Both Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez beat Manny Pacquiao. The two men are now a footnote in boxing history, human road blocks who may have forever halted the biggest box office bonanza of all time, a bout between Pacquiao and the elusive Floyd Mayweather Jr. that had been in different stages of negotiations for years.
For their trouble, one became a hero, the other a laughingstock, a walking reminder of all that is wrong with the sweet science. One is beloved among his countrymen, the other a virtual unknown outside his insular world.
The devil, as always, is in the details.
Juan Manuel Marquez believed beating Pacquiao was his birthright. Already a Hall of Famer, the Mexican wrecking ball had taken the man many considered the best fighter in the world to his absolute limits, not once, but three times. The official results showed one draw and two losses.
In his heart, Marquez believed he had won all three.
"It was very frustrating to hear the scorecards after my performances. I was angry and there is a lot of pride," Marquez told the media during a conference call in 2012. "...I felt angry because when they were reading the scorecards, the scorecards were for him but I knew I won the fight."
And so, to the star and his loyal fans, beating Pacquiao was not a miracle or even an aberration. It was simply what was expected.
Perhaps they didn't expect the dramatic fashion in which it occurred, with the Filipino star face down on the canvas in just the sixth round, victim of a counter-right hand that will give Marquez opponents nightmares for as long as he continues to fight. But it was expected nonetheless.
"There was justice for us," Marquez said after the fight. "This victory was not only my victory. It's a victory for the entire country of Mexico."
His was not quite as happy a story.
Bradley was supposed to be nothing more than a name on Pacquiao's resume, just another fighter on the great one's victim list. Instead, against all odds, he won a split decision over the most popular boxer on Earth.
It was the moment every fighter dreams of, an origin story worthy of a comic book. Every great fighter has one—that moment when they knew, and fans knew as well, that they were something special.
For Bradley, the changing of the guard was a sweetness that quickly turned sour.
The announcement that followed the fight, one that saw him win a split decision by a fairly wide margin, left fans shocked. He and two of the three judges were perhaps the only people on the planet who scored the fight his way. A silence overtook the crowd in the arena and at home.
But shock didn't last long. Anger followed—anger and ugliness. Bradley had joked about Oprah Winfrey calling him after he surprised everyone with a win. He soon realized that was a call that would never come.
"I knew it wasn't going to go well for me right after the fight. I was like, 'Oh my goodness. This really sucks. A lot of people don't think I won the fight.' And this is not going to get any better," Bradley told Bleacher Report. "There really wasn't nothing I could do. I wasn't a judge.
"I honestly felt I won the fight. Just so everybody knows that. I still feel I won the fight. I'll sit down with anybody and we can go round by round and I can explain to you why I won the fight and which rounds I won. Man, I didn't do anything wrong. I did my job. That's all I did. All I did was fight my best with two broken up feet. That's all I did, man."
Even a year after the fact, it's a conversation that weighs on Bradley. It gnawed on him, wore him down. He had worked his whole life for that moment, visualized his hand raised, his ascension to the top of the sport.
Instead of being glorified, he was used an example, the fighter who didn't deserve what he'd earned.
"It was a hard time in my life. It was a hard time for my family. A hard time for my trainer. It was hard walking down the street feeling like we stole something from somebody," he said. "Life isn't fair, man. You can sit there and you can dwell and feel sorry for yourself or you can bounce back. Use it to make you stronger.
"You can use the things that go on in your life, trials and tribulations, and use it to become mentally stronger. That's what it's done for me. It's made me a stronger person. And it allowed me to realize who really loves me and cares about me. And that's really important to know."
What happened next has become part of the Timothy Bradley story. Rather than hide the dark side of boxing from his fans and the gaping jaws of the media beast, Bradley has embraced it. He talks openly about the pressure that consumed him and the suicidal thoughts that followed.
When he stepped into the ring for his first fight post-Pacquiao against Pacquiao sparring partner Ruslan Provodnikov, Bradley had something to prove. To his fans. To his critics. To his opponent.
But mostly to himself.
For 12 rounds Bradley threw himself on an altar of pain, sacrificed himself to prove a point that didn't need to be proven. Rather than outbox his foe, whose power punching was his only shot at victory, Bradley eschewed anything even resembling science.
It was brutal phone booth fighting. Brutal and beautiful.
