I've long been a fan of Tim Bradley. Not in the sense that he was one of my five favorite fighters or anything like that, but I've enjoyed watching his fights since the Witter bout. Yes he lacks KO power, but I've never found his style as ugly to watch as someone like Alexander, who deserved the lion's share of the blame for their unentertaining encounter. The cliched description of him, that he's good at everything but great at nothing, still rings true now, and I always enjoyed watching him get the better of guys who had superior power or speed on the basis of grit alone. I always picked him to defeat Khan when they were the clear top 2 at 140 and Khan looked to be at his most athletically untouchable. I likewise thought he deserved little blame for ultimately not making that fight given his promotional situation.
It seems most people developed a negative opinion of Bradley in the aftermath of the Pacquiao fight, especially given his obstinate refusal to concede Pacquiao won. Even though I found that decision poor (though not worst of the year and I had the fight closer than most), if anything Bradley's reaction endeared him to me even further. I liked that he wouldn't declare he lost the fight simply to appease the masses, most especially one of the two worst fan bases in the sport today. I don't expect fighters to be objective parties about what happened during the course of the fight, and indeed, such bias is precisely what it often takes to be great. I similarly liked that he spoke out about his promoter blatantly misrepresenting his words in the aftermath of the fight. I also sympathized with him for turning down a Peterson rematch at the end of the year; Bradley had gone to Top Rank to get the kinds of opportunities denied to him by Shaw and was instead being offered a rematch with an opponent he had decisively defeated.
So why I wonder, after nothing but good will for years, a clear Fight of the Year frontrunner, and on the eve of one of the most significant fights of the year, do I find myself feeling less enthusiastic about Bradley than ever? I believe it comes down to the attempt to frame Bradley not as the scrappy guy who just finds a way to win nor even the asshole who believes he beat Pacquiao but instead as the victim. We are supposed to feel sorry for Bradley for being the beneficiary of a poor decision and receiving hate mail. We are supposed to feel sorry for him for getting the tar beaten out of him by Provodnikov, ostensibly for the entertainment of the fans. And we are supposed to feel sorry for him for evidently agreeing to something he thought he wasn't agreeing to when it comes to drug testing for the fight.
On the first, while I appreciated Bradley not backing down from his claims he won the fight and certainly don't think it would be enjoyable to be on the receiving end of such substantial backlash, I simply have a hard time viewing a person who benefited from a bad decision as worthy of especial sympathy in such a situation. Everyone's been shitting on Chavez Jr's decisions for years, but he suddenly is not a likable character simply for getting his arm raised in such instances.
Regarding the Provodnikov fight, I also have problems with the idea that guys take beatings solely for the fans. Bradley was the same guy who tried to hook with Holt and as a result was almost stopped early. The story of supposed redemption against a junior welter who needed a gift to beat Corley simply rings false for me. Bradley voluntarily allowed himself to be concussed to the same degree that Khan voluntarily allowed Maidana to beat him up in the 10th round of their fight (or any other instance you may choose). Further, I see little that's necessarily anomalous about the way he was fighting the first round of that fight in comparison to many of his other bouts. Bradley has never been a pure outside boxer; indeed, his adeptness on the inside is why I always favored him over Khan in the first place. I see the story of the Provodnikov fight not as one of Bradley catching a beating for the fans, but instead as one in which his normal game plan got him hurt against a bigger puncher early and in which he had to use his entire toolbox to survive.
Beyond this though, I've found the specific emphasis during the promotion of this upcoming fight on Bradley being unable to speak properly for months after Provodnikov to not be endearing but instead troubling. If true, this particular fact doesn't make me want to root for Bradley more but instead makes me want him to consider ceasing to fight altogether. It may be a testament to his heart that he carried on under such conditions against Provodnikov, but that doesn't exactly compel me to want to see him carry on even further. If false or exaggerated, I find this emphasis highly cynical and distasteful, particularly when made in conjunction with the idea that he fought anomalously in that bout.
Finally I turn to the drug testing issue. Much has been written back and forth on this topic here and elsewhere, with the latest development this week being Bradley's claim that Marquez agreed to VADA and USADA testing during the Face-Off only to renege and request the footage be deleted. I've commented a fair bit on the substantive issues as they were reported in the run-up to this fight, but what I want to focus on here is the role this has played in further framing Bradley as a victim. Obviously being misled about the terms of the contract is something to sympathize with a fighter over, but the manner in which this issue has been framed to promote this fight is also somewhat problematic to me. The bad guy here clearly seems to be either Bradley's promoter, manager, or both for compelling him to sign a contract he didn't understand. Instead, this has been portrayed more as a case of poor Bradley courageously taking the roided-up Pacquiao slayer, even in the face of testing rejections. Bradley paying out of pocket himself for VADA testing indicates at the very least a concession that what he initially thought was in the contract actually is not; I fail to see then how this situation is Marquez's fault rather than whoever represented the contract to Bradley.
Perhaps others don't see the run-up to this fight similarly to me and perhaps I'm reading too much into the themes HBO has been emphasizing. Nevertheless I have found the attempts to build up sympathy towards Bradley artificial at best. I know this "woe is me" stuff is purely outside the ring and that Bradley will bring it regardless tomorrow night. I only hope it's his performance there and not this specific narrative that drives fans to appreciate him for the fighter he is.