When unbeaten welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley Jr. claims he’s willing to do something, we’re at the point now where doubting him would be a futile endeavor.
“A lot of people say that they are willing to do whatever it takes,” Bradley told ESPN.com Oct. 2. “But they don’t really believe it, especially when they get into tough situations. I think what separates me from a lot of fighters is when the tough get going, I get tougher. And that’s the bottom line.”
Bradley’s quote probably would be written off as mere “fighter speak” had we not witnessed his incomparable will on display March 16 against Ruslan Provodnikov. It was that night in Carson, Calif., when Bradley’s claims that he was willing to “die in that ring” and “go into the devil’s mouth and do what I have to do” came to life in such startling and violent fashion.
Despite claiming a tight victory on the scorecards in the front-runner for fight-of-the-year honors, Bradley (30-0, 12 KOs) was staggered repeatedly by Provodnikov and forced to draw on an obscene amount of heart in order to fight back and survive.
No one realizes more than Bradley -- who admitted to suffering a concussion so severe that he had slurred speech for two months -- what a mistake it was to eschew his game plan to box by trading so recklessly with a bigger puncher. It was the kind of fight, to borrow a boxing cliché, with the potential to steal a fighter’s prime in one night.
Yet even though Bradley endured one of the worst beatings administered to a winning fighter in recent years, he fought back so competently during stretches of dire danger. And by doing that, Bradley discovered a superhuman recuperative ability within himself -- and with that, a double-edged sword.
As Bradley enters Saturday’s title defense in Las Vegas against Juan Manuel Marquez (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET), will he avoid the temptation of calling upon the one career-shortening attribute -- his ability to endure untold punishment -- when using it could prove to be the difference between winning and losing the biggest fight of his career?
Bradley, who says he surprised even himself with the grit he displayed against Provodnikov, chalked up the fight to simply having to “do what I had to do and no one, not even my trainer, could stop me from doing what I had to do that night.” But to his credit, he has said the right things about the dangers of trading with a finisher as technically sound as Marquez (55-6-1, 40 KOs), who outright defines what a legendary counterpuncher should look like.
“Marquez is the best fighter that I’ve ever faced to date and I have to be very intelligent and can’t really open up like I’d like to,” Bradley said. “I’m the type of guy who wants to control the tempo. I hate sitting back. I don’t like to wait. I like action. But if I was going to come forward and be the aggressor, Marquez is the kind of fighter who sits back and waits on you to make mistakes.”
What complicates things, however, are the comments Bradley sandwiches around those, which hint at the fighter’s inability to hit the brakes once the bout inevitably turns into a war.
“Most fighters wither when it gets tough,” Bradley said. “When that storm comes on, they back down. I don’t back down.”
As much as Bradley, 30, intends to rely on a 10-year age difference, as well as advantages in speed and footwork, he eventually will find himself at a crossroads, when Marquez makes him fight. And at his very core, that’s who Bradley is -- a fighter.
He’s the same fighter who got off the canvas twice to defeat Kendall Holt. The same man who blocked out significant injuries to his left foot and right ankle in order to finish strong against Manny Pacquiao. And the same guy who crawled through the depths of darkness to finish on his feet against Provodnikov.
Bradley can say what he wants about introducing caution to his game plan, but there simply doesn’t appear to be an off-switch. Not for a guy who has relied this much on his iron will to defy expectations, remain unbeaten and put himself one step closer to his dream of being the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Sadly, his greatest asset also may be the biggest enemy to his long-term health and the shelf life of his career. And despite what’s at stake for Bradley in the short term on Saturday, that could be a scary thing.
“This is a great moment for me and my family and everybody that’s involved in my career,” Bradley said. “You always think you’re going to get there but you’re never really sure because you can’t really predict the future. But it’s here, now. It’s right here in my face.
"So I say to myself: What are you going to do about it, Bradley? What are you going to do? It’s right here. No more talking, no more work. What are you going to do?”
Indeed. What are you going to do?