As he calls time on his fighting career, it is worth considering why the sport of boxing will have to wait a very long time before another fighter emerges like Timothy Bradley Jr.
Only several months ago in Sheffield, Errol Spence Jr made his mark on the world scene for the first time, dethroning a proud local fighter in front of his hometown faithful. Spence came to foreign shores with a lot of hype and a noticeable amount of fanfare – Bramall Lane on fight night was littered with members of his management team as well as his own family members who were draped in blue USA tracksuits, welcoming in their tone and assured that their man would put in the performance he eventually did.
But whilst Errol Spence’s rise seemed prophetic, his story stands in almost stark contrast to that of a young man who made a similar journey to British shores exactly nine years prior.
This man made his first trip outside the states – from California to Nottingham with a fraction of Spence’s notoriety and barely a dollar to his name to square off against Sheffield’s Junior Witter for the WBC light-welterweight title. Witter, an obscure and unorthodox fighter, was plucking away in the hope of a lucrative domestic showdown with Ricky Hatton – yet overlooked the hunger of the young adversary in front of him. A tense battle followed, with the young man knocking Witter to the floor in round six before grinding out a split decision victory. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done and for a young Tim Bradley it was the catalyst to begin an admirable rise to prominence.
Several solid tests were navigated in the following years – a remarkable showing versus Kendall Holt where he climbed off the canvas twice to retain his belts was subsequently followed by a run of victories including the undefeated trio of Peterson, Abregu and Devon Alexander, (the latter seeing Bradley unifying the WBC and the WBO belts).
But what is most redeeming throughout this journey is that Bradley was very much willing himself to a platform that his natural ability wouldn’t not permit him to reach. He developed an elite level mindset to compensate for a lack of elite level skill – living the life of a consummate pro outside the squared circle and boxing when he needed to box and fighting when he needed to fight inside of it. What Bradley lacked in knockout power he made up for in work rate and what he lacked in flash he made up for in grit.
But every mind has a limit, and as he stood across the legendary Manny Pacquiao for the biggest fight of his life in June 2012, the consensus was that Bradley was well and truly past his. He was there on merit but like many who step in the ring with their generational leaders he was considered nothing more than a footnote. Twelve grueling rounds and two sprained ankles later and Bradley was now unexpectedly facing another battle – one that would be the making of him as a fighter and a man.
The shock of Michael Buffer announcing Bradley as the winner of the fight with Pacquiao, when the majority of experts struggled to give him a few rounds apiece is still palpable. Pacquiao was still near the peak of his notoriety, still eyeing Mayweather in the horizon and was still supported by a large, incensed, and indignant fanbase who were dumbfounded at what transpired on that evening in Las Vegas. Instead of directing their anger at the three judges or a commission that was constantly negligent in both principle and practice, fans directed their anger towards the new champion in the form of hate mail and death threats, all of which reduced Bradley and his family to near breaking point. When he should have been enjoying a conspicuous level of stardom, he was making himself inconspicuous to the public instead, sitting out 8 months before he was ready to step back into the ring for his first defence versus a crude Siberian slugger by the name of Ruslan Provodnikov.
And on that cold February evening in Carson, California, Bradley preceded to neglect everything he learnt prior and fight with a death wish. Going toe to toe with a man crafted out of granite left Bradley concussed, battered, bruised and fortunate to escape with his belt intact. Amidst the carnage, Bradley had inadvertently found his “perfect release” — the release of frustration brought about by the preceding months spent in exile and the release of Timothy Bradley the fighter into the public, the proper way, through a performance which may have been irrational in strategy but was memorable in its execution, as his brawl with Provodnikov swept away all votes for 2013’s Fight of the Year.
The immediate aftermath to this episode was not absent from further struggle in-itself. In between the Pacquiao and Provodnikov fights, as is common knowledge, Manny was brutally halted by longtime rival and Mexican legend Juan Manuel Marquez in another epic, giving Bradley an unexpected dance partner that he needed to overcome before any rematch with Manny was on the table. A camp followed which put fresh doubt into the mind of Bradley’s trainer and his surrounding team as drafted sparring partners feasted on a man who was still sporting temporary battle scars.
The Provodnikov fight was more brutal than nostalgic – and it was not until the closing stages of fight camp when Bradley sought out the necessary medical help needed to make him resemble a world class fighter again. But Bradley, mindful of how much was on the line on this October evening, walked with purpose into the Mandalay Bay like a new man, zoned in and disciplined like never before. And his discipline was more than rewarded, as he boxed brilliantly to earn a well-deserved decision victory over a future hall of famer, a result which catapulted him into consideration amongst the best the sport have to offer.
So in the space of 16 months, Bradley had experienced every emotion the sport had to offer, and emerged from it for the better.
The Marquez victory may be maligned by critics due to the Mexican’s advancing years, but it was undoubtedly Bradley’s peak both personally and professionally. It facilitated a closing quarter to Bradley’s career which was above all things highly prosperous financially.
Long time manager Cameron Dunkin was replaced with his wife Monica, who had been quietly learning the tricks of the fight game from a distance. And whilst Manny Pacquiao got his revenge in two subsequent fights, wins over an undefeated Jessie Vargas and a stoppage victory over Brandon Rios served as showcases of Bradley close to his best.
All of which brings us to the American’s curtain call, just short of his 34th birthday. Manny Pacquiao had his number, but almost symbolically it is the Fillipino’s abrupt decline served has served to trigger Bradley into call time on his own tenure in the fight game.
Bradley developed the memories to garner personal satisfaction as well as the foresight to not resign himself towards being another cautionary tale of a fighter, who let pride override rationality.
In a class of fighters with a range of unique and personal qualities, a man like Timothy Bradley can very easily be forgotten in the mix. But what he gave fight fans is much more than can be depicted in a highlight reel package or on an inscription in the walls of the hall of fame.
Bradley is an uncommon fighter – in terms of what he achieved, how he achieved it and what he overcame. An ordinary kid from Palm Springs, California, with a drive and a dream, who willed his way to the near summit of a sport to stand amongst legends. It is the virtues which Bradley gave the sport of boxing which will become rarer than the skills of his superiors and that is a sentiment which should not and cannot be lost on observers of the sweet science.