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Pacquiao vs Bradley III: Is Timothy Bradley still underrated?

Timothy Bradley's career is a bigger and more significant than a couple fights with Manny Pacquiao, but he can't seem to escape the shadow of the first fight in particular. Has he become underrated?

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Ask an average or casual boxing fan about Timothy Bradley, and chances are that their mind will leap directly to a single night back in 2012, when Bradley, through no fault of his own, was awarded a terrible decision victory over Manny Pacquiao in their first fight.

The outrage was overwhelming, even among those who quite logically didn't get upset at Bradley for the mistakes made by judges Duane Ford and C.J. Ross, who both became the butt of constant jokes in the boxing world for the next four years, which as always was quickly run into the ground, to the point that, if you're like me, you started to try to find ways to agree with Ford and Ross just to try and combat the endless stream of predictable mockery. (Of course, there was no agreeing with them. They got it wrong, period.)

Exacerbating the issue was the fact that Manny Pacquiao has one of the most dedicated fan bases in the world of sports, and his boxing following the world over makes everyone else's look pretty reasonable. When Bradley recalls receiving death threats and constant messages of abuse, he's not exaggerating. I saw this stuff. Sure, it was coming from a bunch of weird dummies, but the words still had to sting.

Of course, Timothy Bradley is a fighter whose career has been much more than just two fights against Manny Pacquiao, with a third coming this Sunday. But Bradley, too, understands the elevated nature of a fight with Pacquiao, an icon and living legend in the sport. A legitimate win over Pacquiao, Bradley figures, will allow him to be forever linked to Manny, and not in the way that he is at this moment. A decisive victory over one of the best fighters in the sport's history means that Bradley's legacy is secure, that he will be remembered through the ages.

It's a lofty goal, and an admirable one. There's a lot of criticism that boxing no longer has enough fighters or promoters striving to truly be the best. There has always been a strong lean toward maximizing profit and minimizing risk -- it's a business, as we're told all the time, and it always has been, despite any rosy memories of yesteryear. But there have always been those that looked beyond that, who really did fight at least to some degree for pride, for their legacy, to be remembered. Timothy Bradley, in that way, is something of a throwback.

So here's a question: Is Timothy Bradley underrated? Let's look back at his career and see how it truly stacks up. We're not going to come to the conclusion that Bradley is an all-time great. But how does he compare to some of the best of this generation?

Early career

Bradley turned pro on August 20, 2004, beating another debuting fighter, Francisco Martinez, by TKO-2 in a four-round bout in Corona, California. Martinez would fight four more times -- once in 2008, twice in 2009, once in 2011 -- while Bradley would go on to win a handful of world titles.

The first 20 fights of Bradley's career were standard fare. He slowly worked his way up to stiffer competition, honing his craft and learning as he went along, showing some solid skills. He stopped 11 of his opponents in his first 20 opponents, including names like Jaime Rangel, Manuel Garnica, Donald Camarena, and Nasser Atuhmani. Not big name fighters or serious tests, really, but fighters familiar to diehard fans as opponents at that level for young, up-and-coming fighters.

On July 27, 2007, Bradley faced another young fighter, Miguel Vazquez, at the same venue where he'd started his pro career. Vazquez was an unknown, turning pro in 2006 with a loss to someone named Saul Alvarez. And then he just kept fighting. By the time he met Bradley, he had 19 pro fights in the span of 18 months. But Bradley was a level above him, having faced tougher opponents. Bradley won on wide scores of 100-90, 99-91, and 98-92, making a successful fifth defense of the WBC youth junior welterweight title, which he'd won in 2005.

The breakthrough

Junior Witter v Timothy Bradley Photo by John Gichigi/Getty Images

10 months after beating Vazquez, Bradley returned to the ring, traveling to Nottingham, England, to face the WBC world champion at 140 pounds, the highly-regarded Junior Witter. It's important to remember that Witter was considered the No. 2 fighter in the world at 140 at that time, behind only his eternal press rival, Ricky Hatton. Hatton-Witter never came to pass, although with Witter still fighting into mid-2015 and Hatton not known for avoiding bad ideas, I guess it still could happen as an old man grudge match. But Witter did face Bradley, and had home field advantage.

