Here’s to 1,000 fights, 522 KO’s, and every one of the 8,430 rounds that have aired on HBO since 1973.
HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney discuss the controversial finish to the Bradley-Vargas fight and share their picks for their favorite of HBO's first 1000 Fights. For more 1000 Fights coverage, visit www.insidehboboxing.com/1000-fights.
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
A terrific fight reached a dramatic and confusing conclusion as Jessie Vargas, hopelessly down on the scorecards, landed a huge right hand with 15 seconds remaining, briefly thought he had defeated Timothy Bradley with a last-moment referee stoppage, and wound up a unanimous loser on the scorecards. It was the correct result, and the scores were just about right, but the fact that a referee error denied Vargas seven seconds to complete what would have been a massively improbable comeback both took some of the gloss off Bradley’s otherwise largely dominant performance and set the stage for a rematch that, until that one big punch, would not have been on anybody’s mind.
For Bradley, the bizarre ending marked yet another chapter in what has been a strange couple of years, beginning with his hugely controversial win over Manny Pacquiao in 2012, through a barely-survived war with Ruslan Provodnikov on this same StubHub stage in 2013, and his draw last year against Diego Chaves in a foul-filled contest that almost everyone ringside thought he had won.
Such was the noise that surrounded the bout’s final 15 seconds, it was almost possible in the immediate aftermath to forget that 11.9 rounds had preceded them. But they did, and they were largely dominated by Bradley.
During fight week, Bradley was tightly coiled, looking for chips to carry on his shoulder, nurturing grievances that might motivate him against a clear underdog opponent. And once the opening bell rang, he fought like a man possessed, unleashing the tension he had been allowing to build inside him. The shorter man barreled forward, jabbing to Vargas’ body and hooking upstairs, concluding the round with a right hand that caught his opponent’s attention.
A Bradley flurry to open the second had the crowd cheering, and while Vargas was landing with hard shots of his own as his foe came forward, Bradley’s ripping combinations were by far the more effective. Vargas was seeking to land jabs to keep Bradley at bay, but part of the reason that many of his wins to this point have been closer than they should have been is that too often he is a reactive fighter, responding to his foe and seeking to do that bit better rather than grabbing a contest by the scruff of the neck. Until tonight that approach had been enough to keep him undefeated, but while such a strategy might work against the likes of Anton Novikov, Bradley is of an entirely different caliber; and by the time the fourth round had been completed, the veteran was in complete control. By that stage, Vargas (26-1, 9 KOs) was looking ragged, Bradley right hands brutalizing his head, while other monstrous rights whistled past with such force that they caused Bradley to stumble across the ring.
Bradley was controlling the pace and the distance; Vargas was effective enough when he could keep his foe at range, but too often he couldn’t, and once Bradley (32-1-1, 12 KOs) stepped inside Vargas’ reach, he unleashed furious combinations that had Vargas backpedaling.
The sight of Bradley’s left eye swelling and threatening to close was a sign that Vargas’ right hands were not entirely without success, but Bradley’s bombs were the ones that continued to land to greater effect. It felt as if Desert Storm were the one most determined to inflict damage, while Vargas was mostly looking to resist the onrushing offense.
The pace slowed in the final third of the fight as Bradley both tired and, recognizing he was ahead, dialed back his attack. Vargas began to have some more success with his long jab, but there was never the sense that he knew he needed to take risks to have a chance of climbing out of the deep hole in which he found himself by this stage, or that he had the will or wherewithal to do so.
Even in the final round, even as Bradley mostly bounced and boxed, he was the one who launched the harder punchers, who looked like the man more interested in inflicting damage and closing the show.
And then came the punch, a final Hail Mary of a Vargas right hand that detonated on Bradley’s jaw and sent him lurching backward. He was hurt, but clearly had at least some of his senses about him as he steadied his legs beneath him and circled as far away from Vargas as possible. But then the clapper sounded to signal ten seconds remaining, and referee Pat Russell, confused by the roar of the crowd, thought it was the bell to end the round. He stepped between the two combatants and waved his hands to signal that the contest was over.
Vargas interpreted that to mean that it had been ended prematurely and in his favor and leapt on to the turnbuckles in delight as his team flooded the ring and confusion seized the StubHub. Several minutes passed before ring announcer Lupe Contreras explained to the 4,711 in the crowd that Russell had signaled what he thought was the timely end of the round and not a dramatic denouement of the fight, announced that the fight would go to the scorecards, and read the tallies of 116-112, 117-111 and 115-112 in favor of Bradley.
“I thought it was over,” said Vargas. “I hit him with a shot, I let my hands go. All I needed was one shot and that was what I was looking for. It was still going on. It was an honest mistake on [the referee’s] part, but it cost me the fight. Those seven seconds cost me the fight.”
