Thursday, March 14, 2013
If Bradley can't win hearts, he'll just win
By Brian Campbell
If you've ever felt solace upon hearing the phrase "you can't please everyone," you're not alone. Timothy Bradley Jr. knows the feeling all too well.
Let's face it: Lately, this guy can't please anyone.
For all the success the welterweight titlist has enjoyed in his eight-plus years as a professional -- 29 wins and counting, against zero defeats -- he hasn't fared nearly as well in the court of public opinion outside the ring.
With boxing fans and critics being as finicky as any in sports -- willing to stamp a fighter as anything from soft to old and obsolete based upon just one performance -- Bradley has heard it all.
The Palm Springs, Calif., native has been labeled a dirty fighter who leads with his head. With just one knockout in the past six years, he has also been told he doesn't punch hard enough to be a legitimate power threat. And after twice turning down headlining roles in big-money bouts (with Amir Khan and Lamont Peterson) over the past two years, Bradley's business savvy has routinely been called into question.
All of that, of course, doesn't include his most egregious sin of all: daring to overcome a fractured left foot and badly swollen right ankle to finish strong last June in the biggest fight of his life against Manny Pacquiao. Oh yeah, there was that other part, too, that got under everyone's nerves: Bradley having the nerve to claim he had actually won the fight, despite a widespread outcry following one of history's most controversial and contentious decisions.
But let's not take the "woe is Tim" road as Bradley prepares for his first title defense, against Ruslan Provodnikov on Saturday in L.A. Instead, why don't we take a moment to figure out how we got here?
At 29 and in the peak of his prime, Bradley has many of the ingredients that typically attract a desired level of crossover appeal. The unbeaten American looks and acts the part of a champion, has a tireless work ethic and positions himself as a role model in terms of his perseverance and professionalism.
But somewhere along the way, as Bradley has endured multiple layoffs due to injuries, promotional issues and difficulty finding big-name opponents, he has left a bad taste in too many mouths. In fact, there seems to be an underlying feeling that many fans would prefer, as harsh as it sounds, that Bradley just go away.
His stock surely wasn't helped by the lasting memories of the two highest-profile bouts of his career: the debacle against Pacquiao and the forgettably dreadful 2011 junior welterweight unification bout with Devon Alexander. Both are deemed black marks on Bradley's résumé, despite the fact he was victorious in each.
"A lot of [the negativity] has affected me over my career, but I've learned to basically just draw it out," Bradley told ESPN.com. "I've learned to understand that everybody has an opinion, and it's freedom of speech, so anyone can say anything about you at any time, whether it's true or not. I've learned to accept it and accept the criticism. It's made me a stronger person."
Bradley is realistic and self-aware enough to realize that something went wrong along the way regarding his likability and marketability to the general public. He also knows that the only way to repair that reputation is within the ring ropes.
"All I got to do is keep winning and keep winning in good fashion," Bradley said. "I need to stay busy and fight more often. Once or twice a year is not good enough. I think that the crossover fans, they need to see me a lot more and see how good I am. That's the most important thing, to show why I am one of the top fighters in the world."
Staying active will clearly be the key for Bradley, ranked eighth in ESPN's pound-for-pound top 10, to help amend his commercial value within boxing's marketplace. He also needs to pursue -- and ultimately accept, without pricing himself out of -- the biggest fights available to him.
Many of those fickle critics would be quick to embrace Bradley should he rack up a series of exciting, high-profile wins. Still, the perceptions of others are out of his hands, and he isn't concerned with the things he can't directly control. Love him or hate him, Bradley says he isn't going anywhere any time soon.
"After I destroy this boy on March 16, I'm still not going to get the credit," he said. "I could beat Floyd Mayweather and I'm still not going to get the credit. I've learned to accept that. But one thing that I will get is respect. I will be respected. That's what I fight for."