CARSON, Calif. -- Timothy Bradley's return to the ring almost ended early and without any controversy that accompanied his upset victory over Manny Pacquiao last June.
Bradley had his hands full with Ruslan Provodnikov from the opening bell. He was on the canvas in the first round, although referee Pat Russell ruled it from a slip and Provodnikov tried to end the night in the second round.
Later, in the 12th, sensing he needed a knockout, Provodnikov finally got Bradley to the canvas with less than 30 seconds left. Bradley beat Russell's count and made it to the end of the fight.
In the end, Bradley (30-0) survived the night to retain his WBO welterweight title with a hard-fought unanimous-decision victory over Provodnikov (22-2).
Judge Jerry Cantu and Marty Denkin scored the fight, 114-113, and Raul Caiz Jr. scored the fight, 115-112, in front of a crowd of about 3,000.
"Tim was in pain every round," Bradley's trainer Joel Diaz said. "He was trying to prove a point to trade punches. He was hit hard in every round.
This was Bradley's first fight since defeating Pacquiao by split decision last June.
In the post-fight interview, Bradley said he thought he had suffered a concussion early in the fight.
"I came out fast. I wanted to jump on him and control the action," Bradley said. "I wanted to show that I wasn't afraid of him, that's why I kept trading with him
That almost cost him.
In the second round, Bradley appeared to be looking at an early ending as Provodnikov zeroed in on him, landing combinations with ease.
By the third round, Bradley appeared to find his groove and started boxing and working off of his jab. In the sixth, however, Provodnikov caught Bradley late with a left that staggered the champion.
Provodnikov, cut and bruised, wouldn't go away, stalking Bradley and finally catching him in the 12th. Provodnikov staggered Bradley back to the ropes on two separate occasions before Bradley took a knee for the knockdown.
Freddie Roach, Provodnikov's trainer, said there should have been three 10-8 rounds in favor for Provodnikov, alluding to the first, second and the 12th round.
"It was a close fight," Roach said. "Bradley had some good rounds also ... we were right in the game. I can't complain about a close loss. I thought we had the bigger puncher and I think that should have given us the edge."
Roach said that Provodnikov will stay at 147. Provodnikov moved up from 140 for the fight.
In a battle of undefeated welterweights, Jessie Vargas (22-0) pulled out a unanimous-decision victory over Wale Omotoso (23-1-1) in a close 10-round fight in the co-main event.
Judges Jonathan Davis and Fritz Werner scored the fight, 96-93, for Vargas and Gwen Adair scored the fight, 97-92.
Omotoso, who rehydrated from 146 to 164, had the only knockdown, sending Vargas to the canvas off a body shot in the second round.
In the fifth, Vargas had Omotoso in serious trouble, backing him up with several overhand rights.
"I thought I won the fight," he said. "I dropped him ... I deserved to win."
On the non-televised undercard, featherweight prospect Jessie Magdaleno improved to 14-0 with his third-round knockout victory over Carlos Fulgencio.
Magdaleno had scored knockdowns in the first two rounds. In the third, he sent Fulgencio to the canvas off of a right uppercut forcing referee Tony Crebbs to call a stop to fight immediately.
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