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Bradley vs. Vargas Boxing controversy on HBO

By Jeremy Wall

Timothy Bradley Jr (32-1-1, 12KO) defeated Jessie Vargas (26-1-0, 9KO) via unanimous decision on Saturday, June 27th to win the vacant interim WBO Welterweight title. It drew 4,711 to the StubHub Center in Carson. It was promoted by Top Rank and aired on HBO. It was the 1,000th fight that HBO has ever broadcast, dating back to their first bout, which was George Foreman stopping Joe Frazier in the second round in Jamaica on January 22nd, 1973.

Bradley-Vargas was an exciting fight that Bradley was obviously winning until in the final ten seconds of the twelfth round. Vargas staggered Bradley with an overhand right in the closing seconds of the fight. At the same time, the timekeeper hit the clapper to signal that only ten seconds remained. Referee Pat Russell though the sound of the clapper was the final bell and he stepped in and stopped the fight. Everyone else watching thought Russell stopped the fight because Vargas had staggered Bradley. Vargas was even celebrating on the ropes until the ring announcer explained the situation.

The fight finished with scores of 117-111, 116-112 and 115-112 for Bradley.

"It was very loud in that 12th round and I thought I heard the bell and the fight was over when the bell went off," said Russell.

"He caught me with a good shot at the end," said Bradley. "The ref thought that he heard the bell. I was good enough. I could have maintained. I grabbed hold of him toward the end of the fight and I was squeezing him so tight it was like his mom was holding him. Hey, we can do it again."

"Can I get a rematch, man?" Vargas asked after the fight.

"Why not? Why not? We can do a rematch," said Bradley. "Hey, I don't have a problem with that. We can definitely do a rematch, man. Jessie came out and fought hard."

Even though it was an honest mistake by Russell, it may have saved Bradley from being knocked out.

Bradley landed 232 of 676 punches for 34-percent compared to 203 of 630 punches for 32-percent landed by Vargas. So the overall fight stats were close, although it depends on how those stats break down round-by-round.

Bradley earned $1.5 million. Vargas earned $600,000.

Bradley was fighting for an interim title because Floyd Mayweather Jr is the regular WBO Welterweight titleholder. Originally, the Bradley-Vargas fight was intended for Floyd's regular title because after beating Pacquiao in May, Floyd claimed he was vacating all of his titles. A few weeks later, however, Floyd changed his mind.

The WBO prohibits fighters from holding titles in multiple weight classes at the same time. Floyd currently holds the WBC, WBA, and WBO Welterweight titles and the WBC and WBA Super Welterweight titles. He won the WBO Welterweight title from Pacquiao. In order to keep the WBO belt, Floyd has until Friday, June 3rd to pay the sanctioning fee and vacate his WBC and WBA Welterweight titles, otherwise he will be stripped of the WBO Welterweight title.

Yes, it's confusing.

Bradley is one of the top pound-for-pound boxers and is most famous for his two fights with Manny Pacquiao in 2012 and 2014 respectively, the former of which Bradley won by split-decision. It was Pacquiao's first loss since dropping a unanimous decision to Erik Morales in 2005. Pacquiao, however, beat Bradley in their 2014 rematch by unanimous decision.

Bradley is also a former WBC and WBO Super Lightweight champion and holds wins over Lamont Peterson and Devon Alexander among others in that weight division. Bradley subsequently vacated those titles to move up to welterweight to challenge Pacquiao for the WBO Welterweight title. After Bradley won that belt in their first fight, he defended it against Ruslan Provodnikov and Juan Manuel Marquez, both fights taking place in 2013. He beat Provodnikov by unanimous decision in 2013's fight of the year, also at the StubHub Center. He beat Marquez, who also holds a win over Pacquiao, by split-decision.

Bradley, 31, has struggled recently, though. After losing the WBO Welterweight title to Pacquiao last year, Bradley came back with a split-draw against Diego Gabriel Chaves this past December. And now he was nearly knocked out in the twelfth round by Jessie Vargas, although Bradley won the rest of their fight.

Vargas, 26, went into his fight against Bradley undefeated and was a former WBA Super Lightweight champion, beating Khabib Allakhverdiev in 2014 to win the title. Vargas had successful defenses against Anton Novikov and Antonio DeMarco before vacating the title to move up to welterweight to challenge Bradley for the interim WBO Welterweight title. Vargas also hired Erik Morales to be his head trainer for the fight.

Vargas is still young and although Bradley seemed the better fighter, Vargas was good enough to challenge Bradley and then nearly upset him in the twelfth round with his overhand right. Vargas has potential. A rematch would be interesting, although Bradley would be once again favoured to win. Perhaps they can do the rematch for the actual WBO Welterweight title once it is vacated by Mayweather.

