By Tyson Bruce
This Saturday Juan Manuel Marquez and Tim Bradley meet in a battle of high risk/high reward not often seen in the boxing ring. Tim Bradley is fighting for a respect and approbation that has always eluded him, and Juan Manuel Marquez is fighting for history—and when you have those two things involved, at the highest level of the game, violence is usually lurking right around the corner. If I could compare it to one fight in terms of style and historical similarity it would have to be Alexis Arguello vs. Aaron Pryor. One guy is a Latino boxing legend with the respect and admiration of millions of his countrymen, in pursuit of one more divisional title to cement his already hall-of-fame legacy. The other is a compact wrecking ball struggling to be recognized as the great fighter he believes himself to be. In many respects this is a battle shrouded in uncertainties. At 40, is Juan Manuel Marquez still the great fighter that he once was? Is Bradley really the sum of his parts, or is he just a hard working overachiever on the cusp of being exposed?
Photo: Chris Farina/Top Rank
In boxing, sometimes greatness is recognized right off the bat and success and financial riches come quick and easy (think Oscar De La Hoya or Mike Tyson), other times very talented fighters linger in obscurity. In this respect Marquez and Bradley have much in common, as for a long time Marquez was overshadowed by his more famous Mexican counterparts, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales. Respect and recognition was very elusive, that is until is epic first fight with Manny Pacquaio, where he showed that not only could he compete in terms of talent on the highest level, but that he could go beyond the normal pain threshold and overcome true adversity in order to be successful. Since then Marquez has become a hardcore fight fan’s fighter—a throw back guy who can box, slug, and come from behind to win a fight. In his three controversial fights against Pacquaio and his reign as lightweight champion (that included wars against Katsidis and Juan Diaz) he gained what most fighters struggle their whole careers for: universal respect. However, Marquez has the mindset of a great fighter and just being able to compete with Manny Pacquaio was not enough for him—he needed a victory for his own peace of mind and to surpass Pacquaio as the superior fighter of the generation.
On November 8th 2012 one massive right hand should have achieved all of those much-coveted dreams, and in eyes of many he did just that. But this is boxing, a sport that very rarely deals in absolutes and where controversy lurks like ticks in a rotting cellar wall. The hiring of Angel Heredia, a known steroid dealer and whistle blower extraordinaire, as his strength and conditioning coach and the sudden development of a Lou Ferrigno-esque physique have left many to question whether his knockout victory over Pacquiao was pharmaceutically assisted. What should have been a career-defining win had suddenly turned Marquez, for the first time in his long career, into an intensely polarizing figure. In Mexico he had finally achieved idol status, and, in the eyes of almost all boxing experts, is now regarded as being superior to his two former rivals Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales. However, a sinister shadow has definitely been cast over his formally untainted reputation, as he has been vastly condemned in the eyes of public opinion as a cheater and the undertaker for what hope remained for a match-up between Mayweather-Pacquaio.
In his upcoming fight against Tim Bradley, whose reputation has also suffered because of a controversial victory over Pacquaio, they have agreed to use a more stringent method of PED testing (although that is still the subject of some debate), which gives Marquez a chance to distance himself from the stench of the steroid rumors. More importantly, the fight will give him a chance to become the first five-division champion in Mexican boxing history—and perhaps stake his claim as the best Mexican fighter to ever lace-up a pair of boxing gloves. That is one hell of an incentive.
Timothy Bradley, like many aspiring legends before him, fights with an inferiority complex. In interviews he always bemoans the perceived lack of respect paid to him from media and fans. Bradley has used this as his greatest source of motivation throughout his undefeated championship career that began in the shadows of more hyped prospects like Amir Khan and Victor Ortiz. In fact, Bradley’s career can be essentially broken down into three stages: the first, he was regarded as an overachieving and dirty spoiler, largely the result of the visual torture suffered by fans during his fight with fellow unbeaten Devon Alexander; the second, was consumed with the outpour of hatred and controversy flung at him as the result of his highly controversial decision victory over Manny Pacquiao; his third stage, still in its infancy, is of a redemptive warrior who overcame horrendous punishment to beat Ruslan Provodnikov in an effort to prove to skeptical consumers and media that he is, in fact, the real deal. In that fight he showed tremendous courage and unbelievable reserves that was reminiscent of Evander Holyfield at his best.
In my opinion Tim Bradley is a very good fighter, but not yet a great one. Bradley needs to able to breach the chrysalis with a performance that will separate him from the controversy and vulnerability that he has shown in so many of his other fights. Although he is undefeated in his thirty fights, he has shown extreme vulnerability against fighters like Kendall Holt and Ruslan Provodnikov, both of whom are regarded as good but not elite fighters, he has failed to distinguish himself in his two highest profile fights against Alexander and Pacquaio. Against a fighter of Marquez’s caliber, notoriety, and esteem he will have an opportunity to officially move to next the level and open the door to a lucrative rematch with Manny Pacquaio or possibly a fight with a resurgent Miguel Cotto. For Bradley, this fight is the litmus test for whether he can finally breakout and become a new pound for pound star, and most importantly, gain the universal respect that has always escaped him.
In boxing there are the rare fights where pride and historical impact outweigh any sort of financial gain, which usually results in truly great fights. Think of Gatti vs. Ward (essentially a competition for boxing ‘s blood and guts title), or Pryor vs. Arguello in which factors more important than money—pride, legacy, and respect—elevated both men to go that extra mile for greatness. This Saturday Marques and Bradley, who have sometimes been in the shadows of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquaio, have a chance to have the worlds spotlight cast just on them and gain a new opportunity to obtain the real prize they fought their entire respective careers for: history and respect.