It was a rare make-or-break step up for a fighter like Bradley, a prospect who had gained a little notoriety but still hadn't fought what anyone would even consider a real contender. He'd done OK against gatekeepers, but Witter was a true world class fighter, and Bradley had never so much as tested himself against a contender.

Aided by a thunderous knockdown on an overhand right in round six, Bradley pulled the upset on the road, winning a split decision on scores of 114-113, 115-113, and 112-115, ending Witter's 21-fight win streak, which dated back to 2000 and included not just a world title, but European, British, and Commonwealth championships, as well.

To make clear, if still necessary, the loss by Witter elevated Bradley immediately, but didn't exactly turn Junior into a non-factor at 140. When The RING released their 2008 year-end rankings, Ricky Hatton was still the champion of the division, with Bradley ranked as No. 1 contender, and Witter still the No. 2-ranked contender. It would be a turning point in Witter's career, as he would struggle going forward against better opponents, but it was a significant win over a top-ranked fighter and titleholder.

140-pound champion

Bradley's run as a top fighter at 140 was frustrating at times, but made clear that he was a true top-tier fighter at the weight, too.

His first title defense came in September 2008, when he outclassed Edner Cherry in what was something of a "victory lap" title defense, Cherry a decent opponent but not a real top contender. In April 2009, Bradley won a scrappy decision over the inconsistent but dangerous WBO titleholder Kendall Holt, who had one of his better nights in defeat when the two met in Montreal. Bradley gave up the WBC belt after that fight, due to typical boxing sanctioning body nonsense and politics.

Former lightweight titleholder Nate Campbell was up next for Bradley in August 2009, and Bradley was pretty well dominating the first three rounds when the fight was stopped due to a cut. It was originally ruled a win for Bradley, but later changed to a no-contest.


Bradley closed 2009 on December 12 in a matchup with fellow unbeaten American Lamont Peterson, who had scored a few decent wins and beaten France's Willy Blain to win the interim WBO belt just over about seven and a half months earlier. This is a fight I think about every time there's a fight that is one-sided on the scorecards, and rightly so, but is in no way uncompetitive.

Peterson lost on scores of 120-107, 119-108, and 118-110, and those scores made sense. But he was right there with Bradley throughout. It was just that as good as Peterson was in any given round, Bradley seemed to be just that little bit better. It was a very impressive showing for Bradley.

Having trouble finding a "big fight," Bradley took a risk in the summer of 2010, moving up to welterweight to face undefeated Argentine puncher Luis Carlos Abregu. It also gave Bradley the chance to move from Showtime to HBO, which was a big opportunity and set up what was to come for the rest of his career. Bradley won a 12-round non-title fight on scores of 118-110, 117-111, and 116-112. He didn't look like a full-fledged welterweight against Abregu, but he was good enough to convincingly beat someone decent at the weight, anyway.

'Big fight' debacle, criticism, and move to Top Rank

The "big fight" would come in January 2010, when Bradley faced fellow titleholder and fellow unbeaten Devon Alexander. This was considered by some a "must-have" fight, and to this day is an example of trying to do too much with a fight that really only appeals to the diehard boxing audience.

Don King, who promoted Alexander and was years past his expiration date as a relevant promoter, and Bradley's promoter Gary Shaw had trouble making the fight. Bradley wouldn't fight in St. Louis, where Alexander could draw a crowd. Alexander wouldn't fight in California, where Bradley, well, didn't draw crowds, but if Bradley wouldn't fight on their turf, why should they fight on his?

So King and Shaw put the fight in the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan, the former home of the NFL's Detroit Lions, and by 2011 a half-abandoned, sorely outdated venue only existing to host things like monster truck rallies and other even more fringe-y events than boxing. A massive dome stadium, the Silverdome was ugly and in disrepair, having recently been bought by a Toronto-based company for a paltry $583,000.

