By Jake Donovan
Once upon a time, Bernard Hopkins chose an unconventional route to ride out a contract with Don King. Taking lesser fights (and paydays) following a then-career best win over unbeaten three-division champ Felix Trinidad was described by King as “winning the lottery but never cashing the ticket.”
Tim Bradley finds himself in a similar position, though such status has been forced upon him. The unbeaten welterweight titlist is standing in line with his winning ticket in hand. The problem for the moment is that nobody is willing to cash it in.
It’s been well over two months since Bradley scored the biggest win of his career, even if there still lingers behind genuine dispute regarding his split decision nod over Manny Pacquiao in June. Still, the win’s name value alone should have thrust the chiseled Californian into immediate star status.
With a 29th birthday quickly approaching as he enjoys the status of becoming the first man in more than seven years to hand Pacquiao a loss, the world should be at Bradley’s fingertips. Instead, he’s just as curious as everyone else as to his own next move.
Bradley has an idea of the direction in which he plans to head. The problem is his being forced to play the waiting game, rather than make a move too early and run the risk of missing out on something far more lucrative in the next few months – namely a rematch with Pacquiao, to either settle the score or clear the air once and for all.
A decision is expected prior to Labor Day regarding Pacquiao’s next opponent. It has already been reported by Boxingscene.com and several other major outlets that the Filipino fighter/politician plans to push back his ring return from November 10 to December 1. In the meantime, his future opponent remains a complete mystery to all, including Bradley himself.
“Nobody knows,” Bradley (29-0-0-1NC, 12KO) says of Pacquiao’s plans while appearing on ATG Radio earlier this week. “They changed the date and he wants to fight December 1. None of my people are negotiating with him. I’m not sure if Marquez’ people are either.
“We’re all just waiting to see what this guy has up his sleeve. Everything is just a secret right now.”
Pacquiao has reportedly met with promoter Bob Arum and also spoke at length with advisor Michael Koncz to discuss his future plans. The names that constantly come up as leading candidates are Bradley, Juan Manuel Marquez and Miguel Cotto.
Bradley has limited his own scope of viable alternates to Marquez or Cotto. Given his first choice is a lucrative rematch with Pacquiao, his next choice would come down to whomever Pacquiao doesn’t choose to face.
Either way, it leaves the unbeaten two-division champ stuck on pause at a time when he should be calling the shots. The dilemma is further proof that winning isn’t always everything in this business.
The shame of the current situation is that it’s in stark contrast to the road leading to the Pacquiao fight this past June. Bradley signed with Top Rank last year, but the move didn’t come without its share of legal drama. Holding up the move was a courtroom battle with previous promoter Gary Shaw, from whom Bradley bolted with remaining time still on his contract.
A settlement was eventually reached for Bradley to switch promoters, a move that came after his points win over then-unbeaten Devon Alexander and his decision to pass on a showdown with Amir Khan. Bradley was willing to fight out the remainder of his contract, but felt he had the right to decide the opponent, rather than have everyone – including his own promoter – dictate the choice to him.
Life with Top Rank came with the initial disclaimer that while the goal was to one day pair him up with Pacquiao, the move wouldn’t necessarily immediately occur.
The seed was planted early into his run with the company, appearing in the co-feature to Pacquiao’s highly disputed points win over Marquez in their third fight last November. Bradley’s own appearance was far less debatable, destroying former two-division champ Joel Casamayor in an 8th round knockout.
Despite Top Rank’s pre-fight warning that a Pacquiao fight happens when the company says it’s ready, Bradley suddenly found himself next in line in a hurry. Strangely enough, his place in line was as much as four fighters deep. The other names mentioned were Cotto, Marquez and Lamont Peterson, the latter riding a career-best win over Amir Khan last December.
Bradley’s frustration was immediately felt, given he already owned a lopsided win over Peterson in Dec. ’09, a fight that was co-promoted by Top Rank. But a series of moves beyond Top Rank’s control led to the very fight we saw in June, after Cotto, Marquez and Peterson all opted to move in a different direction other than a Pacquiao showdown in 2012.
Of the three, only Cotto’s plans – a May showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. – came to fruition, albeit in a losing effort. Marquez was steered towards a clash with Brandon Rios, only for plans to fall apart shortly after their split site doubleheader in April, designed to hype up a planned summer collision. Peterson opted for a rematch with Khan, but is now instead fighting for reinstatement after testing positive for synthetic testosterone during pre-fight random drug testing.
With the stars properly aligned, Bradley found himself at the front of the line to face Pacquaio in June. The promotion came with his being prominently showcased on 24/7 and also using any public session to hype up a rematch he insisted was coming November, even mockingly suggesting tickets were going on sale on June 10, one day after he planned to shock the world.
The final scores suggested that Bradley made good on his promise to move plans towards such a fight. However, an ankle injury temporarily put his plans on hold. As it continues to heal, Top Rank has also decided to keep his career on pause as well, showing hesitance in pushing for a rematch.
Given the exposure he received prior to the fight in addition to the win itself, Bradley should be able to not only decide when he fights again and whom against, but also name his own price.
That’s only in a perfect world. In a boxing world, Pacquiao is still the straw that stirs the drink – which means Bradley has no choice but to sit on his own lead.
“Absolutely (it’s frustrating),” Bradley admits of the process of waiting out Pacquiao’s next move. “But we have to look at it this way. Manny Pacquiao is a big icon. He can draw 15,000 people just singing.” If people want the rematch, we want the rematch. I’m not happy with the controversial win and all that B.S.
“I want to fight again, win this and go on to fight Floyd Mayweather. I wasn’t 100% for the fight and felt like if I was I could’ve fought so much better. It sucks that I have to wait on this guy, because I want a rematch with him.”
If a sequel isn’t in the cards, then it’s either Marquez or Cotto on his plate. A fight with Marquez – on which Bradley seems particularly keen – could happen at either 140 or 147, given both fighters’ ability to comfortably make either weight.
If Cotto becomes the final choice, then Bradley would find himself moving up in weight for the second consecutive time. Given the magnitude of a fight with the Puerto Rican star, he’s not completely averse to the idea.
“I’ll go to 154,” Bradley insists. “Everybody might say that’s stupid. I found at 160 in the amateurs and I fought at 156. I’m not a catchweight fighter. That’s how you get the pound-for-pound ranking. I’ll go to the fighter’s weight and prove that I’m a true pound-for-pound fighter.”
Bradley has long ago proven his worth as one of the best in the sport. Even with the disputable outcome against Pacquiao, the constant mentioning of his name should be enough to be able to call his own shots. It’s understandable to wait for the most lucrative option, especially if he’s legitimately in the running.
What’s frustrating is that for the moment, the fight hasn’t even been discussed with his handlers and that he’s forced to play the waiting game.
“I’m in the air just like you guys. I have no idea what’s going on. We should be hearing something in a few weeks. If not, you might see me make some moves in the near future. I’m the champ so I can pretty much do whatever I want.”
At least anything other than cash in his pile of winnings.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox