Timothy Bradley isn't the biggest star out there, but he's no joke of an opponent for Manny Pacquiao on June 9. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
With the news coming down that Manny Pacquiao has signed to face Timothy Bradley on June 9 in Las Vegas, many casual boxing fans who care about Manny but only randomly hear about a lot of the other sport's top fighters may be wondering just who in the hell Timothy Bradley is. Allow us to give you a quick primer on Manny's opponent, and why you should care about this fight and take it very seriously.
Timothy Bradley is not Floyd Mayweather Jr, we can grant you that. Mayweather is an otherworldly talent and a superstar, while Bradley has to date simply established himself as the best 140-pound fighter in the world and has never made the crowds "ooh" and "aah" with exhibitions of skill or beautiful boxing.
But the 28-year-old Californian is more than a handful in the ring, and won't be any sort of pushover for Pacquiao.
We'll just focus on the truly relevant portion of Bradley's career, which started in 2008. Bradley, at the time a 24-year-old prospect who hadn't kicked up a lot of dirt while making his climb through the ranks, was scheduled to face former lightweight champ Jose Luis Castillo in a WBC 140-pound eliminator in Mexico. Castillo, as happened too often in his rocky but exciting career, failed to make weight, and the WBC elevated Bradley to the status of mandatory challenger.
To get that chance, Bradley had to go across the entire United States and then the Atlantic Ocean to face long-running titleholder Junior Witter in England. Witter was considered still the No. 2 140-pound fighter in the world, trailing only would've-been rival Ricky Hatton, and was the favorite going into the fight.
Here's what we said after Bradley took the belt on foreign soil, surprising many:
Most of us felt that Witter would dominate the unseasoned Bradley, who had never traveled more than a car ride for any pro fight. But Bradley drilled Witter in the sixth round with a massive overhand right, putting the exclamation point on his momentum grab, and taking full control of the fight.
The first five rounds were quite close, all up-in-the-air scoring affairs, and I gave Bradley three of five. If someone gave Witter the nod in four or even all of them, it's hard to argue. Eventually, it was Witter's total lack of offense that defined the fight, with Bradley pot-shotting his way to what most saw as a pretty definitive victory. A career-starting splash of a win, really.
After that, Bradley easily defeated Edner Cherry in his first title defense on Showtime. Bradley returned to Showtime in April 2009, beating Kendall Holt in a very good fight that saw Bradley climb off the canvas twice but otherwise pretty clearly outbox Holt, one of the sport's most inconsistent good fighters, who did fight quite well that night:
Bradley (24-0, 11 KO) unified his WBC 140-pound title with Holt's WBO strap, and put himself in position for a fight with a bigger star, though that may end up just being Nate Campbell and not the Hatton-Pacquiao winner or anything. For Holt (25-3, 13 KO) this was a heartbreaker, as he lost on scores of 115-111 (twice) and 114-112. Both guys were in good form, the fight was pretty crisp and moved quickly, and Bradley proved for certain he's no one-fight wonder, he's a world class guy at 140 pounds.
We later named Bradley vs Holt one of the 20 Best Fights of 2009 (#14 to be exact).
Nate Campbell was indeed next, and that one got shut down before it could ever really get started, but Bradley was dominating the fight. Bradley originally won the fight on a stoppage when Campbell had an eye injury caused by a headbutt, but that result was later overturned, with the two nearly coming to blows after the CSAC hearing.
Bradley was clearly the better man for the first three rounds and no one will argue that; he dominated Campbell in round three particularly, but Campbell also clearly lost something when he initially complained of a headbutt.
Headbutts are a part of the Bradley arsenal. He's a billygoat fighter and will happily lead with his big, bald dome. This could be a danger to Pacquiao as much as Bradley's talent and ability.
Four months after the Campbell fiasco, Bradley faced Lamont Peterson and dominated a competitive fight, which might sound odd, but that's how it played out. Peterson, who recently defeated Amir Khan as everyone knows and also went to a draw with Victor Ortiz, was in good shape and fought well. It's just that Bradley fought better pretty much every round.
Bradley (25-0, 11 KO) took over and in many rounds, was flat-out dominant. Peterson (27-1, 13 KO) boxed pretty well, but was just a bit outclassed by the stronger Bradley, whose power is better than his KO rate, something it seems we've been noting since the Junior Witter win last year. Bradley used constant motion and a lot of angles to beat a pretty straightforward Peterson, who just couldn't keep up overall.
For Bradley, this could hopefully lead to a big fight. By rights, he should be in the running for a money bout with Ricky Hatton, but he won't be; Hatton wants a bigger name for his opponent, and that's understandable. There are good fights for Bradley, but he may have to seek them out. I don't see anyone banging this guy's door down right now.
As for Peterson, the loss is no shame. Bradley just keeps getting better and better, and losing to a world-class fighter doesn't make you a hype job. Peterson still has a lot of career left, and I'll bet he wins a title or two along the way.
Following the win over Peterson, Bradley and promoter Gary Shaw couldn't find anything acceptable at 140 pounds, as a fight with Devon Alexander (ranked No. 2 in the division at that time behind Bradley) proved too hard to make a reality. Shaw was looking to move the young titleholder over to HBO. He did so in July 2010, matching Bradley at welterweight against Luis Abregu, a strong Argentinean welterweight. This is Bradley's only real fight over 140 pounds.