King and Shaw did their best to make the venue look like a good choice, utilizing giant curtains and a blocked off area of the venue -- which could have seated somewhere around 80,000 for a fight in its heyday -- setting up a capacity of 9,000. The announced attendance was 6,247, which may have been an exaggeration, and many of those in attendance hadn't paid for a seat.


The fight itself was ugly, a foul-ridden affair where Bradley's reckless, head-first style was on full display. It had always been a part of his game, but against southpaw Alexander, it was the center of his attack at times. Alexander wound up cut in the 10th round, and the fight was stopped, going to the cards. Bradley won a technical decision. The fans booed. The rest of the world watching on TV were right about as pleased with what they'd seen.

After that fight, Bradley talked about how he would love to fight Floyd Mayweather, how Manny Pacquiao was a goal for him, and how he expected Amir Khan would be next. That never came to pass. Bradley, who had one fight left with Gary Shaw, ultimately passed on facing Khan, which drew a lot of criticism. While the move was perhaps understandable from a business standpoint -- with just one fight left, Bradley was looking to protect his value for his next contract -- it didn't help that Bradley had so confidently stated that he was prepared to face Khan, then made the decision not to do so.

Bradley moved to Top Rank for his next fight, which came 10 months later. Gary Shaw and co-promoter Ken Thompson filed suit, but Bradley's fight against faded former lightweight champion Joel Casamayor went ahead, positioned as the PPV co-feature for Manny Pacquiao's third fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. Casamayor, as most expected, looked old and washed up, holding incessantly and getting dropped in the fifth, sixth, and eighth rounds, when referee Vic Drakulich mercifully stopped a one-sided fight.

"He hasn't been promoted correctly," Top Rank's Bob Arum said of Bradley before that fight. The plan seemed to be for Pacquiao and Bradley to meet sometime in late 2012, maybe in 2013. But everything got somewhat rushed, and Manny was next.

The robbery

Bradley was signed to face Pacquiao on June 9, 2012, moving up officially to welterweight for the big money opportunity, and a chance to beat one of the sport's top two fighters.

Enough has been said about this fight in the last four years to be worthy of a book. Several TV specials and articles have been dedicated to the fight, the decision, the controversy, and the lasting fallout.

Going into the fight, there were two main thoughts about the matchup and the outcome:

  • A win for Bradley would be absolutely huge for his career, and could create a new star fighter for Top Rank and boxing.
  • A loss for Bradley wouldn't really harm him any, so why not do it?

Nobody was prepared for what actually happened. After Manny Pacquiao appeared to convincingly win the fight over 12 rounds, Michael Buffer read the scores. The fact that it was a split decision was shocking enough, but sometimes one of the three judges is out to lunch. That's not too unusual in boxing.

When Bradley was announced as the winner, it was truly shocking. Comments from the HBO pay-per-view broadcast:

Jim Lampley: "I don't think we're blind. I think Harold Lederman is the best scorer alive. And I think that is a terrible, bogus decision. ... I'm as confused as anyone could possibly be. Timothy Bradley has scored an upset split decision victory over Manny Pacquiao. God only knows how."

Emanuel Steward: "I'm-I'm dumbfounded. I'm dumbfounded. I don't know what to say. When they started off with 115-113 -- I-I have no comment. I am totally confused."

Harold Lederman: "Absolutely incredible. Manny Pacquiao was the aggressor all night. He walked him down, he set him up, and then he belted him with the left hand. You couldn't miss him! Timothy Bradley, covering up, backing up, never really landed a solid shot that stopped Pacquiao in his tracks, never hurt him once -- I mean, that decision was a crime. Without question, Manny Pacquiao won the fight."

When Max Kellerman started his interview with a congratulations to Bradley, the fans booed loudly. "I gotta go back home, review the tape, and see if I really won the fight," Bradley told Kellerman. He would later say he felt he won.

Manny Pacquiao v Timothy Bradley Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

There was just no way to anticipate Bradley getting a "gift decision" over Pacquiao, who was the cash cow, the international celebrity and superstar, the rare pro boxer of the modern era who was, indeed, bigger than the sport itself. Manny Pacquiao, the icon. The Congressman. The Nike-endorsed mega-star. The big seller on pay-per-view. If anyone figured to get robbed in a controversial decision, it was Timothy Bradley, not Manny Pacquiao. But it happened. You can never say never in boxing.