“He caught me with a good right at the end,” acknowledged Bradley. But, he insisted, he wasn’t in danger of being knocked down, let alone out. “Hey, come on. I survived Provodnikov. I didn’t go anywhere. I was still in there, I was still alive. Boom, I didn’t go down. I thought, ‘Dammit, I didn't listen to my trainer again and I got hurt.’”
Suddenly, Bradley, who days earlier was expressing a willingness to step up to middleweight to ace Gennady Golovkin, instead had a ready-made opponent for his next contest. “Hey, we can do it again. Why not? We can go rematch. I don’t have a problem with that. I’ll give him a rematch, no problem.”
Asked what he would do differently should such a rematch come to fruition, how he would avoid the controversy and prevent himself from falling so far behind, Vargas was perfectly clear:
“In the rematch, we start where we left off.”
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Two weeks ago, Top Rank’s blue chip lightweight prospect Felix Verdejo made his HBO debut and impressed with a dominant performance against a game Ivan Najera. Saturday night, it was the turn of a highly touted featherweight to take his opening bow on the network, and while Oscar Valdez could not reasonably have been expected to shine as brightly as his stablemate – nor did he – he did show enough to suggest that he is a talent well worth following, albeit one who also needs a great deal more seasoning before he is ready for the genuinely big time.
The night got off to a less than an ideal start for the undefeated Mexican, who represented his country at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. After clearly getting the better of opponent Ruben Tamayo in the opening frame, he was shockingly dropped onto his rear at the end of the round after walking in to a left hook – although replays showed that his compatriot had in fact stepped on his foot.
Thereafter, Valdez dominated. On the plus side: he showed excellent footwork for a fighter with just 17 pro bouts under his belt, frequently landing a punch and pivoting away, resetting and landing another punch from a different position before Tamayo had the chance to react. He threw those punches with genuine commitment, too, digging to Tamayo’s head with crunching hooks and short right hands. And the movement of his head and upper body caused most of Tamayo’s slow, wide counters to miss their mark entirely.
The less good: he showed a tendency to reach with some of those punches, smothering his own power by falling into his opponent as he threw, and he left himself open enough that a better fighter might be able to have more success with his own offense. Still, he’s young, and this was his first 10 round contest; it seems a reasonable assumption that he has bigger and better evenings ahead of him.
Photos by Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
As he arrived at his Manhattan Beach hotel on Tuesday night, before he’d even had a chance to check in or unpack his bags, Timothy Bradley Jr. was approached by somebody who wanted to know if he had heard that Erik Morales, future Hall-of-Fame fighter and trainer of Bradley’s Saturday opponent Jessie Vargas, had supposedly been belittling Bradley’s chances in Saturday’sHBO-televised welterweight contest.
In the hotel lobby, Bradley looked into a camera and verbally ripped both men in a spontaneous rant that was worthy of a WWE promo.
“Jessie Vargas, I’m gonna whup his ass on Saturday and if Morales got a problem and he want some he can get some at the end of the year too, ‘cause I got two fights this year,” Bradley said. “This is my first fight. I’m gonna beat his boy, then I’ll come back and beat his behind. He can come out of retirement. We can fight at a catchweight. It don’t really matter, 154, whatever. You want to fight at 200? We could fight there and I’m gonna whup your ass next.”
The outburst was catnip to Top Rank’s publicists, more than happy to leap on any hint of conflict that they could use to hype the contest. When Vargas held a media workout on Wednesday, the Mexican press was out in force, inspired by the presence of the legendary Morales and even more so by the prospect, however remote, that the trainer might end up in the ring with his fighter’s opponent. By Thursday morning, however, the heat had been turned down to a simmer: Vargas – an easy-going type with a ready smile – seemed mildly bemused by the outburst.Morales emphasized that he was well and truly retired, and by the time of the press conference, Bradley was walking back his earlier remarks.
“I have nothing against this team,” he said at the podium. “I have nothing against you, Erik Morales … You were a tremendous fighter, a Hall of Fame fighter. So there’s no bad blood. I’m just letting you know that. I just had to clear that up.”
But an absence of animosity didn’t mean a lack of intensity. At the post-press conference staredown, Bradley, a study in tightly coiled fight week fury, glowered, deep and unblinking, at Vargas. Vargas, who despite being a professional pugilist appears not to contain an angry bone in his body, began to smile, as if the level of Bradley’s ferocity could only be intentionally humorous. But Bradley maintained his stare, seemingly trying to use his vision to bore into his opponent’s skull, and Vargas recalibrated, returning his facial expression to a scowl, albeit a less convincing one, of his own.