Bradley was dominant and won easily, but far from spectacular in the victory:
Bradley (26-0, 11 KO) called out Manny Pacquiao after the fight, but also made challenges to 140-pound contenders Devon Alexander, Amir Khan and Marcos Maidana. Bradley would likely be available for a November 13 date with Pacquiao, but as we all know that's not in Top Rank's plans, as they intend to promote either a rematch no one wants to see or a fight against a guy that a major portion of the boxing fanbase has no respect for anymore.
Following that and a debatable win for Alexander over Andriy Kotelnik a few weeks later, HBO put up big-time money to secure a Bradley vs Alexander fight in January 2011. The whole promotion was off from the very beginning, when promoters Shaw and Don King chose to put the fight in the dilapidated Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., which we said well before the fight happened was a terrible idea. That wasn't hindsight.
But it happened, and it disappointed. Bradley fairly easily won again, beating Alexander by technical decision when the fight was stopped on a headbutt cut (see?) in the 10th round. One of the official scores was close (96-95), but the fight was clearly Bradley's.
The fight to be made then was Bradley vs Amir Khan. It didn't happen, and since it was a year ago and we spent a lot of time talking about it then, I don't want to go into it too much again now, but this is the reality: Amir Khan was not ducked by Timothy Bradley, no matter what anyone says. Bradley wanted out of his deal with Gary Shaw, which was expiring directly after a fight with Khan was to take place. No fighter in the world, looking to get out of an expiring deal, would have fought a fight like that at that point. Not one of them.
Bradley signed with Top Rank, which had been rumored for a while, and fought washed-up Joel Casamayor on the Pacquiao vs Marquez undercard. It wasn't impressive, because it was so one-sided on paper that it couldn't really be impressive, but Bradley marched through Casamayor as expected:
After three knockdowns, a docked point, and zero excitement, WBO junior welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley stopped washed-up Joel Casamayor late in the eighth round to retain his belt in his Top Rank debut.
Bradley (28-0, 12 KO) didn't lose a second of this miserable fight, and Casamayor's trainer ended the fight at 2:59 of the eighth round after another knockdown.
Low blows and headbutts were involved as expected, and Casamayor (38-6-1, 22 KO) just had nothing left. Those who have seen Casamayor in the ring in the last few years knew what to expect and got that much -- or perhaps less.
Bradley, 28, is a possible 2012 opponent for Manny Pacquiao, should Pacquiao prove successful tonight against Juan Manuel Marquez.
Now here we are. Pacquiao did prove successful against Marquez, albeit not without controversy. After the November 12 fights, we took a look at Bradley's chances against the top guys in the sport, one of which was Manny Pacquiao:
Bradley vs Manny Pacquiao
Financial Value: It's a Manny Pacquiao fight, so the money's there. Bradley was put into the Pacquiao co-feature in part to audition as a potential Manny opponent in 2012. I don't think he changed many minds, but he also didn't hurt his stock. And with people who didn't know him already, and didn't know Casamayor was a lousy opponent in 2011 (that's probably a lot of people, by the way), I'm sure he was impressive. He did his job. It's not a huge mega-fight, but Pacquiao has fought Joshua Clottey and a version of Shane Mosley that nobody wanted to see. They sold because of Manny. He can carry Tim Bradley to a profitable event, no doubt.
Fan Value: I get the feeling it's 50-50 here. I have seen a lot of folks who think Tim is a real good style matchup for Manny. I've seen others who believe he lacks the "specialness" to be a serious threat to Pacquiao.
The Fight Itself: Bradley is a very good fighter who isn't afraid to take a shortcut or get rough. Pacquiao doesn't have to deal with that sort of thing often, and I think Bradley might be able to frustrate Manny simply because Bradley doesn't make himself easy to fight. What Tim lacks in physical skills (not a big puncher, not incredibly fast with his hands) he often makes up for in ring IQ and his ability to use his head. With the way Pacquiao often leads with his own head -- Nacho Beristain made an issue of this on "24/7" -- that could result in some ugly clashes. I'd favor Manny, personally, but Bradley is one of those quiet, effective guys who tends to sneak up.
Chances It Happens: I think there are two fights in the way -- Manny vs Floyd, if both sides are serious about making it happen, and then Manny vs Marquez IV. But if Manny-Floyd stays a no-go and Marquez passes on a fourth fight, Bradley is perhaps next in line.
It turned out that after Miguel Cotto beat Antonio Margarito on December 3, Top Rank and Pacquiao wanted a rematch with Cotto. Pacquiao had pretty thoroughly beaten Cotto in 2009, but there was money on the table and the fight was relevant with a large portion of the audience.
But after they couldn't agree on weight, Cotto chose to forget a Pacquiao rematch and fight Floyd Mayweather Jr on May 5. That left Pacquiao and Top Rank with Timothy Bradley. It's a fight that they probably didn't want to make this soon, but it's happening.
Timothy Bradley has never beaten someone like Manny Pacquiao, but then he'd also never beaten someone like Junior Witter. Floyd Mayweather Jr had never beaten someone like Diego Corrales once upon a time. You never truly know until you know, and Bradley's style figures to pose some problems for Manny Pacquiao.
It's not Pacquiao vs Mayweather, but it's a fight that very much deserves respect and attention. If you still don't really know who Timothy Bradley is, you'll find out on June 9. Bradley can box and he can fight. He's not afraid to make a fight ugly if he has to, and not afraid to use a lot of rough tactics when he has to. He's not going to roll over in this fight, and he's not a slow, plodding guy there to be hit.
Don't expect this to be another easy night for Manny Pacquiao. It's as competitive a fight as can be made for Manny, outside of Floyd Mayweather or maybe another tussle with Juan Manuel Marquez. If you want the best fighting the best, this is a fight you should care about.