- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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LAS VEGAS -- When Timothy Bradley Jr. had his hand raised as the winner against Manny Pacquiao in June 2012, it should have been the happiest moment of his professional life.
He had been awarded a split-decision verdict against a global icon in an upset, claimed a welterweight world title, made a career-high $5 million purse and should have been on top of the world. Instead the experience turned out to be such a nightmare that he had thoughts of suicide in the months following the fight.
"It was horrible," Bradley told ESPN.com, following the final news conference at the MGM Grand for Saturday's rematch against Pacquiao. "I sat in bed with my wife [Monica] and we cried together because it's supposed to be the happiest moment of our life and all these bad things are happening to us and all these people saying these negative things about me.
"And the more they said, the more you start to believe it. It was horrible, it was a horrible time. Thoughts of [suicide] crossed my mind."
Even though Bradley had gotten the decision, he also drew worldwide ire because virtually everybody -- save for judges Duane Ford and C.J. Ross -- believed Pacquiao had won and done so rather easily. Bradley, however, was not responsible for scoring the fight. He simply fought in it and did so for much of the bout with injuries to both of his feet.
The postfight outpouring of hatred toward him still blows Bradley away, even though he said that, as a Christian man, he has forgiven everyone.
"All I did was fight my fight. That's what I didn't get. I didn't get how people could ridicule me for that," Bradley said. "I been waiting on this my whole life. I've been waiting on this moment. So I get to the mountaintop and it was like I made one wrong move and slipped and fell all the way down that mountain.
"It was like I win, I'm happy as hell, I get out of the ring and then there's all this controversy. I go to the media room and to the press conference. A lot of negative things were said. And then from there fan mail -- I mean haters [sending death threats] -- walking around my city [Palm Springs, Calif.] and everywhere I went it was horrible.
"People said, 'You didn't win that fight. They gave that to you. Bradley, you suck. You're not a true champion. You're a disgrace to boxing. Give the belt back. You're a fake champion. I can't believe you.' It was like I stole something from everybody."
Bradley, 30, thought about retiring, and a guy normally in pristine, immaculate physical condition blew up from his fighting weight of 147 pounds to 185 pounds. He didn't want to leave the house and didn't want to go to the gym.
Ray Bradley, Timothy's father and assistant trainer, said he knew how depressed his son was but had not realized that he had thought about suicide until this week, when Bradley opened up about it.
"I knew about his frustration and I talked to Tim and his mother talked to him, but I didn't think he was that bad off," Ray Bradley said. "But he was in a dark, dark place. I knew [he was depressed] about not being mobile because of his feet and he went on an eating spree. He was at least 185 pounds. He would not go to the gym.
"He was depressed about how the media came down on him, the fans, how his friends turned their backs. He said, "What the hell I done? I just fought the fight of my life. I fought through adversity and this is what I received? Man, you know what, forget about boxing.' He told me he quit. I said just take some time off. I told him, 'Remember where you come from. You're a Christian man. I never been in a place you're in right now but I know by experience that anything you going through, you're not alone. You've got your family and you got God to back you up.' "
Eventually, Timothy Bradley and his wife and kids took a vacation to Hawaii, which helped him sort things out.
"I had a lot of time to think and to clear my head," he said. "Lot of time to be with my family and I started realizing what's important to me in my life.
"I would never take my own life. I'm a fighter. I have everything. I have more to live for. For me to take my own life is a coward. I'm not a coward. But it crossed my mind of just doing it."
A lot has changed for Pacquiao (55-5-2, 38 KOs) and Bradley (31-0, 12 KOs) since their first showdown. Pacquiao, 35, got knocked out hard in his next fight by rival Juan Manuel Marquez in their fourth clash, took a year off, then returned to easily outpoint Brandon Rios in November in Macau.
Bradley eventually found the desire to fight again. He let his injured feet heal and returned with a chip on his shoulder to outpoint Russian brawler Ruslan Provodnikov in the 2013 fight of the year. It was an extremely violent and intense battle, and Bradley fought in a style he said was by design in order to prove to the world that he was a worthy champion.
But even though the fight with Provodnikov was nine months after the Pacquiao fight, Bradley still harbored suicidal thoughts. It was only after the win against Provodnikov and the outpouring of respect for his heart and determination that they finally subsided.
"[Suicide] was in my mind. I was still mad. I was still pissed off and wanted to show everyone what I was made of," he said. "After that fight it was a release. It was big relief after the Ruslan fight. I put it all on the line for all the fans to show everybody what I'm made of."
Bradley then reverted to his more controlled, deliberate style in October when he outpointed Marquez in a superb performance. He will be making his third title defense when he faces Pacquiao again.
Yet despite the two big wins and having earned so much respect for his valiant showing against Provodnikov, Bradley still believes he has something to prove Saturday.
It's probably why, despite his insistence than he legitimately won, Bradley thanked Pacquiao for giving him another shot at Wednesday's final news conference.
"Absolutely, I have a lot to prove in this fight, and No. 1 is that the first fight was not a fluke," he said. "There were a lot of things that happened in the first fight that weren't right. I am a different fighter now, a different beast, a different animal this time around and I am going to prove to the fans and everybody watching. I got the win but it felt like I lost because I didn't get any credit from the fans and it's important to get the credit from the fans. I feel I need to showcase myself and win by a large margin.
"I am telling you man, both of us have a lot to prove in this fight. The reason why Pacquiao really needs to win this fight is because if he loses this fight, think about it -- his career might be over. I really need to win this fight because of the controversy of the first fight."
Getting credit for a true victory against Pacquiao is what is driving Bradley for Saturday's fight.
"I truly believe that I won the [first] fight. I'm a straight-up dude," Bradley said. "[But] it's the credit [I want]. It's getting the credit from the fans and the credit from the media and the credit from around the world. That's the most important thing. That's why I don't care about the judges. I don't care about the outcome. I want to be victorious whether I get the decision or not. I just want to be victorious.
"As long as the writers, as long as the media, as long as the fans around the world see that I win the fight -- and if I win the fight and I was robbed if something was to happen -- that's all that matters."
Proving his critics wrong and getting credit for a true victory against Manny Pacquiao is the one thing above all that drives unbeaten Timothy Bradley Jr. going into Saturday's welterweight title rematch.