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Bradley Claims Vacant Belt after Wild Finish

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

For reasons too numerous to mention, the sport of boxing is no stranger to controversy.

And after Saturday night’s fight between Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley and Jessie Vargas, the sweet science can add another colorful chapter to its history book.

This time, it had nothing to do with a phantom punch, a corrupt judge, or a greedy promoter. It had to do with an honest mistake by a veteran referee.

Bradley, who had been cruising through the later rounds of the bout, ate a thunderous overhand right from Vargas that wobbled his legs in the waning moments of the final round. Bradley backed in to the ropes and clinched Vargas, when referee Pat Russell, upon hearing the 10-second warning, stopped the fight, thinking the bell had rung.

A confused Bradley looked on as Vargas climbed the ropes at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. to celebrate what he believed was a stoppage. However, once the dust settled in the ring, the winner was determined by the scorecards, on which there was no doubt that Bradley was well ahead. The judges scored it 117-111, 116-112, and 115-112.

Although the California native dominated the action to claim a vacant interim welterweight title, the fight’s last few seconds, or lack thereof, will have many people, including Vargas, asking for a rematch.

For now, though, Bradley is champion again.

“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,” Russell told HBO’s Max Kellerman in the ring. “You don’t always hear the 10-second warning. You’d like to, but what I thought I heard was the bell. That’s all I can say. It was an honest call based on an honest reaction.”

Desert Storm was fighting for the first time since his draw with Argentina’s Diego Chaves last December.

“I was good enough tonight,” Bradley said. “I don’t have to defend anything. I could’ve squeezed him so tight it would’ve been like his mother was hugging him.

“Absolutely, I’ll give him a rematch.”

Bradley showed little fear of his opponent’s power, as he walked through Vargas’s jab to establish himself as the aggressor right from the opening bell. Bradley landed a number of clean right hands in the middle rounds, when Vargas, who was five years younger and four inches taller, began to fade.

Bradley (32-1-1) had been vocal throughout fight week about his desire to one day secure a spot in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He owns victories over Juan Manuel Marquez, Lamont Peterson, and Devon Alexander. (Officially, he even possesses a win over Manny Pacquiao, although no one outside his camp and the delusional judges who sat ringside will give him credit for it.) But the 31-year-old will need to bolster his resume before he calls it quits.

Vargas (26-1) entered the bout unbeaten, but he hadn’t knocked out an opponent in four years. He’d won his last 10 fights by decision, and was trained for the first time by Mexican icon Erik Morales, who replaced Roy Jones Jr. in his corner. The resident of Las Vegas spent four years with Mayweather Promotions, but signed with Bob Arum’s Top Rank in 2012.

On the undercard, many fight fans caught their first glimpse of featherweight Oscar Valdez, who represented Mexico in the Olympics in 2008 and 2012. Valdez put on a clinic to earn a unanimous-decision victory over Ruben Tamayo, pushing his record to 16-0. The fight was the 1,000th televised by HBO, which began broadcasting fights one year after its debut in 1972.

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