By Mark Staniforth
If Timothy Bradley is far from being the most popular fighter in the business, the Palm Springs native is approaching his Las Vegas showdown with Manny Pacquiao on June 9 like he is just about to be.
Bradley's reign as a world light-welterweight champion, which began in fine style with a win over Junior Witter in Nottingham in 2008, has been scarred by no-contests and accusations of a reluctance to engage by rivals.
Bradley's big unification clash with Devon Alexander in January 2011 was supposed to send the winner towards superstardom but instead ended prematurely with Bradley taking the verdict after an accidental headbutt.
A previous Bradley title defence against Nate Campbell was also stopped due to cuts, and declared a no-contest. Add to that Bradley is not exactly known as a big puncher - only 12 of his 28 fights have ended early.
Bradley was accused of ducking out of a natural fight with Amir Khan towards the tail-end of last year when both held the main portions of the 140lb belt - a jibe Bradley is partly addressing by agreeing to take on Pacquiao.
While Bradley, for all his undoubted talent, can hardly be regarded as the biggest threat to Pacquiao's push towards a super-fight with Floyd Mayweather, he is certainly talking a good fight.
"This is the opportunity of a lifetime and I'm ready to take the throne," Bradley said this week.
"I'm in the best shape of my life. We are setting out to win this fight and not sit around and look pretty.
"I systematically break guys down. I get in the ring and they say I don't have any power but then they feel me and feel my strength. As soon as they get hit they want to hold me. The last couple of fights guys have been holding me all night."
Bradley believes Pacquiao could be beginning to feel the pressure of his mooted showdown with Mayweather, which may explain the Filipino's poor performance in his last fight against Juan Manuel Marquez.
Bradley is convinced Pacquiao was there for the taking by the Mexican, and that only Marquez's apparent reluctance to chase the fight in its final stages denied him the chance of a momentous upset.
"It didn't seem like he (Marquez) wanted to win," added Bradley.
"If you want to win you've got to take it to the champion. If Marquez stepped up in the last couple of rounds he could have won the fight, but he didn't do that.
"Manny is a great fighter and he is coming to take me out. There is a huge fight looming over his head, but he has to deal with me on June 9 and that is going to be a tough task. He's going to be at his very best and try to take me out early."
And Bradley, whose lack of ticket-selling clout has seen him have to travel to Nottingham to beat Witter, then the largely deserted Silverdome in Pontiac to face off with Alexander, is unfazed by Pacquiao's contrasting levels of superstardom.
He added: "I don't care if he climbed Mount Everest. I don't care if he's walking on water. This is about me.
"Every morning I wake up and look at myself in the mirror. If I am at my very best on June 9, I will win the fight."
Mark Staniforth covers boxing for PA Sport.
Tags: Timothy Bradley , Manny Pacquiao , Pacquiao-Bradley , Pacquiao vs Bradley