There was a vocal portion of the fan base that couldn't forgive Bradley for the mistakes of Duane Ford and C.J. Ross, the judges actually responsible for the scores they turned in. There was, quite bizarrely and illogically, an expectation that Bradley should have gone on national television, with tears in his eyes, Jimmy Swaggart style, and repented for his sins, as well as vacating the WBO welterweight title he'd won in the fight.

Of course he didn't do that. Of course he didn't. But through no real fault of his own, for doing what any fighter in the same position would have done -- including Manny Pacquiao -- Timothy Bradley suddenly became a hated figure in boxing. He gained fame and notoriety from the Pacquiao fight, alright, but certainly not in the way that he wanted.

After Manny

Bradley has talked about his personal life sort of spiraling in the wake of the controversy that followed the first Pacquiao fight, which went on and on. He wasn't back in the ring until nine months later, when he was signed up to face junior welterweight slugger Ruslan Provodnikov in an HBO main event.

Bradley, perhaps looking to prove he was a great fighter and worthy of admiration, fought a flat-out stupid fight against Provodnikov, giving "The Siberian Rocky" every chance to knock him out. Provodnikov, a one-dimensional fighter who had been neutralized effectively by Mauricio Herrera in the past, and would be again by Chris Algieri in 2014, wasn't really on Bradley's level as a complete fighter, but styles make fights. And in this instance, Bradley abandoning the style that made him a top fighter made the fight the compelling, dramatic, all-out war that it became.

Bradley survived some horrible punishment and dished out plenty of his own en route to a close decision win in a fight that frankly could and should have been easier for him. It was widely recognized as the Fight of the Year by several outlets, including The RING, ESPN, and the Boxing Writers Association of America.

In the meantime, Pacquiao had passed over a rematch with Bradley to face Juan Manuel Marquez for a fourth time in late 2012. In an action-packed fight, Marquez knocked Pacquiao out cold at the end of the sixth round, handing Pacquiao what most believed was his first legitimate loss since 2005.

Timothy Bradley Jr. v Juan Manuel Marquez Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

With Pacquiao's career in need of mending, Bradley was matched against Marquez for an October 2013 pay-per-view main event. In something of a forgotten fight -- it wasn't a big seller, and despite being a very good fight and clash of wits and wills -- Bradley defeated Marquez by split decision. There was no real controversy this time, though Marquez of course claimed again that he was screwed by the system or whatever.

Still, even beating the man who had knocked Manny Pacquiao out in the middle of the ring didn't get Bradley much by way of accolades or true respect. There was still the lingering stink of his own fight with Manny, and perceived sins that couldn't be washed away just because Bradley spent 2013 having the Fight of the Year and scoring a great win over another living legend, who was still fighting at a very high level. Nothing Timothy Bradley could do, it seemed, perhaps short of beating Floyd Mayweather, was going to allow fans to see him as anything more than "the guy who robbed Manny Pacquiao." And to this day, that may be the case.

The second Pacquiao fight

After Pacquiao came back with a predictable win over Brandon Rios in November 2013, the time was as right as it was going to get for Pacquiao-Bradley II. It was never going to be a true blockbuster. Bradley had done everything he could have done to make the fight as big as it would be. It still wasn't enough to really move the needle.

Pacquiao won the second fight on scores of 118-110, 116-112, and 116-112. The judges this time were Michael Pernick, Glenn Trowbridge, and Craig Metcalfe. There was no controversy. It was a fight that felt as much like righting a wrong, or even a do-over, as it was anything particularly relevant or really substantial, which is a lousy thing to say about two very good or great fighters facing each other in a world title fight, but that was sort of the perception of the rematch at that time. Pacquiao would win, like he had the first time, and this time he would get the decision.

