If you ask Timothy Bradley, Saturday night is going to mean a lot of things.
Not only will it be a chance for him to defend his WBO welterweight title for a third time and exorcise the demons of a hauntingly unsatisfying victory over Manny Pacquiao two years ago, but it’ll also officially stamp his arrival to the upper echelon of boxing’s royalty.
If he pulls off what many would still consider an upset—he’s a mild underdog according to fight-week odds posted on VegasInsider.com—it’ll mean something entirely different as well.
The changing of the conversational guard surrounding the sport’s most sought-after dream fight.
Out with Mayweather-Pacquiao, he says, and in with Mayweather-Bradley.
In fact, even days before the Pacquiao rematch, Bradley’s already rehearsing his lines.
“I want to fight the best,” he said, “and right now the best guy in the business is Mayweather.”
Replacing a seven-division champion Filipino in his mid-30s with an unbeaten American who turned pro nearly a full decade later would seem like a drastic shift in the squared-circle paradigm.
The boxing public has been clamoring for a summit between Pacquiao and Mayweather for what feels like an eternity, particularly since Pacquiao made his welterweight debut by eliciting a surrender from Oscar De La Hoya after eight one-sided rounds in their December 2008 bout.
Fuel was added as names like Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley and Antonio Margarito joined the victims list over succeeding years, but the match never significantly advanced beyond the chattering stage—thanks to a rotating litany of drug test, purse split and promotional conflicts between the camps.
Bradley’s unanimously disputed defeat of Pacquiao in 2012 succeeded in shifting the conversation from failed negotiation to suspect judging.
Juan Manuel Marquez’s one-punch erasure six months later then seemed to finally relegate the dream to “what could have been” status on the sport’s front page.
Another Bradley win, assuming it arrives with less post-fight protest, would drive the final nail in one coffin while at least offering up a new adversary for “Money” in a fight that remains just as un-makeable on the surface—thanks to Bradley’s contractual allegiance to Pacquiao’s promoter, Top Rank.
He extended his deal with Bob Arum to secure the Pacquiao rematch, while Mayweather is a promotional free agent and former Top Rank client whose enmity for Arum is no secret.
Mention those aspects that keep fights from being made, and Bradley gets angry.
“It sucks. Honestly, it sucks. It really does,” he said.
“The business is changing. It used to be everybody working together. Everybody would work together and say ‘Let's make these fights. Let's make this money. Let's do this and let's do that.' Now you've got promoters trying to monopolize the whole game. Now everybody wants to be Dana White.”
If Bradley beats Pacquiao in their rematch, is Mayweather-Bradley any likelier than Mayweather-Pacquiao?
But unlike Pacquiao—whose token post-fight answer to the “Who’s next?” question was “Whomever my promoter tells me to fight”—Bradley isn’t shy about putting the ball in Mayweather’s court.
He won’t go to Arum and demand the fight, he said, but Mayweather could if he chose to.
“I can probably never go and stick the gun up to Bob and say ‘I want that fight,'” Bradley said. “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.”
If that doesn’t occur, though, the dream fight conversation’s endgame won’t change either.
“But if he's not willing to work with my people,” Bradley said, “then it's not going to happen.”
All quotes were obtained firsthand in a one-on-one interview.