There’s something different about Timothy Bradley these days.
While he’s still the same polite, well-spoken and undeniably shredded athlete from Southern California, another characteristic has noticeably bled through the closer he’s gotten to Saturday night’s WBO welterweight title rematch with Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas.
Perhaps more so than at any point in a 10-year pro career, the kid is confident too.
Confident that he belongs in the ring alongside the Filipino with the resume that includes world-title claims in seven weight classes. And confident because now that he’s already gone through the big-fight hoopla once, he can concentrate on bettering his performance at the MGM Grand encore.
It’s a win that would bring the acclaim to a place the fighter already feels he belongs—the mountaintop.
“The press tour and all the media and everything, it lights a fire under your ass and it gets you going,” Bradley said. “It was interesting. It was different this time. Back then, [Pacquiao] was like the big dog on the block and you could tell. You could sense it. He was great. He was full of confidence like he was the big dog. But now I feel like I’m the big dog going into this fight. I’m the champ. I’ve got the belt.
“I feel calm and poised, just as calm as he did. The first time it was very nerve-wracking. I didn’t really want to show any weaknesses at all or show that I was nervous. This time, I wasn’t nervous at all. I was like, ‘Hey, how you doing, buddy? All right man, we’re going to get it on again.’”
It’s not as if the outward self-assurance is the product of a faulty memory.
While Bradley insists he believes he won the 2012 fight—“I wouldn’t be up on somebody’s shoulders if I thought I lost,” he said—he’s well aware that the public’s main takeaway from the match was that the ex-champion had been wronged by scorecards at ringside, not beaten by a challenger in the ring.
Judges Duane Ford and C.J. Ross saw Bradley a 115-113 winner, while a third judge, Jerry Roth, had Pacquiao winning by the same score.
It was deemed the year’s most egregious robbery by BoxingScene.com, which cited an informal ringside survey in which all but three of 58 media members had scored Pacquiao the rightful winner.
“This fight is for the fans,” Bradley said.
“This is for all the people, all the millions of people who saw the first fight and said ‘Bradley lost the fight, but they gave it to him.’ It’s for them, so they can say, ‘Dang, Tim Bradley the second time around made it more decisive. Maybe the first fight he didn’t win, but he won the second one for damned sure.’
“The credit is what I’m looking for, for beating a legend.”
The credit will come with a clear victory, but the path emerging from it isn’t as certain.
Because Bradley is contractually positioned on the Top Rank side of boxing’s promotional Cold War, he’s aware that a mega-match with pound-for-pound kingpin—and reigning WBC welterweight champion—Floyd Mayweather Jr. is probably a no-go unless circumstances change dramatically.
That would more likely leave him a third match with Pacquiao or second fights with two other ex-foes, Mexican veteran Juan Manuel Marquez and Russian workhorse Ruslan Provodnikov. Bradley beat Provodnikov in a rugged 12-round battle in his first defense of Pacquiao’s former belt, then outpointed Marquez in a pay-per-view match seven months later.
Mayweather will fight WBA welterweight champion Marcos Maidana on May 3.
“I want to fight the best, and right now the best guy in the business is Mayweather,” Bradley said.
“I can probably never go and stick the gun up to Bob (Arum) and say ‘I want that fight.’ I'm not going to mess up my business doing a foolish move like that. But Floyd says over and over and over and over, ‘I'm my own boss. I do what I want to do.' If he's his own boss and if he wants the fight, he can make the fight happen. If he wanted to fight me, he could fight me, no problem.
“But if he's not willing to work with my people, then it's not going to happen.”
And if it indeed doesn’t, Bradley’s content to wait for his chance to elevate.
“I can have my opinion, but I’ve never fought Floyd Mayweather. I can’t say I’m the best fighter in the world,” he said. “I know I’m in the top 10. Whether you have me at No. 6 or No. 5 or No. 4 or No. 3 or No. 9, whatever, that’s good enough for me. I want to be No. 1. That’s my goal. If I can get to No. 1, I’ve accomplished everything you can in boxing.
“Whether Floyd Mayweather fights me or not, he still has his own legacy. All I need to do is worry about me. If he leaves the game, then hey, that leaves open doors for another No. 1.”
NOTE: All quotes were obtained firsthand, in a one-on-one interview.