By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Reintroduction time has arrived for Timothy Bradley.
The popular Californian is a former champion in two weight classes and has a slew of familiar names on his resume, but it’s been nearly two years since he emerged from a ring with a decisive victory.
His most recent fight – against Diego Chaves in December – ended in a disputed draw, but even those who thought Bradley deserved the verdict weren’t overwhelmed with the quality of his work.
He’ll step in on Saturday with Jessie Vargas, another ex-champ at 140 pounds looking to climb.
The bout is being billed by Top Rank as a WBO championship match, though the validity of that claim has been called into question by the belt’s most recent holder – Floyd Mayweather Jr. – who suggests rumors of his voluntarily surrendering the strap have been greatly exaggerated.
Bradley was a WBC and WBO champion at 140, then became the WBO’s welterweight claimant after his controversial decision win over Manny Pacquiao. He defended twice, outpointing both Ruslan Provodnikov and Juan Manuel Marquez, before losing the title back to Pacquiao in 2014.
Bradley sat down for a fight-week interview to discuss Vargas as a foe, the urgency to reinvigorate the “Desert Storm” brand and the quest he’s on to get fights with names at 147, 154 and 160 pounds.
Q: Give me a sense of your preparation and how you feel at this point?
A: I’m just relaxed. Very relaxed. This is just another guy that I’ve got to beat. This is for the world championship, so it’s added fuel, added motivation for myself. Camp went really good. I’m injury free. I feel great. I feel confident going into the fight. There’s nothing else to say. I’m ready to go and I’m ready for this challenge.
Q: After all the guys you’ve been in with, is Vargas a foe you have to fuel yourself to get up for?
A: I’m fighting for the world championship. When the belt is on the line, everybody can fight. Anybody can fight. This is something that Vargas has been waiting on his whole entire life. He’s going to come ready, but like I say all the time, every time I get prepared for a fight, I don’t prepare for my opponent. I ain’t got to prep for my opponent. I’m prepared for Vargas. You go into training camp, and yeah, you have the sparring partners similar to his style, whatever, but that’s the only important thing about Vargas. Other than that, as long as I wake up in the morning and I look at myself in the mirror and I dedicate myself to my craft, I work hard, I run, I do everything I’m supposed to do, I don’t fear Vargas whatsoever. I don’t fear any of my opponents whatsoever. I don’t ever think about them. I’m just trying to prepare myself to be the best I can be, so that night the fight will be easy.
Q: Are you looking forward to being back in Carson?
A: War zone. That’s the war zone. I said it before the fight happened. That’s the war zone. There’s a guy that’s hungry. He wants the title just as bad as I do, and on the 27th we’re going to see who wants it more. It’s definitely the war zone. Ruslan Provodnikov, 2013 fight of the year. That fight I had a real big chip on my shoulder. This fight, I ain’t got a chip on my shoulder, I just want something. No chip, I just want something. That WBO world championship, that’s my belt, man. I’ve got to have it back.
Q: How much pressure is there for you to reinvent the Tim Bradley brand and win impressively?
A: I always want to look good winning. I always want to perfect and show the Bradley brand at the highest level. That’s the reason why I went back to the drawing board after that Chavez fight. I felt I won that fight handily, easily. But the judges didn’t feel that way, so I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got to make some changes. Something ain’t right here. We went back to the drawing board.’ I told my trainer, ‘Look, we need to go back to the basics. Let’s go back from scratch. Let’s go back to how we got to the top. Let’s start doing training techniques and training things that we used to do back in the day.’ I’m finally back in the pool. I’m finally working out in the pool again, swimming and doing those things.
I’m finally back doing my sledgehammer work. I used to do that years ago. Starting out, I used to do sledgehammer work. I’m back on my ladder drills. I’m back on my defensive drills. I’m back on learning to throw the basics all over again. From the jab to the straight right hand, left hook, the uppercut, everything. Back to the basics, man. And we see the difference in training. We see it in the sparring. I haven’t had a bad sparring session in this camp yet. Ain’t no sparring partner has come in and whipped my behind yet. Not one, not one.
Every now and then during training camp I’ll have a bad day where a sparring partner will get the best of me, but not this camp. I’ve been laying hands on all my sparring partners, and I appreciate all my sparring partners’ help and them pushing me and making me better. But it’s been hell for them, man. I’m letting you know, it’s been hell for them.
Q: You get mentioned by a lot fighters and in connection with a lot of potential fights at many weights. You’re fighting Vargas at 147. Where does Tim Bradley fit these days?
A: I’m a guy that can go anywhere. I’m a businessman. I’m a journeyman. I’m whatever you want to call me. I’m the man. I’m a throwback fighter, I’ll fight any of these guys at their weight. No catch weight. 160 pounds. If that’s where the championship is at, that’s where I’m going. 154. If the championship gets up there or a big fight gets up there, that’s where I’m going. It don’t really matter to me. A lot of these guys today are scared to fight guys. They’re scared to lose their 0. They want a perfect record. I ain’t worried about that. I’m just willing to fight the best because I want to be the best out there.
We started something this camp, we saying, ‘Hall of Fame.’ That’s what we saying, ‘Hall of Fame. Hall of Fame, champ.’ My trainer, my father, everyone, we just keep repeating it during training camp. ‘Hall of Fame. Hall of Fame. We on the course to the Hall of Fame.’ Because that’s where we want to be, man. We want to be in the Hall of Fame. We want to be mentioned, we want to be remembered as one of the best fighters and we’re willing to face the best and go through that hell and beat the best guys out there to be in the Hall of Fame.