It was much the same at Friday’s weigh in, after both men, despite their differing physiques – Vargas tall and lean, Bradley shorter and muscular – weighed in at 146.4 pounds. Top Rank publicist Fred Sternburg asked the boxers to pose for and look at the media before facing off, but Bradley wasn’t having any of it, instead turning immediately to Vargas, placing his face as closeto his foe’s as he could until his forehead met the barrier formed by the brim of Vargas’ baseball cap, locking his gaze and jawing at him. Vargas talked right back, although once again he couldn’t stop himself from breaking into a smile. Afterward, the undefeated youngster asserted that Mexican boxers invariably were stronger than their foes and that it would again prove thus on Saturday. Bradley, now more even-tempered assassin than hyperbolic wrestler, suggested that those assembled compare his ripped physique to his skinnier rival’s, and ask themselves which of the two was more likely to have more strength.
The last time Bradley fought at the StubHub Center, he came out just on the winning side of a brutal battle with RuslanProvodnikov in 2013. Nobody dares expect Bradley and Vargas to replicate that ferocity, nor would anyone with a hint of humanity necessarily want them to. But if the past few days are any indication, Bradley is dialed in for twelve rounds of sustained aggression. And for as much as Vargas has been happy for Bradley to carry the verbal load, he’ll be more than ready to let his fists do the talking when the time comes in the ring.
Timothy Bradley and Jessie Vargas weigh in today at 5pm ET, 2pm PT. They'll face off Saturday night live from StubHub Center in Carson, CA, and on HBO World Championship Boxing at 10 pm ET/PT.
By Carlos Acevedo
This Saturday, HBO Boxing airs its 1,000th fight. To commemorate the occasion, HBO Boxing Insiders selected their favorite fights from the HBO catalog and wrote about them.
November 13, 1992
In the early 1990s, a crime wave fueled by the crack wars stretched across New York City from Far Rockaway to Wakefield. In 1992, for example, there were over 2,000 homicides reported in The Big Apple. Sirens and gunshots were nightly lullabies when I was a teenager, struggling to keep nightmares at bay. I imagined it was the same for Riddick Bowe, who, by challenging undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, had a chance to leave that squalor behind. One of 13 children raised by a single mother, Bowe was from Brownsville, Brooklyn, a killing zone that measured a little over one square mile and had even earned its own grim nickname: Gunsmoke City. Barely 21 years old when his sister was murdered and his brother died of AIDS, Bowe somehow managed to avoid the pitfalls of drugs and crime.
Because boxers are solitary athletes performing under the starkest (but most personal) circumstances, identifying with them is easier than, say, identifying with a football player. Maybe this is the key to why boxing, despite its many ills, has survived for as long as it has. For me, Riddick Bowe was a conscientious young man who walked his mother across urban badlands to her night shift job in a Canarsie factory. In addition, he was, in one simple way, selfless: He was ready to let as many street kids as possible tag along with him while he chased impossible dreams. My brother and I took the bus to Bartow Avenue in CO-OP City to watch the fight on pay-per-view and to see if Bowe could buck odds that transcended the ones set by wiseguys in the bookie joints.
Nostalgia, of course, can distort the past, but the big boys in boxing simply do not fight like this any longer. In fact, Bowe and Holyfield—heavyweights, remember—combined to throw more punches than Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and Manny Pacquiao did in their Fight of the Century snoozer last month.
A slight favorite entering the ring in Las Vegas that night, Holyfield seemed confident that Bowe was too inexperienced to stand up to his razor-sharp combinations. Although Holyfield landed his share of bruising shots early, he was gradually being worn down by Bowe, who, for such a big man, had lethal infighting skills. Bowe worked the body in the trenches, hooked when there was even a sliver of space, and landed damaging uppercuts when Holyfield leaned in.
By the ninth round, Bowe had taken control. Then came the 10th and three electrifying minutes. Seeking a respite from the wearying pace, Holyfield relaxed momentarily on the inside. Almost instantaneously Bowe ripped a right uppercut that sent Holyfield reeling and then crashing into the turnbuckle. Somehow, Holyfield managed to stay on his feet. Sensing the realization of a dream he’d had since he was a little boy, Bowe charged and opened up a vicious crossfire attack—the kind no longer seen in heavyweight bouts. After nearly half-a-minute of battering Holyfield around the ring, Bowe, exhausted, let the champion stall long enough to clear his head. Always an undersized fighter with an oversized heart, Holyfield proved his own never-say-die magnificence by shaking Bowe with blow after blow for the final 30 seconds of the round. The bell rang and everything else seemed anti-climactic after that. Bowe dropped Holyfield in the 11th round and went on to win a clear unanimous decision, becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and, in some strange symbolic/subconscious way, a glimmer of hope for the future.
Later, we were down in the parking lot, waiting for a ride home, the fight long over, but the adrenaline still pumping. That one frosty night in 1992 seems brighter now. The streetlights, come to think of it, glittered like diamonds lost among the high-rises.