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The Third Stage of Timothy Bradley: The Comeback

By Tyson Bruce

With the exception of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, there may not be a more accomplished fighter in boxing than Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley, 31-1-0 (12 KOs).

Yet, despite wins over such acclaimed fighters as Kendall Holt (when it still meant something), Devon Alexander, Ruslan Provodnikov, and the legendary Juan Manuel Marquez, respect is always something that’s has eluded him. This is unlikely to change regardless of this Saturday’s bout with the rugged Argentine Diego Chaves.

After a decisive points loss to a resurgent Manny Pacquiao, Bradley’s career appears to be entering a critical third stage.

The first stage of his career was his rise from an unheralded prospect into a unified titlist at 140 pounds. Along the way, he scored victories against respected veterans like Junior Witter and the aforementioned Kendall Holt, as well as crucial victories over the then unbeaten Lamont Peterson and Devon Alexander.

Along the way, Bradley got the reputation as something of an overachiever—a fighter who maximized modest talent through his sheer willingness to do whatever it took to win. Bradley was also branded as a nearly unwatchable fighter because of his mauling style and the perception that he used his head as much as his fists to win fights.

During this stage of his career, I often remarked that he reminded of a welterweight version of Evander Holyfield—as they shared similar physical characteristics (for their weight classes) and fighting style. For Bradley, like Holyfield, perfectly embodies the warrior spirit that can only be found in boxing.

The second stage of Bradley’s career was his transition from a respected titlist into a legitimate top-five “pound for pound” fighter. Needless to say, the journey was anything but easy for Bradley. What was supposed to be a coming out party for Bradley against Pacquiao ended up devolving into one of boxing history’s most ugly incidents, with Bradley winning an indefensibly controversial points decision over the Pac-man.

Timothy Bradley prepares for yet another stage of his career
Photo: Chris Farina-Top Rank

Even though Bradley had nothing to do with the ugly decision, his reputation lay in shambles. The sheer controversy of the decision overwhelmed the fact that Bradley showed real boxing skills and the ability to compete on the very highest level of the sport. Instead, he was the sport’s biggest and perhaps most unlikely villain. While most people considered Pacquaio the biggest victim of the indecent, it’s almost impossible to imagine how Bradley must have felt having his crowning moment devolve into a bizarre charade, for which he absorbed, unfairly, the majority of the blame.

While most fighters would have been psychologically crippled from such a dramatic incident, it only seemed to harden Bradley’s resolve to prove to the world that he was a great fighter. It’s also the reason why he stood toe-to-toe with one of the toughest fighters in boxing in Ruslan Provodnikov. He absorbed horrific (and unnecessary) punishment almost to prove a point that he was a real fighter. There simply wasn’t a better fight to be found in 2013, and fans gained a newfound respect for the courage Bradley showed.

It is the fight against Juan Manuel Marquez, however, that really proved that Bradley was one of the best boxers in the world. In that fight Bradley showed the kind of multi-dimensional boxing skills that many experts believed he never truly possessed.

To go from the wild brawler he was in the Provodnikov fight to the refined and athletic boxer he put in against Marquez was mesmerizing. It also earned Bradley the chance to be able to right the wrong of the first fight with Pacquiao by guaranteeing him a rematch. In fact, he had gained so much respect that many experts predicted a legitimate Bradley victory the second time around.

The decisive loss that Bradley suffered in the rematch against Pacquiao justified the ire shown by so many boxing fans after their first ring meeting. Bradley fought a valiant but questionable strategy by trading instead of boxing with Pacquaio, The simple truth, however, is that Pacquaio is simply the more gifted fighter. The loss did not really hurt Bradley’s credibility, but it did effectively end another stage of his career.

Bradley’s fight this coming weekend against Diego Chaves will launch the third stage of Bradley’s career: the comeback. It’s really a lose-lose situation for Bradley in the sense that victory is all but expected and a loss would effectively end his career as a top-tier welterweight.

The popular storyline for the fight is whether Bradley, after so many grueling fights, is still the same dominant fighter he was before? The nature of his win or loss against Chaves, a good but not great fighter, should reveal a lot about where Bradley stands at this point in his career.

At just thirty-one years of age, Bradley is still youthful by today’s boxing standards. With Pacquiao and Mayweather heading either for retirement or an unlikely showdown in the ring, Bradley can still hold out hope that in their eventual absence he may become boxing’s most dominant fighter.

Whether Bradley still has the legs or mental desire to accomplish that remains to be seen. If Bradley’s body is beginning to fail, his time at the top might start to wane. Without a big punch, Bradley’s high energy/physical style is heavily dependent on conditioning, and without it, he’s doomed. Heart and heart alone are simply not enough to win at the highest level of the sport.

The dark horse appeal of “Desert Storm’s” fight with Chaves is not that it’s a fight that will restore the boxing public’s faith in Bradley’s ability, but rather that it has underrated potential to be a fight of the year candidate.

Bradley probably feels like he has something to prove (much like the Provodnikov fight) and Chaves is likely well aware that dragging the much faster Bradley into a slugfest is his only chance to win.

Either way, it will be interesting to see which version of Bradley shows up Saturday night.

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