By Jake Donovan
Even on the heels of a leading Fight of the Year candidate, it’s a stretch to say that the boxing world has shown as much respect to Tim Bradley as he has shown to the sport of boxing. The always-sculpted and undefeated two-division champ has fought at the sport’s highest level of competition for at least the past four years yet is still treated by the industry at large as if he has something to prove.
That won’t stop him from loving what he does. Nor will it stop him from giving respect to others where respect is due, even when those “others” are standing in the opposite corner on fight night. Chief among those Bradley holds in the highest regard is his very next opponent, Juan Manuel Marquez, whom he faces this weekend at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“I have always been a fan of Márquez,” Bradley (30-0, 12KO) unapologetically admits of his legendary opponent. “I always thought he was a great fighter and I still think he’s a great fighter. I want to fight the best to be the best in this sport. I don’t do this just to make money, of course the money is important for my family, but I do this to be the best. That’s what motivates me and drives me.”
It was that very same drive that prompted Bradley to update his passport in 2008 for two separate road trips after a career spent at home in California. A trip to Mexico proved for naught when Jose Luis Castillo added a chapter to his troubled career by missing weight for their 140 lb. title eliminator. Bradley still got his title shot, traveling to jolly old England two months later, upending Junior Witter for his first major title.
That very same drive eventually led him to sign with Top Rank, with the hope that it would lead to a showdown with Manny Pacquiao, who at the time was – along with Floyd Mayweather – the sport’s leading fighter at the box office and in the ring.
Bradley received that opportunity sooner than expected, but the result – a controversial split decision in their June ’12 encounter – proved more harm than good for his career. Even his own promoter, Bob Arum chose sides in the aftermath, condemning the judges who scored against his cash cow and vowing an investigation into a matter he believed could only be the result of corruption or ignorance.
The level of disdain was evident on Bradley’s ring ledger, which shows nine months of inactivity (including a failed attempt at a floated rematch with Lamont Peterson last December) before returning to the ring this past March.
It took for an unrealistic amount of heart shown in his 12-round war with Ruslan Provodnikov on that night to finally get the boxing world to show him the respect he has long deserved. Bradley was stunned early and decked late, spending most of the night fighting while concussed yet somehow managed to escape with a narrow points win in a bout most consider for the moment to be the best fight to have taken place in this calendar year.
Yet even in winning over the fans while continuing to win in the ring, the belief – masked as concern – is that the fight took too much out of Bradley. By giving the fans what they wanted by brawling rather than boxing, it is now suggested that he’s ripe for the taking, even against a 40-year old opponent who has endured his own ups and downs and who hasn’t fought in 10 months.
Perhaps that’s because Marquez’ last fight was one for the ages. An epic fourth encounter with Pacquiao saw the legendary Mexican – 0-2-1 and dropped four times in their previous three bouts – overcome hellacious moments to score two knockdowns, the second producing the mother of all knockouts in the 6th round of what was hailed as 2012’s Fight of the Year.
“Everybody is looking at my last fight and everybody is looking at his last fight,” Bradley suggests in dismissing the naysayers. “Everyone remembers when he knocked out Pacquiao. And everyone remembers that war with Ruslan Provodnikov. A lot of people think I am going to be wild and go down and people have to see if I still have it or not.
“Of course they are going for the veteran, the guy that knocked out Pacquiao so of course they are going to bet on him to win. I don’t mind being the underdog. I like it. I like taking people’s money and I’ll take it again. People can doubt me and doubt me and that’s OK but soon they will get sick of losing their money.”
More than anything else these days, deep into the heart of his prime, it’s that level of doubt against him that drives Bradley to strive for the top.
“People that tell me I can’t do it, I want to prove them wrong,” Bradley insists. “I am one of the best fighters in the world and if I’m not number one on your (pound-for-pound) list, I will be. Floyd’s got a few more fights left so when I beat Márquez I will be right in there.”
From an odds perspective, Bradley doesn’t face an insurmountable task yet still enters this weekend’s headliner as the betting underdog. Marquez is roughly a 7-5 favorite in most betting circles. Pacquiao was a 4½-1 betting favorite prior to suffering a controversial loss to Bradley, one that the boxing world never seemed to forgive of the sculpted Californian.
Regardless of how fans felt and perhaps still feel, the fact remains that Bradley owns an official win over one of the very best fighters of this generation. Come Saturday night, he looks forward to duplicating and surpassing that feat against a fighter whom he believes rates even higher.
“I want to be a part of Márquez’s legacy and by me beating Márquez, that right there will make me one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world,” Bradley envisions, but not without once again paying his opponent his due props.
“Márquez is probably the best fighter I will have ever faced in my career, by far. This fight on October 12th is going to be a very tough fight and I am game for war. I know Márquez is, too.”
That said, even respect for your predecessors has its limits. For Bradley, those limits end once the opening bell sounds. Some 16 months after being accused of being aided by the judges to steal a win from one legend, the unbeaten boxer vows to leave no doubt in the event the officials try to go in the opposite direction.
“I am going to whoop his ass and the judges are going to give me the fight. Just like the U.S. government I am going to shut down Juan Manuel Márquez on October 12th. I am going to win the fight – that is the bottom line. I’m not concerned about any judges or any ref. I am going to get in there and do my job and beat Márquez. And that’s it. And the world’s going to see it.”
And, maybe at that point, finally show Tim Bradley the same respect he has shown to boxing.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox