It was painful to view. And my scorecard reflected my desire to prolong the feint hope of Junior Witter finally securing the chance to face arch-rival Ricky Hatton before both got too old or too fat for anyone to care. Placing the credit for the victory at the door of Ricky Hatton, given it was young Timothy Bradley in the ring throwing punches, would be ungracious and unfair but there was certainly a shadow of the wealthy Hitman over the split decision triumph for the American.
In the past two years Witter’s performances have proved hard to predict, sloppy and increasingly reliant on single power shots the slick, sliding two handed combination puncher has made way for a more economic, stationary incarnation. Against Vivian Harris, Witter looked more focused and revitalised. His timing was greatly improved and the result reflected his talent but that, when his whole body of work is studied, has proved an exceptional rather than typical performance.
Though largely unheralded, Timothy Bradley always struck me as the type of opponent likely to go a step further than the orthodox but less dynamic pairing of Colin Lynes and Andres Kotelnik who both came mightily close to derailing Witter. Like most American fighters, Bradley talked the talk. But his words contained an authority beyond his years and the confidence of a man who fully believed he knew everything Witter had, and had compiled an answer for it.
Bradley didn’t play mere lip service to the study of Witter’s style as his predecessors, Corley and Harris did. The 24 year old is a student of his contemporaries and claims to have spent a year understanding and unravelling Witter’s style. It showed. Burrowing forward with this chin down and his hands moving brought him early success, and was later replaced by a more patient strategy to force Witter to lead and counter him with faster, straighter punches.
Witter couldn’t summon similar adaptability of style, his constant switching of stances occasionally created enough space to landed a sweeping left hook but it belied a rusty fighter without enough tactical nous to change the direction of the fight.
As far as the TV coverage would permit, he received precious little constructive advice in the corner either. Perhaps at 34, little advice is likely to alter anything but the Ingles didn’t have their best night between rounds. Despite the clear manner of his defeat, Witter remained perplexed by the verdict – a skewed perspective likely to be made 20:20 when he reviews the tape.
It was left to Bradley to explain to the viewing public the reason for Witter’s collapse on his big night.
“The whole time he just kept talking about Hatton,” said Bradley. “And if you have your mind set on something else you’re not really ready for the big show that’s ahead. He trained hard for me but his mind was on Ricky Hatton.”
Perhaps, even without facing him as he should have – and this defeat doesn’t alter that fact – the spectre of Ricky Hatton still proved too much for the Yorkshireman.
The acclaim must go to Bradley for his old-fashioned contendership. He was mentally, physically and emotionally ready for the challenge, followed a game plan and gave everything he had to overcome the champion. No insipid performances here, no unfounded hoopla and no hollow threats. Just straight forward all business professionalism.
Hats off to Witter for accommodating the young challenger and applause to Bradley for the dignity he showed in victory. Perhaps when Witter regroups, as he asserts he will, his fortunes will be assisted by the hunger of being the challenger and under-dog again. In victory over N’Dou and Harris, when consensus opinion favoured the opponent, his performance has far outstripped any he has offered as favourite or champion.