Timothy Bradley vs Ruslan Provodnikov 'close' for March 16 on HBO

Kevork Djansezian

Timothy Bradley may finally be returning to the ring, as the WBO welterweight titlist is reportedly close to finalizing a deal to face Ruslan Provodnikov on March 16.

It's probably not the fight that Timothy Bradley wanted, and it's sure as hell not the fight that anyone would have expected to be next for a man whose last bout was a win -- robbery or not -- over Manny Pacquiao, but Bradley is reportedly close to finalizing a deal to face Ruslan Provodnikov on March 16. HBO will televise the fight.

Bradley (29-0, 12 KO) hasn't fought since his extremely controversial win over Pacquiao on June 9 of last year, and discussed return fights in December were scrapped, leading to talk of a February or March comeback that seemed increasingly close to falling by the wayside, too.

Provodnikov (22-1, 15 KO) is a solid, entertaining fighter at junior welterweight, but figures to be a bit out of his depth against someone of Bradley's ability. The 29-year-old Russian has a loss to Mauricio Herrera, and also struggled with DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley in December 2011, though the hometown judges gave Provodnikov wide scores in that bout.

The fight will have VADA testing for both Bradley and Provodnikov.

It's really not a bad fight, but Bradley certainly isn't gaining much more than getting back in the ring with this fight. Beating Provodnikov won't impress many, and a loss here would be devastating for Tim's career. But as we've said many times, he needs to get in there and just fight again, and move on with his career, be it against Provodnikov or Mike Alvarado or Lamont Peterson or Yuriorkis Gamboa, or anyone else who was brought up as a potential opponent. So in that respect, this is nothing but good news. Bradley needs to fight, and that looks like it's coming.

One thing this does expose is just how shallow the Top Rank stable is at 140-147 pounds, especially compared to rival Golden Boy. This is a situation that would have been far easier if the companies could manage to get over a lot of things and work together to help one another, and the sport, and its fans, but they can't, so we're getting Bradley-Provodnikov instead of, say, Bradley-Berto.

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