It’s not a simple proposition.
Which is convenient, because neither is Tim Bradley the easiest fighter to dissect.
Typically, when the question “have we seen (insert subject’s) best” is asked, the implication being made is that said subject is closer to the end of his or her road than its beginning.
That doesn’t feel like the case with Bradley.
He’s 30 years old. He’s been a full-time welterweight for barely two years. And he remains one of the most impeccably conditioned fighters in the game, regardless of weight class or opposition.
His one official blemish in 33 professional fights came against the man who just so happens to be a seven-division world champion who’ll be spending a summer weekend in Canastota, N.Y., exactly five years after he retires.
Not exactly the death knell for any career.
Still, the rationale behind such a query does have some merit.
While it’s true Bradley entered Saturday night’s fight in Las Vegas as a consensus entry on boxing’s hard-to-pinpoint top-10 pound-for-pound list, it’s also true that he’s not likely to show us anything we haven’t already seen.
He won’t be any tougher than he was against Ruslan Provodnikov. He won’t be any slicker than he was versus Juan Manuel Marquez. He won’t be any more determined than he was in the Pacquiao rematch.
He is, to paraphrase the always paraphrase-worthy Dennis Green, what we already know he is.
And regardless of whether that’s as good as it’ll get, it’s still pretty darn good.
Losing to a fighter in Pacquiao, who was clearly more focused on his work than he’d been the first time they’d met two years ago, is hardly an infraction. The dubious decision in the first fight might have fueled the Filipino’s fire and certainly, as Freddie Roach told me flat-out last week, Bradley’s incessant yapping about Manny losing his passion for the game didn’t hurt the motivation.
It was the best version of Pac-Man that anyone had seen in a while, and the fact that Bradley was able to stand in there with him in a far more entertaining and competitive scrap than 2012—I scored it 115-113 on Saturday—should indicate the Californian’s days of belonging on the top shelf are not finished.
Will he ever supplant Floyd Mayweather Jr. as the best fighter in the sport? Probably not.
But can he be both a worthy and championship-level adversary for the 140- or 147-pounders working promoter Bob Arum’s side of the street for the foreseeable future? Positively, yes.
A bout with Pacquiao’s previous conquest, Brandon Rios, would give Bradley the chance to display both the hellbent-for-leather persona that he’s brought out for the Provodnikov and Pacquiao II fights, along with the smooth-operator side he showed while flummoxing Marquez last winter.
A rematch with Provodnikov would be no worse than an even-money bet to reprise its Fight of the Year drama from March 2013. Opportunities against other top rank card-fillers like Mike Alvarado, Jessie Vargas or Khabib Allakhverdiev are hardly too big on the surface for Bradley to ponder.
And if the Cold War somehow ends and possibilities open up for Bradley with names like Adrien Broner, Amir Khan, Robert Guerrero, Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter and even Marcos Maidana and Floyd Mayweather, the odds are good that while he might not win them all, he’d more than likely win more than he’d lose.
It may not be what Desert Storm would welcome as he licks wounds from a loss in what was without question the biggest opportunity of his career, but the chances are good that the mettle he’s displayed along the way thus far isn’t going to be giving out in the near future either.
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