It has been an improbable run for unbeaten Timothy Bradley Jr. to his current spot among the sport’s pound-for-pound best, considering all he has overcome.
For as many negative labels that have been heaped upon him as a fighter in recent years, Bradley (31-0, 12 KOs) has continued to leap right through them. He has been called anything from dirty and boring to even somewhat of an in-ring con artist for having pulled off a consecutive run of debated victories on the scorecards.
In the two years since his historically contentious split-decision win over Manny Pacquiao -- an undisputed low moment for Bradley, who received death threats and was partially blamed for the controversy -- the 30-year-old Bradley has done plenty of work to repair his image entering Saturday’s rematch with Pacquiao at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET)
As dark as 2012 was for Bradley, he used 2013 as a platform to dispel the notions that he isn’t exciting (in his all-out war with Ruslan Provodnikov) or worthy of elite mention (with his split-decision win over Juan Manuel Marquez.)
But the biggest negative surrounding Bradley has long been his perceived lack of punching power. It’s a notion -- supported by his low knockout percentage -- that is a bit misleading when you consider that he has wobbled and hurt the likes of Marquez, Luis Carlos Abregu and Lamont Peterson. Still, Bradley will never be mistaken for a huge puncher.
What’s interesting to consider, though, is whether his lack of one-punch power has grown to become a positive for Bradley in a different way -- helping to make him a complete fighter.
“I’m getting older and smarter, and I’m paying close attention to my technique and listening to my corner,” Bradley told ESPN.com. “There have been a lot of things that I have made adjustments and improvements on. I had a great 2013, but it took 2012 for me to get to where I’m at today. I had to go through some things in order to make me a stronger person mentally, physically and spiritually.
“Once you go through the past -- and all of your trials and tribulations -- if it doesn’t break you, it will make you stronger. That’s what is happening with me.”
It was the impact of the public backlash following the Pacquiao fight that spurred on Bradley’s superhuman performance against Provodnikov in last year’s ESPN.com Fight of the Year. And although the brutal fight won Bradley a legion of new fans, the physical toll changed him -- but not in the way most observers originally thought.
As Bradley entered his bout with Marquez seven months later, there was a fear that he was damaged goods, leading few to predict the masterful boxing performance he went on to produce.
“What happened in the Ruslan fight really made me go back to my craft and do what I do best in boxing,” Bradley said. “I showed a different side of my game to people [against Marquez] to show I’m a complete fighter.”
Bradley credits his ability to make adjustments as a cerebral fighter to his days studying film as an amateur under Al Mitchell, when he learned to critique fighters’ strengths and weaknesses.
“I was good at it right away, and I started taking different things from different fighters and looking at what made them so successful,” Bradley said. “What made [Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.] so successful was the fact that he would throw one shot to the head and two shots to the body and break you down. He had unbelievable timing. So what did I do? Add body punches to my craft. I picked that up from the great Al Mitchell.”
What has always separated Bradley from the pack is his unmatched work ethic and desire, and mixing that with the newfound wrinkles and versatility of his game have him suddenly at the peak of his prime entering Saturday’s rematch.
“I can be a lot of different styles and bring a lot of different things to the table,” Bradley said. “I’m always switching up. It’s just me being me and figuring out ways to win and using different angles to try and get to my opponents. Whatever they don’t like, I just try to throw it in their face as much as possible. Once they catch on, I’ll switch it up again. It’s just hard to really outthink me.”
The wrinkle in Saturday’s rematch is that because both fighters felt wronged by the impact of the controversial decision, each will be searching for his own piece of redemption.
In many ways, that’s how Bradley, who has long relished the underdog role, has prepared for each of his fights. He believes he is a completely different fighter than two years ago and is hoping once more to prove wrong any remaining doubters.
“I do everything well but not everything the best,” Bradley said. “I’m not the most talented, but the thing that sets me apart is my will to win, and that I always figure out a way because I can make adjustments. I have a very athletic fighting style and I find a way to squeeze by and win fights.”