A courageous performance in boxing terms cannot come about without the ingredient of a fighter’s ability to weather blows past the point of weariness and still emerge with arms raised vertically in victory.
Another is fortunate.
Bradley continued his recent tradition of winning fights in debatable fashion with his win against Provodnikov, directly following his split-decision twelve-round win over a far less exposed and vulnerable version of the politician from the Philippines.
In a fight in which both fighters landed nearly an equivalent number of punches—35 percent to 32 percent—though Bradley was on the higher end of those percentages according to Compubox, had the fight ended as a draw, it wouldn’t have been illegitimate.
Yet, despite surviving a brutal first and second round and nearly being knocked out in the final 15 seconds against Provodnikov, Bradley emerged with his undefeated record in tact, as well as a champion in need of a new challenger.
Within are several potential targets for the 29-year-old Bradley in his next potential title defense.
Keith “One Time” Thurman (20-0, 18 KOs), by way of defeating Jan Zaveck (32-3, 18 KOs) in their WBO title eliminator on March 9th by unanimous decision, earned mandatory challenger status for Bradley’s belt.
However, in the world of boxing the words "mandatory challenger" carry as much weight as a busload of supermodels on the way to a Milan runway show, which is to say not a lot of weight.
From a money making and negotiating perspective, with Thurman being represented by Golden Boy, this matchup for Bradley would be more suspect than others on the list, but nevertheless it would provide an opportunity to further solidify his resilience to an up-and-coming raw power puncher.
Thurman, at least temporarily, answered two questions in his most recent win, including whether he could remain effective in the later rounds of a twelve rounder, going the distance against Zaveck as well as beating a more reputable contender.
Although he is the mandatory challenger, a title fight at this point may be slightly premature for Thurman. However, with more performances like the one against Zaveck, in which all three judges scored it 120-108 for Thurman, as long as Bradley retains the title and his unbeaten record, he will potentially have to reckon with “One Time” in the near future.
The win over Manny Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 KOs) in June 2012, was one that should have seemingly further cemented Bradley’s reputation in the division. But because of its ambiguousness, it actually resulted in a backlash of barbs towards Bradley and the sport in general.
Beyond both being represented by Top Rank, an advantage in possible negotiations for a rematch, Pacquiao and Bradley know the benefit of being able to convince a panel of judges that they were able to win a fight despite permeating doubt from the rest of the planet as to those renderings.
Pacquiao was severely scrutinized for his wins over Juan Manuel Marquez, prior to the one-punch-to-the-grill retribution Marquez earned in their fourth fight. Bradley has now won his last two fights in what many hardcore fans found to be non-definitive decisions.
The contract that was signed for the first fight with Bradley, included a rematch clause for Pacquiao pending his losing the match, though whether there is an incentive to make the match, and for who, remains dubious.
For Bradley, a rematch with Pacquiao could provide an opportunity to drive the negotiation process as the undefeated welterweight champion having already notched a win over the Filipino.
However, another win over Pac-Man, whose skills have come into question recently, and whom seems destined for a fifth fight against Marquez, could potentially pale to the potential of a match against some of the other contenders on this list.
Although a rematch between these two fighters may not have the same earning power in terms of PPV and gate sales—as it would—had Pacquiao been able to defeat Marquez and Bradley were able to more convincingly handle Provodnikov, it could still bring closure and resolution following the controversy of the first fight, as well as clarity to the resulting direction of both fighters careers.
With one cinder block disguised as a red gloved right hand to Pacquiao's face, Marquez secured redemption in the series of scintillating matches between the two fighters and juiced his earning power for upcoming fights.
Although much chatter points to a potential fifth match between the two men, it is feasible that Marquez, with the retribution in the series that he sought, as well as his desire for the WBO welterweight belt that Bradley retains, could opt for a title bout against the 29-year-old native Californian.
Again the fact that both men are represented by Top Rank would prove a significant element within the negotiation process, and a win for either man would bring with it marked significance.
For Bradley beating Marquez would further solidify his undefeated record against a seasoned and strident veteran whose three out of his six career losses have come against the biggest names in the sport, including Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather and Chris John.
For Marquez, a win over the WBO welterweight champion would intensify his burgeoning legacy in the ring, allowing him to retire as a belt holder should he choose to, or setup several potential matches, including potentially fighting the winner of the May 4th Floyd Mayweather vs. Robert Guerrero match.
Top Rank's resident fat head, Bob Arum, has already attested to the interchangeability of his stable fighters as opponents for one another, in respect to the current uncertainty of Bradley, Marquez and Pacquiao's next opponents. Nevertheless, the likelihood of Bradley meeting at least one of the fighters on the list is fairly bankable.
The first fight between Brandon Rios (31-0-1, 23 KOs) and Mike Alvarado (33-1, 23 KOs), although ending in a seventh round TKO by Rios, was mint worthy, and among the fights contending for the best of 2012. The winner of this fight surely would have the legitimate leverage necessary to negotiate with Bradley for a chance at his belt.
Of course, there are several scenarios in play, but being that these two Top Rank fighters fight within the next week on March 30th, the fallout from their fight could become the catalyst for Bradley's potential pick for his next title defense.
Should Marquez and Pacquiao come to the table for a fifth time, the likelihood of the winner of Rios vs. Alvarado II would seem to become the front-runner for Bradley.