bradley remained undefeated and retained his welterweight belt on a split decision.

It had been a bout that had simmered without ever truly exploding, but was no less commendable for that. This was twelve rounds of boxing of the highest quality, two experienced and skilled combatants looking to out-think, outsmart and out-punch each other in a contest of shifting momentum.

Read the Complete Timothy Bradley vs. Juan Manuel Marquez Fight Recap on HBO.com.

Bradley Feasts on Marquez Fans’ Boos

by Kieran Mulvaney

Timothy Bradley - Photo Credit: Will Hart

To judge from the reaction at Friday’s weigh-in at the Wynn Las Vegas, Timothy Bradley will be in hostile territory when he defends his welterweight title against Juan Manuel Marquez at the Thomas & Mack Arena on Saturday night. If Bradley’s reaction on the weigh-in stage is a guide, he won’t care one bit.

As the boos cascaded from the pro-Mexican crowd, Bradley cupped his hands to his ears, and then motioned for more, smiling the smile of a man who is more than happy to nurture the chip on his shoulder. After a few seconds, a small chant of “Bradley, Bradley, Bradley” began in one corner of the theater, spreading through a section until it briefly rivaled, but was ultimately overwhelmed by, competing cries of “Me-xi-co, Me-xi-co.”

It isn’t that Bradley is an especially hated figure. Notwithstanding the bizarre torrent of abuse he received for being awarded a dubious decision against Manny Pacquiao last year, there is – or at least should be – little if anything to hate. While he may not excel at any one component of his craft, he does most things very well, with an impressive adaptability that allows him alternately to box or, when he chooses, to engage in a slugfest as he did against Ruslan Provodnikov in his last outing. He also shows a disarming openness with the media – perhaps too much openness for his own good, as one wonders whether his comments about lingering speech and balance issues after the Provodnikov battle might weigh subconsciously on the mind of referee Robert Byrd should Bradley find the going especially tough at any point on Saturday.

It seems reasonable to infer that the boos were less an indictment of Bradley than a Pavlovian response to his role as the opponent of Juan Manuel Marquez, a fighter who has grown from being a relative also-ran among his contemporaries and compatriots to becoming a bona-fide star, to the extent that his support exceeded that of Manny Pacquiao when the two rivals last clashed 10 months ago. Marquez, like Bradley, has long been regarded as one of the honest brokers in a sport all-too-often bedeviled by slime - although his newly enhanced physique has raised eyebrows, and sparring between the two camps over what kind of testing would best establish that neither man had ingested anything more potent than Wheaties has provided the one real note of conflict in a promotion that has otherwise been noticeably civil.

It is almost invariably the case, however, that, for better or worse, by the time the two fighters step on to the scales and then stand face-to-face for the last time before they enter the ring, any controversies that may have dominated the storylines of the previous few weeks are forgotten and the focus is turned to the contest itself. It says a lot about Saturday’s matchup that prognosticators are almost equally split in predicting victory for Marquez, who weighed in at 144.5 pounds, and Bradley, who at 146 was one pound inside the welterweight limit.

Ultimately, however, such predictions, however varied, matter not one bit. There is a time for talking, and that time is now over. Marquez and Bradley exited the stage and returned to their respective suites, where they will sequester themselves for the next 24 hours, replenishing their bodies with food and liquid and preparing themselves mentally for the battle that lies just ahead.

Fans Weigh In: Marquez the Favorite, But Bradley Has Speed on His Side

Who holds the #KeyToVictory for this week's fight? We asked fans to weigh in on Twitter, and 74% of them feel that Juan Manuel Marquez holds the edge. Here's some more of what you had to say:

Watch All of 24/7: Bradley/Marquez

Before they face off in the ring Saturday night, see how Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez prepare for their championship fight. Watch both of episodes of 24/7 now.

24/7 Bradley/Marquez Episode 1

24/7 Bradley/Marquez Episode 2

 

Raskin & Mulvaney’s Fight Week Stat Chat

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:

Read the Complete Compubox Analysis: Bradley vs. Marquez on HBO.com.

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.

