With Floyd Mayweather Jr. effectively surrendering all of his titles following his victory over Manny Pacquiao -- perhaps to avoid paying sanctioning fees for his "final" fight or to not have those bodies dictate who his next opponent should be -- it freed up the WBO welterweight belt for former titleholder Timothy Bradley and WBA "regular" super lightweight titlist Jessie Vargas, who will vie for it on Saturday. Since neither man owns one-punch power and since each tends to get into back-and-forth hard-to-score scraps, this fight has the potential to be a memorable spectacle.
Bradley, nicknamed "Desert Storm," is hungry for his first win since beating Juan Manuel Marquez in October 2013 while Vargas, who has found favor with judges time and again, is coming off a career-best effort against Antonio DeMarco.
Statistical factors that may shape the outcome include:
Bradley's Boomerang: Most observers felt the judges were overly kind to Bradley during his first fight with Pacquiao, so one had to think some unseen evening-out forces were at work when he was on the other end of a disputed draw in his last fight against Diego Chaves. Most press row writers believed Bradley won going away and the numbers backed up that contention as he led 225-152 overall, 79-44 jabs and 146-108 power while also prevailing 39%-27% overall, 35%-18% jabs and 43%-33% power. The round-by-round breakdowns saw Bradley out-landing Chavez in 11 of the 12 rounds (a 10-10 draw in round six prevented a clean sweep) and of 36 potential categories Bradley led 30-5-1 in rounds. So how can one explain the 116-112 card for Chaves turned in by the usually excellent Julie Lederman or the 114-114 score by Craig Metcalfe?
Bradley's defeat to Pacquiao in their rematch was far more decisive -- and correctly judged. Bradley tried his heart out but in the end Pacquiao led 198-141 overall, 50-232 jabs and 148-109 power as well as 35%-23% overall, 23%-11% jabs and 43%-32% power. Pacquiao led 10-1-1 in rounds when it came to total punches landed and 30-5-1 in all statistical categories, including a 12-0 sweep in power connects.
Bradley was arguably at his very best against Marquez, who he appeared to out-box but earned only a split decision thanks to Glenn Feldman's 115-113 card for Marquez. Though Bradley was faster and flashier, the stats bore out the closeness of the cards as the American led by only 168-153 overall and 82-38 jabs only to be outdone 115-86 in power connects by Marquez, who also was the more accurate man (34%-30% overall, 40%-38% power).
Finally, Bradley was once known for his extreme volume but in the three fights since his Fight of the Year effort against Ruslan Provodnikov (where he averaged 83.3 punches per round in gutting out a unanimous decision), Bradley's average output has dipped to a combined 48.9 per round and he is underwater in terms of overall percentage (30%-32%) and in power accuracy (38%-39%) -- not a good sign for a man whose game relies, in part, on speed and elusiveness. Did the Provodnikov fight take more out of Bradley than even he realizes? Bradley is a different fighter since Provodnikov (his last 3 fights). It's not that he's getting hit more, it's his output that has gone down. After averaging 83 punches thrown, 29 landed vs. Provo and 66 punches thrown/20 landed vs. Provo, Pacquiao I, Casamayor, Alexander, Abregu & Lamont Peterson, Bradley averaged 49 punches thrown, 15 landed in his last three fights (vs. Chaves, Pacquiao I & Marquez.). He avg'd seven fewer jabs thrown per round in his last 3 fights (30% fewer) and ten fewer power shots. He also landed five fewer power shots (33% fewer).
Reaching a Peak: Vargas couldn't have asked for a better preamble to the biggest fight in his career in terms of opponent and staging than his most recent fight against Antonio DeMarco. Vargas out-hustled the former 135-pound titlist (55 punches per round to 41), out-landed him 264-180 overall, 48-36 jabs and 216-144 power and was the more accurate fighter across the board (40%-37% overall, 29%-27% jabs, 44%-40% power). The 116-112 scores by all three judges reflected the action that transpired in the ring -- something that hasn't always been the case with Vargas.
For example, more than a few observers thought Anton Novikov had done more than enough to win their fight last August because he led 223-191 overall and 72-38 jabs while trailing only 153-151 in landed power shots. Novikov was more active (67.7 punches per round to Vargas' 65.2) and he was actually the better jabber despite his extreme aggression (6 connects per round to Vargas' 3.2). But the home-ring advantage -- the Los Angeles native lives in Las Vegas -- and his slightly more accurate power punching (33%-31%) might have enabled him to walk out a winner at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas' ring.
Vargas also seemed to benefit from friendly judging in winning the "regular" WBA junior welterweight title from Khabib Allakhverdiev, who led 243-226 overall, 35%-33% in total percentage, 173-135 in power connects and 42%-34% in power precision. Yet Vargas got the unanimous nod (117-111, 115-113 twice), perhaps because of the massive amounts of blood Allakhverdiev spilled following an accidental butt in round eight and the fact that this fight was staged in Vargas' adopted home of Las Vegas.
Since both hail from California (Bradley from Palm Springs, Vargas from Los Angeles), neither will enjoy a home ring advantage. Hopefully, skills, not politics, will rule the day.
Prediction: This fight will probably go the distance because Bradley's last 15 fights have averaged 10.7 rounds while Vargas has fought 10 consecutive decisions that averaged 10.6. Though Bradley isn't quite the fighter he once was, his experience, slightly harder punching and mental toughness will enable him to capture a unanimous decision.