By Jake Donovan
Despite its strong finish, 2010 was largely a year to forget.
Leading the charge of those who couldn’t wait for the calendar to read 01-01-2011 was Tim Bradley.
There are some fighters in the game who are content with getting a big win and then spending the rest of their time collecting paychecks while protecting their assets – be it a major title, a prestigious ranking, and possibly an undefeated record.
The last item was the one thing on Bradley’s wish list for 2010, to remain unbeaten. He worked hard in 2009 to keep his “0,” leading a Fighter of the Year campaign against top competition.
He thought more of the same would come in 2010 – tough fights in which he would win to further validate his credentials as one of the best in the game.
Instead, he was left with one fight. His “0” was still intact, but in the end it became a cruel lesson in being careful what you wish for.
“In the past, day-to-day, month-to-month, you think a little different,” Bradley confessed when asked to comment on what his undefeated record means to him. “Last year I was asked what I wanted for 2010 and I said I wanted to remain undefeated.
“This year, I just want the best fights. The zero on my record doesn’t matter to me.”
What does mattered to the chiseled Californian is reestablishing his claim as the best junior welterweight in the world.
It’s an honor that Bradley (26-0-0-1NC, 11KO) has held ever since it became clear that Manny Pacquiao’s stay in the division was going to be one and done. He managed to maintain that lead despite enduring stiff competition from fellow titlists Devon Alexander and Amir Khan to make it a three-horse race for 140 lb. supremacy.
Bradley is now ready to fend off the competition, beginning with this weekend’s unification bout against Alexander. The pair of unbeaten 140 lb. titlists meet at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan in a bout that kicks off the 2011 boxing season for cable giant HBO (Saturday, 10PM ET/7PM PT).
The fight will mark the third straight in which an undefeated opponent will stand across the ring from Bradley, yet the first time in more than a year in which he feels what’s being offered matches what he expects when he demands to fight the best available competition.
“This is a huge fight. I don’t know on what scale everyone else out there sees this fight but this is the biggest fight of my career and Devon’s career. It shows what type of fighters we are. We are young and both in our prime and you rarely ever see two undefeated guys – two world champions – Americans, fight each other.”
Much has been made of the rare matchup in this day and age of two undefeated African-Americans facing each other in the respective primes of their careers. It’s a fight that could’ve happened as early as 18 months ago, when Bradley was still in the first year of his title reign and Alexander advanced to mandatory contender status.
Bradley, however, was in search of bigger game at the time. He was barely a year removed from the biggest win of his career at the time, a 12-round decision victory over Junior Witter in England, Bradley’s first fight outside of the U.S., in fact outside of his native California.
Instead, he vacated the belt and proceeded with his plan to face the biggest challenges out there. Including in his 2009 run were: a points win over then-titlist Kendall Holt; a knockout win-turned no-contest against Nate Campbell, who was only six months removed from his reign as lightweight champ; and a points win over then-unbeaten Top 10 contender Lamont Peterson.
The decision to vacate a belt along the way put Alexander in line to challenge for and win his first title. That moment in time set the wheels in motion for an eventual head-on collision between the two, but not before it could advance from just another fight to a highly anticipated event.
“This fight has been building for about a year now and I think fight fans are getting crazy about it and boxing writers. I knew exactly what I was doing,” Bradley insists. “Regardless of what anybody said – that I was running and that I was scared – I knew exactly what I was doing and now look at the magnitude of this fight. For me holding out we are both going to get blessed after this fight. The winner is going to be a superstar.”
It’s a status Bradley hoped to achieve after enjoying a career-best year in 2009. Instead, he was forced to sit idly by, watching Alexander come up big in a March ’10 alphabet unification bout with Juan Urango, and watching Khan come out aces in a Fight of the Year candidate against Marcos Maidana.
The latter bout became somewhat of a bitter pill to swallow for Bradley, considering he was scheduled to face Maidana earlier in the year in what was to serve as his HBO debut. The matchup was actually announced, only for Maidana to pull out of the fight after it was revealed that he was falsely represented at the negotiating table, a move that led to his cleaning house and changing managers.
When all was said and done, Bradley was forced to move up in weight, where he took care of previously unbeaten Luis Carlos Abregu in his eventual HBO debut last July. The 12-round points win he earned that night was good, but not great, and did little to further his credentials while the 140 lb. division was just warming up.
The ensuing months saw an intense battle at the negotiating table, not just with Alexander but also with co-promoter Gary Shaw, as their promotional agreement was coming to a close.
Such ingredients normally create a recipe for disaster, but the boxing world got what it wanted in the end, which is in line with what Bradley always longs for – fights that can further his career.
I just want to constantly fight the best. I will become the best by fighting the best and giving the boxing fans the best fights out there that can possible be made. I am sick of fighting average guys. Win this fight, who’s next? Khan? Let’s go. After Khan, Maidana, let’s go. After him, Marquez.
“There are so many fights out there to be made at 140. It’s great and I’m loving it.”
Though retirement is a long way off, Bradley is already preparing for the legacy he wants to leave behind once he’s done with the game. It might include some losses along the way, or it could have him running the tables and remaining unbeaten.
All that he asks while in the present is that the best step to him in the ring, and that he is appreciated for wanting to prove he’s the best rather than marching in step with a generation of fighters who believe that greatness is an entitlement.
“My biggest goal in boxing is just to be remembered. I don’t want to be forgotten about. Whether I win seven or eight world championships, that will be in the history books and I just want to be remembered. That is my biggest goal. You do that by fighting the best.”
With 2010 forever in the rearview mirror, Tim Bradley proudly resumes his pursuit of excellence.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at [email protected] .