 

Classic Fights: Bradley-Provodnikov and Paquiao-Marquez 4

You could make a strong case that both Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez are coming off of the fights of their lives. Bradley is making his return to the ring after a hellacious battle with Ruslan Provodnikov earlier this year that saw the current welterweight champ barely make it out of the first two rounds and touch the canvas with just 15 seconds left in the fight. But Bradley somehow managed to pull through, controlling most of the middle rounds, in what is surely a fight of the year candidate.

Watch the full Bradley-Provodnikov fight here:

 

Juan Manuel Marquez electrified the boxing public with a sensational knockout over Manny Pacquiao last December. Coming up empty-handed (0-2-1, to be exact) after three razor-thin decisions with Pacquiao, Marquez didn't let the fight go to the judges when he landed a perfectly timed counter that laid Pacquiao out. But it wasn't just a one-punch fight. Marquez's perfect shot came after almost six rounds of intense back-and-forth action that saw both fighters bloodied and at the top of their games.

Watch the full Pacquiao-Marquez 4 fight here:

Peer Reviews: Fellow Boxers Make Their Picks for Bradley-Marquez

by Kieran Mulvaney

We're just a few days away from finding out whether Juan Manuel Marquez can relieve Timothy Bradley of his undefeated record, or whether Bradley has what it takes to prevent Marquez from becoming the first Mexican to win a world title in five weight divisions.

Until the final bell rings, of course, there's no way to know for sure what the outcome will be. We're left with educated guesswork, crystal balls and rune stones, but while there is rarely a shortage of willing fan and media prognosticators, what do the boxers' peers think? We asked several of Bradley and Marquez's fellow HBO Boxing stars – including Ruslan Provodnikov, whose most recent bout was a hellacious duel with Bradley – how they saw things unfolding. Outside of lightweight Terence Crawford, who admitted a rooting interest for his friend Bradley, none of those we asked flat-out predicted a winner. All of them agreed that it had the potential to be a close, hard-to-call contest, and that victory was far from certain for either man.

 

Mike Alvarado, junior welterweight contender:

"That's going to be an interesting fight. I think Bradley might take that fight. It's going to be a good fight."

 

 

 

 

Nonito Donaire, featherweight contender and former three-weight world title holder:

"Bradley isn't a hard puncher, but he is a very tough and overall well-rounded fighter, so he has a good chance. But Marquez has fought the best out there. I think that Marquez has the slight edge. He has the power. He has the body shots. He has the overall thing that will give Bradley trouble. But don't get me wrong: Bradley can make it rough, and we know that Marquez can cut easily."

 

 

Terence Crawford, lightweight contender:

"I've got to go with Bradley. I've got to go with my boy."

 

 

 

 

Ruslan Provodnikov, junior welterweight contender:

"I always respected Marquez a lot, always wanted to fight him. I respect him as a boxer and as a person. But after the fight I had with Timothy Bradley, my respect for him also grew a lot, and I feel that we became closer. So in this fight I'll be rooting for Timothy Bradley, and I really hope I have a rematch with him sometime soon. A lot of people are talking about the fact he lost a lot in the fight against me, but I think he has a lot left to give and he'll surprise a lot of people."

 

Marquez Aims to Make it Five

by Kieran Mulvaney


For much of his earlier career, Juan Manuel Marquez was the Cinderella of Mexican boxing, toiling in the shadows while Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales engaged in an all-time-great trilogy of battles and electrified their fan bases. Marquez was the cerebral counterpuncher who garnered fans' intellectual appreciation; Morales and Barrera were warriors who set those same fans' pulses racing.

Over the last five or six years, however – beginning perhaps with Marquez's victory over Barrera in 2007, and augmented certainly by his epic four-fight-and-counting rivalry with Manny Pacquiao – Marquez has emerged from his contemporaries' shadows. And on Saturday night, he has the chance to leave them in the dust.

