Timothy Bradley was considered a champion only in title. He was awarded a victory he didn't earn against Manny Pacquiao, but he had a chance to prove the doubters wrong against a vastly inferior fighter named Ruslan Provodnikov.
Instead, thanks to being knocked down twice—once in the first round and once in the 12th round—and standing on legs so rickety it's a miracle he didn't collapse one more time, Bradley's performance validated every negative thing said about him after the Pacquiao fight.
An optimist would say that Bradley, for all the negatives, came out on top where it mattered most: on the scorecards. But as we know from that Pacquiao fight, what the judges think doesn't always fly with what actually happened in the fight.
What is the biggest takeaway from Bradley's close win?
To his credit, Bradley did change his usually boring stick-and-move style that has catapulted him to an undefeated record of 30-0. He came out of the gate getting in the face of Provodnikov, trading punches back and forth until the final bell sounded.
Yet it was also telling that, for all the changes he made, Bradley was unable to knock Provodnikov down during the fight. That is not to say that the Russian didn't take a beating—his face looked like he was in a bad car accident—but you wanted to see more.
Not to mention that Provodnikov had never been on a stage like this, against a fighter of Bradley's caliber, and he still managed to knock the WBO welterweight champion twice.
Bradley even said after the fight (h/t Associated Press via USNews.com) that Provodnikov was more powerful than Pacquiao:
He's much more powerful than Pacquiao. He hits harder, and has shorter punches. He's a great puncher, and I take my hat off to him.
What all of this means is that Bradley, though he may have made a few new fans for showing a lot of guts and determination in his latest fight, still has a long way to go if he wants to be taken seriously and put in that elite category of fighters.
Rankings and lists are all wholly subjective, but when Bradley goes up against a young, unproven, largely unknown fighter in his backyard and has to escape with a narrow victory, it shows he is not ready to compete with the big boys in the sport.
Bradley has time to get to that level—after all, he is only 29 years old. But this fight proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he just isn't there yet.