LONDON – Timothy Bradley warned the boxing world that Juan Manuel Márquez would be the toughest opponent of his career, and after Saturday night, it would be hard to disagree with him.
For the third consecutive fight, Bradley had his hand raised after a disputed verdict, defeating the Mexican legend by 12-round split decision to retain his WBO welterweight title.
Judges Patricia Morse Jarman (116-112) and Robert Hoyle (115-113) scored the bout for Bradley, overruling Glenn Feldman's 115-113 tally for Marquez.
A heavily pro-Marquez crowd at the Thomas and Mack Center jeered the announcement of the scores, but an unfazed Bradley was confident he deserved the win.
"I understand the scoring, but I thought I won on the majority of the cards," the American said.
The clash involved the last two men to officially defeat former pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao in 2012.
While Bradley aimed to prove his controversial decision win over Pacquiao was no fluke, Marquez hoped to demonstrate that his sublime stoppage of the Filipino did not signal the end of his prime.
"I knew that this was my moment," Bradley (31-0, 12 KOs) said after the win. "I made adjustments. He's a veteran. I expected that. I had to stay solid with my defense and stay hungry."
Utilizing his speed and agility, the American boxed beautifully throughout the fight, but was forced to weather a late surge from Marquez (55-7-1, 40 KOs) to capture the victory in an affair where both men exhibited tactical brilliance and several rounds were close enough to go either way.
Bradley had appeared to take early control by slipping Marquez's shots and finding a home for his own counter right hand over the top. However, the Mexican's crippling body shots might have taken their effect as the bout progressed, and Bradley's punch output suddenly decreased.
The fans rose in unison in the 10th when Marquez pounded Bradley with a left hook and the two grazed shoulders during a furious exchange.
But the American answered back with a right hand on the button that stopped the charging Marquez in his tracks, and the mystery continued as to who held the advantage on the scorecards.
The final round produced substantial drama. A screaming straight right hand from Marquez blasted Bradley, who then walked to his right with his hands down and glared at his rival as if to signify he was not dazed.
With seconds left, the fighters traded blows, and a left hook from Bradley jolted Marquez with enough force that his glove almost touched the canvas. While the Mexican recalibrated his balance and stayed upright until the bell, his act of resilience turned out to be irrelevant.
As for who Bradley will face next, the defending champion was noncommittal, but hoped that his performance re-established him as one of boxing's best.
"I'm going to sit down to talk to my team," Bradley said. "I want to fight nothing but the best. You have to consider me top three in the world now. There's [Floyd] Mayweather, there's Andre Ward, and there's Tim Bradley, baby." – The Guardian