Timothy Bradley has something to prove.
Not to himself—the California native knows who he is as a person and a fighter—but to the fans and media who don’t believe he beat Manny Pacquiao in 2012 and don’t feel that he can.
Bradley and Pacquiao will meet in a rematch of their highly controversial first bout on April 12, and this time, the defending champion says things will be different.
“I’m a different fighter now. I’m a different beast. A different animal. And this time around I want to prove it to the fans and prove it to everybody watching,” Bradley said on an international-media conference call on Thursday.
“I got the win, but it felt like I lost because I didn’t get any credit for it from the fans. And it’s very important to get the credit from the fans.”
Bradley and Pacquiao met in the ring for the first time on June 9, 2012. That night remains one of the most controversial and debated in the long history of boxing.
Pacquiao, the defending WBO welterweight champion, seemed to have done enough after 36 minutes of action to walk away from the ring at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas with a wide points victory.
And then Michael Buffer uttered the two words that would set social media and the boxing world on fire.
Bradley, contrary to the belief of the vast majority of fans and media, had been awarded a split-decision victory via identical 115-113 scores from judges C.J. Ross and Duane Ford.
Since then, Bradley has gone on to successfully defend his title against Ruslan Provodnikov and Juan Manuel Marquez.
The Provodnikov fight, named the Fight of the Year by both The Ring Magazine and Bleacher Report, was particularly difficult for Bradley. He was knocked down, suffered a concussion and pulled out a narrow victory in a fight where he was especially reckless.
His approach to the fight, and carelessness during it, can be attributed to his mental state after the Pacquiao fight.
But his trainer Joel Diaz doesn’t believe it’ll be a problem again.
“On that day [against Provodnikov], it was more of a mad Tim Bradley. He had a lot of anger in him because of the way the world, the media and the fans approached him,” Diaz said on Thursday.
“That was an experience, and I don’t think it will happen again.”
For his sake, it better not.
Pacquiao has been knocked out—stunningly and spectacularly—by Marquez and won a unanimous decision over Brandon Rios since dropping his title.
Bradley has been a frequent critic of the Filipino icon’s fighting style. He’s spent the better part of the past two months telling anyone who will listen that his opponent’s once iconic killer instinct is no longer a part of his makeup.
“When was the last time he knocked somebody out? It’s been a long time, right?” Bradley asked in response to Bleacher Report’s question.
“He had a guy standing in front of him. A guy that is a tough guy—Brandon Rios. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a very tough guy, a good fighter. But he stood right there in front of him, and he [Pacquiao] couldn’t get rid of him. And he’s supposed to be one of the vicious punchers in the game.”
Bradley and his team have repeatedly pointed at Pacquiao’s approach to the Rios fight as evidence that he no longer has the will to finish an opponent.
In that fight, Pacquiao clearly had an overmatched foe in front of him, and he could hardly seem to miss when he let his hands go. But even given all that, he appeared very reluctant to press for a stoppage.
Bradley says he saw something from Pacquiao on that night that he’s never seen before.
“I’ve never seen Manny Pacquiao take a step back before when he’s supposed to engage,” Bradley said.
“I think it was the last round of the Rios fight. Rios was trapped in the corner and you saw Manny Pacquiao step off the gas pedal. It was unbelievable to me.“
Pacquiao has one of the best poker faces in the sport. Nothing seems to bother him, and even with Bradley’s repeated needling, he’s remained the same person, even going as far as to thank him for pointing out his flaws.
But Bradley doesn’t believe he’ll see that cool, calm demeanor on fight night. He feels that he’s gotten under Pacquiao’s skin, and he’ll see the very best his foe has to offer.
“The first fight we had he said he was compassionate with me. He carried me through the fight. He didn’t really train that hard. He made every excuse in the book,” Bradley mused.
“This time around I think he’s going to be vicious. I think I pissed him off, got under his skin by saying he lost it.”
The stakes are obviously very high in this rematch for both fighters.
Pacquiao has lost two of his last three bouts—including the controversial defeat to Bradley and the decisive knockout to Marquez—and it’s questionable whether or not he could sustain another defeat and remain relevant at the top of the sport.
Bradley, for his part, understands that for all the talking he’s done—he’s never backed down from his claim that he won the first fight—he’s put himself in the proverbial put up or shut up position.
A loss here would validate, to a certain degree, all the criticisms he faced coming out of the first fight, and he’s keenly aware of the stakes for both men.
“If he loses this fight, think about it, his career might be over with,” Bradley commented on his foe.
But he didn’t absolve himself of pressure, acknowledging that he’s talked his way into needing a clear victory.
“I really need to win this fight because of the first fight, because of the controversy, because I went around saying I beat him, I beat him, I beat him. So now, I have to beat him more decisively.”
That’s about the perfect summation of where we’re at, under two weeks from fight night.
Pacquiao needs this fight to stay relevant.
Bradley needs it to correct what the fans view as the original sin of his career—a victory most believe he didn’t deserve.
Credit for that victory has been nonexistent, and Bradley, who can laugh about the entire ordeal now, knows that there’s only one thing left for him to do in order to get the respect and credit he feels he’s earned.
“After the controversy they [fans] really hated me. Like I had something to do with it. It ain’t me. I didn’t have anything to do with anything,” Bradley said with a chuckle.
“I’m not a judge. I went in and did my job. But it’s hard to make people realize that. At the end of the day, I just have to continue to win and they’ll have no choice.”
Kevin McRae is a featured boxing columnist for Bleacher Report. He participated in an international media conference call with WBO welterweight champion Timothy Bradley, his trainer Joel Diaz and promoter Bob Arum on Thursday. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.