By Thomas Gerbasi
When Bernard Hopkins was 29 fights into his professional boxing career, he was coming off a 12 round draw with Segundo Mercado in their bout for the vacant IBF middleweight title, and frankly, no one cared.
Hopkins was the Philly tough guy who lost a decision to Roy Jones in his first title fight a year and a half earlier, and there were few, if any, hints that the 29-year-old “Executioner” would go on to compile a Hall of Fame resume and carve out his own niche of boxing history along the way.
In comparison, Timothy Bradley is ahead of the game. At 29, and with 29 pro fights, the WBO welterweight champion has held titles in two divisions, he’s unbeaten, and he is coming off the biggest win of his career over Manny Pacquiao last June.
Yet as he approaches the first defense of his 147-pound crown against Russia’s Ruslan Provodnikov this Saturday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, the talk isn’t about the fight, but about Pacquiao, the controversy surrounding the decision, and how Bradley wasn’t able to capitalize on his win in the more than nine months since beating the Filipino icon.
In other words, no one cared.
That’s unfortunate for a number of reasons. First, Bradley has long been one of the sport’s most accessible and affable fighters, always available for an interview or a quick quote, and always a great ambassador for the sport. But getting the brunt of the abuse for the scoring in the Pacquiao fight has made him bitter toward the industry, and rightfully so.
“I didn’t get any credit after the Pacquiao fight, whatsoever,” said Bradley on a recent media teleconference. “People talk about me, my style, that I’m boring. Some people talk about my wife, my kids. People sent me death threats after the fight because (they said) I won undeservingly and should have given the belt back. A lot of different things went on. I can talk all day about things that people said about me. But it doesn’t matter – none of these people are going to get in the ring with me. People can say whatever they want – it is a free country – so I am going to say whatever I want, when I want to say it and how I want to say it. Those people don’t know me at all. If you get to know me, if you know what I go through, how I train and you still talk crap about me, then you have the problem. No one knows what I go through to prepare for my fights. People need to sell papers I guess. I am the nicest guy you will ever meet on the street, ever.”
In the interest of full disclosure, I thought Pacquiao won the fight with Bradley, but it was far from the worst decision I’ve ever seen, and with a few close rounds going the other way, I could make a case for Bradley winning. Regardless of your thoughts on the fight, here’s the thing some people don’t understand: Bradley didn’t score the fight; he fought the fight. Why blame him for the actions of the three judges that night?
Sadly enough, while Bradley didn’t give back the belt, what went on after the fight made it crystal clear that he might as well have lost it. Pacquiao didn’t seek a rematch, instead going on to fight Juan Manuel Marquez for a fourth time. Bradley was linked with possible fights against Lamont Peterson, Robert Guerrero, and Andre Berto, but nothing came to fruition, leaving the Palm Springs, California native with nothing to show for his win, and no way of taking any momentum from the fight forward. That’s not to say he didn’t take any lessons from the whole situation.
“The Pacquiao fight made me grow as a person and as a fighter and it made me realize who was important and who was not important and what is important in my career,” he said. “What is not important is what people’s perception of me is. Everyone has an opinion and they can say whatever they want to say but it’s not going to stop me from what I do and that’s kick butt in the ring. What’s important is my family, and I pay attention to my career and stop worrying about everyone else’s career and what they are making. I just need to focus on my career and my life. Stop reading all this garbage that all these people are writing about me. I stopped reading columns - I used to read it all the time now I don’t read it at all.”
Hopkins is notorious for reading everything anyone wrote about him. If you doubted it, he would cite chapter and verse on some story you wrote five years ago. Hopkins heard what people were saying, he filed it in the back of his head, and he used every negative sentence as motivation to do better and shut the mouths of the critics.
In his 30th fight, in April of 1995, Hopkins stopped Mercado in their rematch and won the title he would hold on to for the next decade, making a record 20 successful defenses in the process. It wasn’t until more than six years later though, in September of 2001, that he began to receive the acclaim that was rightfully his, as he stopped Felix Trinidad in the 12th round of their highly anticipated superfight. It was a performance for the time capsule, and one unleashed at precisely the right time. From there, no one would ignore Hopkins again.
Bradley has had two opportunities to make his statement to the world, and while he won both, defeating Devon Alexander in 2011 and Pacquiao last year, the focus afterward would be on the empty Silverdome he and Alexander fought in, and the controversial judges’ verdict in the Pacquiao fight. That’s why it’s imperative for Bradley to not just beat Provodnikov this weekend, but to beat him with style. And that’s his plan going in.
“Every fight from here on out is a statement fight, especially coming after the Pacquiao fight,” he said. “I am looking to make a statement in this fight and I am looking to damage this guy. I am looking to put this guy out. I don’t want to go 12 rounds with this guy. The longer he stays around the more confident he will get so I want to get him out of there as soon as possible.”
It’s the way of the Executioner. For Hopkins, each fight was an opportunity to tell the world why he shouldn’t be ignored and why he belongs in the big money fights with the best in the game. Eventually, he got his point across. Now it’s time for Tim Bradley to do the same thing. Forget what everybody else is saying and just fight – anyone, anytime, anywhere. And when his time comes again – and it will, and it won’t take six years - he must capitalize, because as forgiving as boxing can be, there probably won’t be a fourth chance for him to make his mark.