By Jake Donovan
Perhaps the best thing to happen to Tim Bradley’s career is to have never gained the full support of the boxing community at large. The chip he carries on his shoulder is precisely the edge needed to remind fans of just how much is at stake in his rematch with Manny Pacquiao, which takes place April 12, live on HBO PPV from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
There has been no shortage of evidence that Bradley enters the lucrative sequel with something to prove, however strange that may sound for an unbeaten fighter and defending welterweight titlist. Yet, Saturday’s premiere of HBO’s Face Off With Max Kellerman: Pacquiao/Bradley 2 carried a far different tone than when the two fighters sat across one another during the same format for their first fight in June ’12.
Bradley was a considerable underdog heading into their first fight, and seemed okay with the role. The unbeaten Californian had his fun, mockingly promoting a rematch during the buildup to their fight at a time when Pacquiao was still regarded as one of the two best fighters in the world, and there still remained hope (or desperation) that a historically lucrative clash with Floyd Mayweather could one day happen.
The mere thought of Bradley believing he could defy the odds was addressed by Face Off host Max Kellerman, at a time when HBO still claimed Mayweather among its stable and still acted as if there was a chance in hell of the superfight ever happening.
The latest meet between old rivals saw a different side of Bradley, who looks to make the third defense of the welterweight title he lifted – some suggest “stole” – from Pacquiao nearly two years ago. There was no hint of giddiness, a fighter asked to know his role in the promotion, or any suggestion of nerves that were perhaps evident during what was his first major event.
This time around, Bradley came in with the fighter believing he has everything to lose – and yet everything to prove.
“I continue to beat the odds. I don't understand why people don't believe in me,” Bradley bluntly asked during the segment.
The statement came after an exchange between the fighter and commentator regarding the controversial nature of the first fight. Following 12 rounds of action at the very same venue that will host the rematch, there was little doubt that Pacquiao had done enough to extend his seven year-long win streak, while racking up his fourth welterweight title defense.
Two of the three judges disagreed with public opinion, handing Bradley a widely unpopular split decision win.
The first words out of Kellerman’s mouth during their post-fight interview were to congratulate Bradley for offering such heart and courage during a grueling 12-round affair, spending much of the fight biting through a fractured left foot.
The first question out of Kellerman’s mouth was an attempt to get Bradley to admit he believed he lost the fight. The interviewed was played at the start of Saturday’s Face Off… session, as Kellerman once again attempted to solicit an “honest” response from a fighter whom he referred to as a straight shooter.
“"You're one of the most honest athletes I've ever talked to,” Kellerman said to Bradley, who knew exactly where the host was going. Before even hearing the rest of the question, Bradley immediately – and bluntly – spit out a response.
“Eight (rounds) to four,” Bradley said, with a straight face, insisting he won the fight by an even wider margin than the pair of 115-113 scorecards offered in his favor that night.
“You won the fight eight to four,” Kellerman replied, albeit in utter disbelief.
“Eight to four,” Bradley repeated. “I'll sit down with anyone and review a tape of the fight.”
The segment wasn’t all tension, nor has that been the desired tone at any point during their press tour. Of course, whenever the subject arises of Bradley being asked to speak his mind, the truth – as he sees it – will immediately and unapologetically follow.
It took more than a year for Bradley to get to this point after signing with Top Rank late in 2011. His intention of signing with the Vegas-based promoter was to of course land a showdown with Pacquiao. However, it took a herculean effort in his Fight of the Year with Ruslan Provodnikov last March and his close but clear points win over Juan Manuel Marquez in October to finally send notice to his promoter that all needed to be forgiven for beating the company cash cow.
While obviously never thrilled with promoter Bob Arum launching an investigation into the scoring behind Bradley-Pacquiao I, all that Bradley ever wanted was to keep fighting – in the ring. It took nine months for that to happen and for a lot of forgiveness on both sides, but what’s come of the series of events is a fighter now on a mission every time he steps into the ring.
The thought of redemption for a fight he officially won seems a little silly on the surface, but serves as the perfect complement to the red alert status surrounding Pacquiao these days. Prior to their first fight, the Filipino superstar merely had to keep winning in order to remain relevant at the sport’s highest level.
Not even yet another close and controversial decision with Juan Manuel Marquez – their third in as many fights at the time – was enough to convince the masses that Pacquiao was in fact a mere mortal. That he lost to Bradley was dismissed as a heinous crime, but his subsequent knockout loss to Marquez later that year sent shockwaves through the industry.
A dominant win over Brandon Rios last November proved far too monotonous to suggest any legitimate proof that Pacquiao is all the way back. Because of that, doubt exists on both sides of the promotion – whether the former eight-division champ can return to old form, and if Bradley can score a controversy-free win against whatever version of Pacquiao exists these days.
Both fighters are well aware of what they are up against. Only one is tipping his hand, though.
“I have to focus and train hard, not like before. I have to get back my aggressiveness,” Pacquiao admitted when it was suggested that the fire and explosiveness that existed during his rise to superstardom hadn’t been evident in his past several fights.
While nobody flipped over a table or unnecessarily embarked on a profanity-laced tirade, Bradley let it be known that he believes to have in front of him an inferior fighter.
“There's nothing bad I can say about Manny. There's nothing bad I can say. The only thing I can say is that hunger that he's looking for - it's no longer there and he can't get it back,” Bradley insisted.
“Manny, it's no longer there.”
“I’ve always had it,” Pacquiao would politely reply, perhaps unwillingly proving Bradley’s point.
“I don't know how he lost it. He's not the same. He's a tremendous fighter. But I do not see (that killer instinct),” Bradley says of his upcoming challenger before turning his attention exclusively to Pacquiao. “I don't think you're old. I don’t think you're not a great fighter. You're a great fighter, a tremendous fighter. I just feel that it's my time.”
It’s a point that, this time around, Bradley is all too happy to drive home. Whether fans believe it or if the jury is still out, can only bode well for the promotion surrounding the event.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox