When Timothy Bradley was paired with Manny Pacquiao last summer for the Filipino whirlwind’s WBO welterweight title belt, it was based far more on recognition than accomplishment.
Bradley had been successful—not dominant—over a three-year reign at 140 pounds that was interrupted by precisely one fight at welter, a largely forgettable decision over anonymous Argentine Luis Abregu.
The reality was further reflected in the aftermath of what many saw as 2012’s worst decision.
Rather than rocketing to superstardom with a first-in-seven-years defeat of the multidivision phenom from General Santos City, the winner and new champion was instead left out of the discussion for Pacquiao’s next fight and forced to swim in the Ruslan Provodnikov end of the 147 pool.
After Saturday night, though, that won’t be the case come next time.
On the heels of a clinically sublime—and way too close on the scorecards—defeat of Juan Manuel Marquez at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, the still-unbeaten Bradley presented concrete evidence that he warrants a Manny fight now more than he had at any previous point in his career, including the night he actually swayed Duane Ford and C.J. Ross to believe he’d won the first one.
Not only did the unbeaten 30-year-old dispatch any remnants of the brawn-before-brains robot who literally barely survived 12 hard rounds against the limited Provodnikov in March, he showed a more varied and effective skill set than any relevant welterweight not named “Money” Mayweather.
As Bradley described it, "He couldn't touch me. I gave him a boxing lesson."
He stayed busy with a left jab that continually frustrated the perpetually plodding Mexican, landed just enough snapping right hands to blunt the effectiveness of his foe’s aggression and managed to escape any danger that was created with the legs that were maddeningly stilled in his springtime outing.
As Sky Sports color analyst (and former world lightweight champion) Jim Watt said during the broadcast, “Bradley is frustrating this crowd, and I don’t think he cares one little bit.”
It was both a fitting audition reel for a Pacquiao rematch and a far more decisive performance against Marquez—judge Glenn Feldman’s mathematics notwithstanding—than anything Manny had delivered in his first three meetings with the persistent Mexican in 2004 (12-round draw), 2008 (12-round split decision) and 2011 (12-round majority decision).
In addition to logic, and in spite of Bob Arum's pessimism, it’s got the convenience factor going as well.
Assuming Pacquiao wins and looks good doing so in November’s comeback fight against Brandon Rios—and if he doesn’t, let’s face it, he’s irrelevant on the big stage—a rematch between he and Bradley is simply the fight that makes the most sense for both guys.
The defeat of Marquez places the WBO champ a solid second in the mix behind Mayweather, and with both the WBA (Adrien Broner) and IBF claimants (Devon Alexander) under the promotional auspices of Arum’s primary rival, a Bradley fight is clearly Manny’s best chance to rejoin the belted class.
“A battle like he had with Provodnikov,” Watt said, “can either take something out of a fighter or add something to him.”
It’s beyond debate that for Bradley it did the latter, leaving the champion smarter and more determined to use the qualities—boring as they might be—that got him to the highest levels in the first place.
He deserves the shot to “avenge” his win in the first bout.
And if he fights the way he did Saturday, chances are good he'll do it.