"I took all my anger and aggression out in the Ruslan Provodnikov fight," he admits. "I had a plan. My trainer didn't know about it, but my wife knew. I told her, 'I'm going to try to go out here and knock this guy out. I'm going to give it everything I have.' My wife was like, 'No, listen to the trainer.' No. I wanted to do what I needed to do. I was going to take the guy out. I wanted to show everybody, you know, that I'm the real deal. That I'm a true fighter. That I'm a true champion.
"I was like 'All those people out there who say that I'm a paper champion, I'm a fake champion—I'm going to show you guys what I'm made of. I'm going to put my life on the line. I'm going to do whatever it takes to win the fight.' I did that, and I almost got killed doing it. Thank God I didn't."
Bradley has been open and honest about the effects of the Provodnikov fight, perhaps more than what is comfortable for fight fans who prefer not to think about the human cost of what happens in the ring.
His speech was slurred, his motor movements off and his brain was not quite firing on all synapses in the weeks following the fight.
This Wednesday, nearly seven months later, there's no sign of any permanent decline. He was sharp, engaging and funny in a phone call with Bleacher Report last week. And trainer Joel Diaz says he's back to his old self in the gym as well.
"At the beginning, his equilibrium wasn’t there," Diaz told the media. "With time he was getting better... His balance and equilibrium started to come back. As a trainer I always take that into consideration—how is he going to come back—because he did get hit pretty hard. Week after week, he started getting better, and he was reacting really good [sic].
"...He’s been sparring with some tough sparring partners. He’s been getting hit real hard and been reacting really good. All reactions I have seen from him are normal, and his reflexes are very sharp."
Only on PPV
"Money rules boxing. It's about money, baby."
That's what Timothy Bradley says, at least on the phone to Bleacher Report. But is it what he believes? Reports say he turned down more money for a Pacquiao rematch to fight Marquez on Saturday.
"I wasn't ready," he said. "After the Provodnikov fight I was in darkness. Then I came to the light, and I want to stay in the light. After that, maybe I can return to a dark place."
Instead, he and Marquez, a fighter Bradley says he has long admired, will do battle together, both seeking to put Pacquiao in the past.
At first glance, Bradley and Marquez may not seem like an obvious choice for pay-per-view.
Both had been supporting players in their own star turns, buried deep in Pacquiao's not insubstantial shadow. And, while no one could dispute Marquez's eventual primacy, Bradley's win was shrouded in controversy and doubt.
But both drew more than 900,000 pay-per-view buys against Pacquiao and a combined $111 million in revenue. The Ric Flair mantra says that to be the man, you must beat the man. Both had. That might be enough, if not to do Mayweather numbers, to at least match the 475,000 buys put up by Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Sergio Martinez last year
HBO's senior vice president of sports operations and pay-per-view Mark Taffet doesn't seem concerned. He's made a living deciding which fights belong on pay-per-view and which don't.
And he believes that Marquez versus Bradley has the right dynamic to get fans reaching for their wallets.
"Two fighters who both registered victories over Manny Pacquiao? They are clearly worthy of a pay-per-view fight," he told Bleacher Report.
"Very seldom do you get two of the sport's elite fighters facing one another in a fight that is also believed to be extremely fan-friendly going in because of their styles. So by all measures, when they step into the ring, it's a fight that's worthy of the fan's time and their money. I believe that discriminating fans will see this as a great fight, a very meaningful fight between two of the sport's elite fighters."
And, Taffet points out, if Bradley was the weak link economically after the Pacquiao fight, his follow-up performance was a serious game-changer.
"Bradley-Provodnikov was a classic," Taffet said. "Fans love, admire and respect Tim Bradley, not only for his performance, but the courage and the effort he displayed in the ring against Provodnikov. That was a classic battle that will be talked about for generations to come."
Bradley, for his part, is tired of talking about dollars and cents.
"They should consider me at that top level, but I don't know, man," he said. You could practically hear the shrug. "There's really no logic behind boxing. And I'm really never sure what people will think. I am going to prove to the world that I am one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the game. I am going to beat Marquez. Then we’ll see what the people say after that."
Bradley vs. Marquez will take place Saturday, October 12 at the Thomas & Mack Center, on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. It will be produced and distributed live by HBO Pay-Per-View, beginning at 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT.
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