- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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Although junior welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley Jr. landed a coveted fight with boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao, he admitted to getting antsy a few weeks ago while waiting as Pacquiao mulled over possible opponents.
Bradley was one of five potential opponents on a list that also included Floyd Mayweather Jr. (which again failed to materialize); junior middleweight titleholder Miguel Cotto, one of the sport's biggest stars whom Pacquiao knocked out in a 2009 welterweight title fight; Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao's great rival against whom he eked out a majority decision in their third fight in November; and unified junior welterweight titleholder Lamont Peterson, who is coming off a high-profile win against Amir Khan.
Bradley split from his previous co-promoters last year and signed with Bob Arum's Top Rank knowing he would be in the running for a fight with Pacquiao, but without any assurance he would get it.
Yet Bradley hoped he would, even though he posed perhaps the greatest risk to Pacquiao (54-3-2, 38 KOs), the 33-year-old hero of the Philippines, for the smallest reward. While Bradley is a formidable opponent, he's not known to anyone other than hardcore boxing fans, making the selling of a Pacquiao fight tougher than usual.
Each potential opponent was eliminated one by one until Bradley was the last man standing. He'll move up in weight and challenge Pacquiao for his welterweight crown June 9 (HBO PPV) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Top Rank, of course, hopes to significantly raise Bradley's profile during the promotion, which launched Tuesday with a news conference in Beverly Hills, Calif. A second one is open to the public at noon ET Thursday at Chelsea Piers in New York City.
"Of course, there were times when I called [manager] Cameron [Dunkin] and said, 'To hell with this, let's get a fight. I don't care if it's Manny. I just want to fight," Bradley told ESPN.com on Monday.
Bradley's wife, Monica, and Dunkin were able to talk Bradley down. Eventually, he got Pacquiao.
Mayweather wound up making a deal with Cotto after Cotto and Pacquiao could not agree on a weight because Cotto was unwilling to return to welterweight. Peterson elected to give Khan a rematch. And depending on who you believe, Marquez either priced himself out of the fight or Pacquiao simply wasn't interested in a second consecutive fight against the opponent who has given him more trouble than anyone else..
"I'm glad I stayed patient and held out and everything fell into place," said Bradley, who knocked out faded former lightweight champion Joel Casamayor in the eighth round in November on the Pacquiao-Marquez III undercard. "I'm glad Manny chose to defend his championship against me. I didn't think I'd fight Manny this soon. It wasn't in my contract that I would fight him next. I know I'm the last resort because this is a business and I understand that. There were other opponents who were also credible opponents."
Said Arum, "People have asked me why did I match Timothy with Manny Pacquiao. They say, 'You are underestimating Tim Bradley. Don't underestimate him. Don't you realize what kind of good fighter he is?' Sure, he's a good fighter; he's a very good fighter. That's what the public wants. The public doesn't want to see anything other than a really great, competitive fight. Tim Bradley has the hand speed, the foot speed and the game plan to be very, very competitive with Manny Pacquiao, and that's why we made this fight."
Bradley said that, during his wait, he thought Pacquiao was going to choose Cotto.
It's time for a new face and I'm gonna win this fight. It's what I believe. I'm willing to shock the world. I feel I can beat this guy.
”-- Timothy Bradley Jr.
"I really thought they were going to fight Cotto, to be honest," Bradley said. "They fought once before and Cotto is recharged, so why not do a rematch? That's what I thought. Pacquiao's wife [Jinkee] even went on the record saying that is who she thought it would be. Then Cotto didn't agree to the weight, so I was thinking, 'Shoot, who else is out there?'
"I knew they weren't going to fight Mayweather. It's hard to deal with Mayweather. I knew they wouldn't come to terms."
Because Bradley easily defeated Peterson in a 2009 title defense, he discounted him as a Pacquiao opponent.
"When I heard Peterson, I just laughed," Bradley said. "I beat him. It wouldn't make any sense. It would be hard to sell. Lamont is a great fighter, a great champion, but no way. He's not even with Top Rank. That wouldn't make any sense at all."
And with Marquez, Bradley said he didn't think the public wanted to see a fourth fight with Pacquiao so soon after the third.
"Absolutely not," he said. "I just think that the fights are too close. You're going to get that fight every time."
So now Bradley (28-0, 12 KOs), of Palm Springs, Calif., has the fight and is convinced he can win.
"It's time for a new face and I'm gonna win this fight. It's what I believe," Bradley said. "Nobody expected me to win in England when I was a 6-to-1 underdog [against Junior Witter in 2008] and I took the title. I'm willing to shock the world. I feel I can beat this guy.
"I have always been an underdog all of my life. But I know how to win. I talk winning. I go into the ring and win. Manny Pacquiao is the world's greatest fighter. After I win, the rematch will be in November."
At 28, Bradley is in his prime. Many have him ranked in the top 10 pound-for-pound. He's probably just as fast as Pacquiao and very skillful, even if he isn't a big puncher. But he has faced quality competition, albeit at junior welterweight, in Devon Alexander, Peterson, Nate Campbell, Kendall Holt and Witter, just to name a few.
Bradley is right when he said Pacquiao has not faced a younger fighter in his prime with equal speed in a long time. Instead, Pacquiao's recent fights came against the 38-year-old Marquez, Shane Mosley (39 when they met) and Antonio Margarito (32 but well past his prime).
"I feel that I am very well rounded in my craft. I can box, I can mix it up. He hasn't seen that in a long time," Bradley said. "My youth is a big factor and I'm the hungrier guy. That's why I'm so confident. I have as much speed as he does. I got a really good chin. I got great defense. I'm hungry and determined to shock and prove all the critics wrong.
"People say, 'Bradley doesn't have power.' But guys haven't been willing to stand in and fight me. Instead, they're hugging on me, want to dance with me. That's not my fault. Look at Casamayor and Alexander. I don't have any power but these dudes sure do like to hold when they get close to me. I don't have that one-punch knockout power, but I can back you off me and I have put guys on the canvas, including Witter, Peterson, Edner Cherry. I keep guys honest with my power."
Bradley also said he believes being on the big stage against an A-plus opponent will bring out the best in him.
"I'm pumped up for this," he said. "What I tend to do is fight to the level of my opponent. I do enough to win, but in this fight Manny will bring the best out of me. He's the best in the world. I know what I am capable of doing. I have to be on my A-game all the way. I haven't had to do that in a while. I can't make it close. I have to win this fight convincingly and I'm ready to do that. Manny is going to make me fight like I have never had to."
"That night we come to fight, not to make friends," said Joel Diaz, Bradley's trainer. "We will be there that night to defeat Manny Pacquiao. I train my fighters not to [just] show up. We're not going to the event to show up and look good. We're going to be there that night ready to win the fight. I am going to prepare Tim Bradley to go to war and take that throne from Manny Pacquiao. With all respect, we will be victorious that night."
Despite his considerable talent, Bradley acknowledges he's an unknown to most. But he said that does not mean he can't beat perhaps the most famous fighter on the planet.
"Look at [Muhammad] Ali. He was the underdog against Sonny Liston, not all that well known, and came in and took him out," Bradley said. "People said he didn't have a chance. Took him out. Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas? Douglas, huge underdog. Took him out. There is a time for everybody and this is my time."
Dan Rafael is a boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.
Timothy Bradley Jr. started as a long shot to fight Manny Pacquiao. Now that the fight is set for June 9, the undefeated junior welterweight is more than confident in his ability to score a major upset.