After the fight, and as recently as this week, Bradley has regretted his own performance in the rematch, saying that he felt he was going into a no-win situation, that there was absolutely no way he would be able to get a decision win. He also suffered a calf injury early in the fight -- he'd suffered ankle injuries in the first bout -- and that further necessitated him fighting more wildly than he probably should have.

Whether or not there's a version of Tim Bradley in 2012 or 2014 that really could have beaten Manny Pacquiao is a worthwhile question in itself, but the 2014 version of Bradley that did fight Manny Pacquiao did not give himself the best chance to win.

After Manny, again

Eight months after the rematch loss to Pacquiao, Bradley faces Argentina's Diego Chaves in an HBO main event. It was a rugged, ugly fight, with Bradley's skull taking a real pounding from various fouls, some his own, some from Chaves. In the end, the three judges scored it a draw -- one card for Bradley (115-113), one for Chaves (116-112), and one even (114-114). It was a bogus decision, with Bradley seemingly earning the victory, but it was another tough night for Tim Bradley, and there were questions coming out of that fight of where his career would really go from there.

Last June, he got back into the ring in an interim WBO welterweight title fight against Jessie Vargas, who was moving up from junior welterweight for the opportunity. Bradley fought better than he had in his last two bouts, and was leading on the scorecards going into the 12th and final round. But he got himself into trouble once again, as he got clipped by a good shot from Vargas, not a big puncher, and was wobbled and in real trouble.

Controversy entered the discussion again when referee Pat Russell stopped the fight nine seconds early, saying he thought the 10-second warning had been the ring bell. A reeling Bradley may have been saved by that mistake, as he won on scores of 117-111, 116-112, and 115-112.

Timothy Bradley Jr. v Brandon Rios Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images

He fought for a second time last year, returning in November against Brandon Rios, a former lightweight and junior welterweight titleholder known for his own reckless, all action style. Bradley made the decision to drop his longtime trainer Joel Diaz in favor of Teddy Atlas, and the decision paid dividends in an inspiring performance from Bradley.

Though Rios looked a little out of shape and frankly a little worn out, what Bradley did in the fight cannot be ignored. He pretty much thrashed the Mexican-American warrior, who tried a few times to make a stand, but found himself outgunned in every way -- Bradley was faster, stronger, more skilled, and had a renewed focus, it seemed. He wasn't fighting silly and making mistakes, he wasn't fighting to prove he could win entertaining wars. It would have been easy for Bradley to revert to the fighter we saw abandon his advantages and engage in a bombs away throwdown with Provodnikov, but he didn't do that. Instead, he clinically took Rios apart, finishing him late in the ninth round, and giving Rios serious pause about whether or not he should even continue his career.

So, is Bradley underrated?

Yes, he is. Maybe not by you. Maybe not by the niche audience within a niche audience that does appreciate what Bradley has done over his career. But by the larger audience -- even inside the bubble -- Bradley remains an under-appreciated fighter.

He's got a good amount of quality wins for where he was at in his career at the time: Holt, Peterson, Abregu, Provodnikov, Vargas, Rios, even Edner Cherry. You can pick at those wins if you want, and I understand that desire, but no matter how far you want to go into that discussion, they're still solid wins. Not great, but certainly respectable. And it's easy to forget that his wins over Junior Witter and Devon Alexander were wins over what were then the No. 2 fighters in the division by pretty much every ranking at the time. And win over Juan Manuel Marquez, especially, is criminally overlooked, at least in my view.

I am not arguing that Timothy Bradley is an all-time great, a surefire Hall of Famer (although with some good wins and five world titles in two weight classes, he could very easily get that nod down the line, even if he doesn't accomplish much else in his career), or anything overly dramatic.

What I am saying is that Bradley often doesn't even seem to get the credit he deserves for what he's achieved in his career, and for being one of the better, more proven fighters of this generation. Yes, his first fight with Manny Pacquiao was a robbery. No, he didn't deserve that win. No, that's not his fault. And no, it doesn't represent his entire career.

Timothy Bradley isn't a superstar. He's never going to be that guy. But he's spent the last eight years as one of the very best in the world at 140 and 147 pounds, and there's a lot to be said for that -- and it doesn't get said very often.

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