Q: If things go well, you’ll have a share of the welterweight title again. Do you think there’s got to be another one or two of those kind of career-defining victories in order to get to the Hall of Fame?
A: As many as I possibly can. I don’t want to be denied. That’s where I want to go. I want to be one of the best fighters in the world pound for pound. I just want to continue on and prove to people. Still today, I’ve still got to prove myself again, over and over and over. And that’s fine, because it’s just motivation for me.
Q: How much more time do you think you’re going to be the A-version of Tim Bradley?
A: Right now, I feel like I can fight for some more years if need be. Being honest with myself and being honest with everyone out there that follows TB, a couple of years I’m going to fulfill my contract and see where I stand after that. My team and I, they have a life expectancy of maybe a couple more years, or maybe even more, it depends on how well I’m fighting. That’s pretty much it. We’ll be able to judge and be able to gauge that, but for me and what I have planned is two more years, fulfill my contract and get out of the game with some sense and have some money saved up to be able to live off that for the rest of my life.
Q: Do you feel like you have enough time to get the fights that you want to get and establish that reputation by the time you leave?
A: I think anything is possible. I’m not sure. I’m unsure. I don’t know. I’m not sure, man. I think that in a couple of years I can have three or four more fights. I can have a fight right now and one at the end of the year and then two more next year. I’m looking for the big fights. I’m looking for the meaningful fights out there. That way, when I’m ready to leave the game I can walk away because I fought all the best guys. And I won’t have a problem walking away from the game then, because I faced all the best.
Q: What does big fight equal in terms of names? Mayweather, Cotto, Canelo, Golovkin? Someone else?
A: All of the above. All of the big names you hear in boxing, those are the guys that I don’t mind fighting. I don’t. I’ll go up to 160. I’ll go up to 54. Like I said, all these guys, they afraid. Don’t nobody want to fight Triple-G. Yeah, he’s a beast, he’s an animal. But sh*t, I’m a man. I got balls. I’m a man, I got balls and I got skills. I’ll get in there with that big old dude. C’mon. I even said c’mon Klitschko. I’ll go out there with Klitschko. A lot of people think I’m crazy.
A lot of people, they think I’m stupid and they think I’m crazy. But I’m a man, dude. I’m a man. I can get in there. You can’t just tell me you can whip my behind. I don’t care how big you are. You don’t just tell me you’re going to whip me and just be like, ‘Oh he’s too small, he’s too little, he’s too this.’ I don’t believe that. You’ve got to prove to me. And if that’s the case, we fight and you knock me out, hey, you knocked me out, hey, you proved to me. But other than that, until then, I don’t believe it.
Q: Do you get the sense there are guys out there who don’t want Golovkin? Is he really feared?
A: Look at the interviews. Anytime anybody mentions Golovkin after a fight, they start stuttering. Alvarez and Cotto, all those guys, the big guys out there, they start stuttering. As soon as you say Triple-G to me, I say put him in the ring. That’s what I say, put him in the ring. I’ll go at it with him. I would definitely go at it with him. I’ll fight anybody, man. Anybody. 147, 140 come on up, 54, 60. Guys out there that’s making noise, let’s do it.
Q: If Golovkin’s guy called you Sunday and said ‘We heard you, you want to do this before the end of the year?’ You’ll say yes?
A: I’ll say yes. I’ll say yes. I’ll say let’s do it. What’s the payout? What’s going on? Let’s make this happen. How can we make this happen? Why not?
Q: Talk to me about Vargas. What sticks out about him?
A: He’s a great fighter. What can you say, he’s a champion. He’s a great fighter, great champion. 140 pounds. Unblemished record. Been in a few tough fights. Last three four fights, he’s been in some good fights. He always comes, he always performs at a high level. At his best and he always does his best. There’s nothing bad you can say about him. He has an unblemished record. No one’s beat him. He’s a very talented young fighter.
Q: Is he just stepping to a level he’s not ready for with you?
A: I wouldn’t say he’s stepping up to a level he’s not prepared for, but I can tell you that I’m more experienced than this guy. I’ve fought the best. This is the toughest fight for him to date in his career. I always say you can sink or swim here. This is one of those fights for him, sink or swim. I have a lot to lose in this fight, and now, with the belt on the line, I feel like I have a lot to win in this fight.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF flyweight title – Bangkok, Thailand
Amnat Ruenroeng (champion/No. 4 IWBR) vs. John Riel Casimero (No. 1 contender/No. 12 contender)
Ruenroeng (15-0, 5 KO): Fourth title defense; Fourteenth fight in Thailand (13-0, 5 KO)
Casimero (21-2, 13 KO): Sixth title fight (4-1, 2 KO); Held IBF title at 108 (2012-14, four defenses)
Fitzbitz says: The homestanding Thai fighter emerged from a showdown with a Chinese Olympic hero in his last fight and should prolong the momentum against a tough Filipino. Ruenroeng by decision
Vacant IBO super middleweight title – Carlton, Australia
Max Bursak (No. 20 contender/Unranked IWBR) vs. Zac Dunn (No. 25 contender/No. 51 IWBR)
Bursak (31-3, 14 KO): First title fight; Sixth fight outside Ukraine (2-3, 1 KO)
Dunn (17-0, 15 KO): First title fight; Sixth scheduled 12-round fight (5-0, 5 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The hometown youngster has KO’d a lot of anonymous foes. He’s stepping up in class here, but he might have the goods to handle a guy who’s fallen short on the top tier. Dunn by decision
Last week's picks: 0-1 (LOSS: N’Jikam)
2015 picks record: 42-10 (80.7 percent)
Overall picks record: 681-233 (74.5 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.