If not a rematch with Vargas, another possible opponent for Bradley is Gennady Golovkin. There are a ton of fighters in the welterweight and middleweight range that are rumoured to be possible opponents for Golovkin, including Bradley, David Lemieux, Carl Froch, Andre Ward, Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez, Floyd Mayweather Jr, and even Oscar de la Hoya.

Bob Arum has said that if Bradley fights Golovkin, it will take place at 154-pounds, which is junior middleweight. Golovkin has only discussed going down to junior middleweight for a possible fight with Mayweather, which will never happen.

“I can see it in a lot of ways, Bradley beating Golovkin,” said Arum. “He can’t knock him out, he can’t stop him, but he’s going to be very tough to hit, and Golovkin is going to take a lot of punches from Bradley. So, I really think this could be a super, super fight. I don’t see why not [the fight being on pay-per-view]. Now what you have to do is make it sell is to load it up it up with Hispanics.”

"I do not think Golovkin will go down to 154-pounds," said Bradley's trainer Joel Diaz. "Also, one should interpret what Bradley means when he says he would be willing to face GGG. What he's showing us with his words, is his mentality as a fighter, not avoiding anyone, to always be ready for the best."

Another possible opponent for Bradley is Sadam Ali. Ali, 26, is coming off a win over Francisco Santana in Ali's debut on HBO on the undercard of the Klitschko-Jenning fights at Madison Square Garden in April. Ali is also promoted by Top Rank and has potential to be a great fighter and some box office potential, so this would be a good fight if Top Rank feels that facing Bradley would elevate Ali.

Bradley-Vargas on HBO probably drew decent ratings. There wasn't as much boxing competition on television this weekend as compared to last. The NBA and NHL playoffs are both over. UFC had a show on Fox Sports 1, but I think UFC is more so ratings competition for PBC than for HBO. PBC is trying to reach a younger demographic than HBO, which has been unsuccessful so far. That younger demo watches UFC. Also, people who subscribe to HBO to watch boxing aren't going to miss a major fight, as that is somewhat like buying a pay per view and then not watching it. Bradley hasn't really proven to be a draw on pay per view for his fights with Pacquiao and Marquez, however.

PBC didn't have a card this weekend. Next weekend is July 4th, so there's no major boxing on television. I think the return of boxing to mainstream popularity in 2015 has greatly benefited HBO, which is PBC's primary competition, even though it is PBC that is mostly responsible for boxing’s surge in popularity. Ratings on HBO have been way up this year, which probably means more of their subscribers are watching boxing, or HBO has increased its subscriber base with people who purchased the channel to watch more boxing.

PBC feels like it is losing stream, especially after their dual network shows on NBC and CBS last weekend proved flat in the ratings. PBC, however, returns on July 11th, debuting on ESPN with Keith Thurman vs Luis Collazo in showcase fight for Thurman. PBC replaces Friday Night Fights on ESPN, although unlike Friday Night Fights, PBC will air on ESPN rather than ESPN2. It goes up against boxing on HBO Latino. PBC has also yet to debut on ABC, which is part of ESPN's corporate family, and are rumoured to be debuting shortly on Fox Sports 1, which could include a deal to air on Fox. So, the war for hearts and minds in boxing still has a way to go.

Speaking of PBC, Al Haymon made news recently. It's noteworthy anytime Haymon is in the news because he does everything he can to avoid attention from the media. He was scheduled to be deposed Tuesday in California in a lawsuit against him and Warriors Boxing, a promoter he frequently works with for PBC events. The lawsuit was filed by Bad Dog Productions, who claimed that Haymon and Warriors tampered with Bad Dog's promotional contract with Rances Barthelemy. Barthelemy is under contract to Haymon and fought on CBS last weekend.

Haymon, however, came down with a mysterious illness and is unable to testify Tuesday. What timing. The attorney for Bad Dog says they will try and reschedule the deposition within the next thirty days.

Also, earlier this week the California State Athletic Commission said they had discovered some time ago that Haymon had sabotaged rival promoters, mainly Golden Boy, which is one of PBC's chief rivals. Haymon would hold dates at key venues (mainly Staples Center and the Forum) that prevented rivals from staging fights at those venues and then Haymon would drop his dates once his rivals scheduled fights elsewhere.

"He was holding up the dates at the Forum and at Staples Center. We took that away," said John Frierson of the CSAC.

This is actually pretty common practice among combat sports and pro wrestling. Haymon reminds me so much of Vince Jr in the 1980s in Vince's promotional tactics and methodology for what he attempted to accomplish by "taking over" pro wrestling. Junior, however, won his war, but what happens with Haymon remains to be seen.