Victory over welterweight belt-holder Timothy Bradley in Las Vegas would give Marquez a world title in five weight classes over the course of his career – more than Morales, who won four, and more than Barrera and even the great Julio Cesar Chavez, who secured three apiece. Here's a look at his reigns in four previous weight classes:

 

Featherweight (126 Pounds): February 1, 2003 – March 4, 2006

Marquez fell short in his first world title challenge, dropping an ugly decision to Freddie Norwood in 1999, but four years later he finally achieved success with a win over veteran and fellow Mexican Manuel Medina. Two successful defenses led to a clash with Filipino buzz-saw Manny Pacquiao in 2004; as everyone now knows, Marquez rallied from three first-round knockdowns to secure a draw and kick-start a rivalry for the ages. Unhappy with the financial incentives for a Pacquiao rematch, Marquez made two more defenses before dropping a decision in Indonesia to hometown fighter Chris John.

 

Super Featherweight (130 Pounds): March 17, 2007 – March 15, 2008

Aided somewhat by a blown call – in which a Barrera knockdown of Marquez was not only ruled a slip but Barrera was docked a point for punching Marquez when he was down – Marquez secured a decision victory over his celebrated compatriot to win a title in his second weight division. He made one defense before losing a close and controversial decision to – who else? – Pacquiao.

 

 

Lightweight (135 Pounds): February 28, 2009 – January 6, 2012

By now, although still a skilled counterpuncher, Marquez was engaging in far more entertaining fights than had once been the case, and his lightweight title reign exemplified that perhaps more than any other time in his career. His title-winning clash against Juan Diaz was a thriller, as was the last of his three title bouts at the weight, in which he bounced back from a third-round knockdown to stop Michael Katsidis. He was stripped of the title when he moved up in weight.

 

Super Lightweight (140 Pounds): June 9, 2012 – present

Marquez added a title in a fourth weight division after he outpointed Ukraine's Serhiy Fedchenko in Mexico City on April 14. The bout itself was for an 'interim' title, which the relevant sanctioning body upgraded to a 'regular' title two months later.

The nature of its acquisition highlighted the fact that the most recent title reign of the Mexican's career has been the least remarkable; it is likely also to prove the only one he does not attempt to defend. Marquez has his sights now fixed firmly on welterweight, and after losing his first two outings at the higher weight – to Floyd Mayweather and, of course, his nemesis Pacquiao – he most recently scored perhaps the most satisfying win of his professional life when he left Pacquiao unconscious and face-first on the canvas last December.

That victory did not yield another title belt, because Pacquiao had been relieved of his welterweight strap six months previously by Timothy Bradley. That was a decision with which virtually nobody except two of the three ringside judges agreed, but Marquez will not care one bit about such bygone controversy if he takes care of business on Saturday, relieves Bradley of his crown, and cements his place in history.

Beyond Pacquiao: Marquez and Bradley Eye a New Rivalry

by Eric Raskin

It is nearly impossible to talk about either Juan Manuel Marquez or Tim Bradley without talking about Manny Pacquiao. After Oct. 12, it might also be nearly impossible to talk about Marquez without talking about Bradley, or to talk about Bradley without talking about Marquez.

Pacquiao is the common thread who elevated the names of both Marquez and Bradley through his pay-per-view bouts with them, and part of what has drawn Marquez and Bradley together for their PPV-headlining showdown is their shared status as the only men to defeat Pacquiao in the last eight years. However, their victories over the Filipino icon couldn’t be more dissimilar. In December 2012, Marquez flipped the switch on Pacquiao’s senses with a single counter right hand, scoring a one-punch knockout that will be replayed for decades, perhaps centuries, to come. Six months earlier, Bradley was awarded one of the most controversial decisions in pugilistic history, a split nod over Pacquiao that, to most observers, wasn’t just debatable; it was inexplicable.

The 40-year-old Marquez (55-6-1, 40 KOs) and 30-year-old Bradley (30-0, 12 KOs, 1 No-Contest) have arrived at this destination via decidedly different angles, but here they are, both looking to build on wins over Pacquiao with the most meaningful bout they can take that doesn’t involve Pac-Man. Marquez vs. Bradley is loaded with questions, controversies, and subplots. And if their most recent performances are any indication, the action might just live up to the intrigue.

Read the Complete Timothy Bradley vs. Juan Manuel Marquez Fight Overview on HBO.com.