Ranking the Best Opponents for Tim Bradley's Next Fight After Controversial Draw

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2014

Ranking the Best Opponents for Tim Bradley's Next Fight After Controversial Draw

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Welcome back to the big time, Tim Bradley.

    Inactive for eight months since a loss to Manny Pacquiao and winless since toppling Juan Manuel Marquez six months prior, the former two-division champ returned to premium-cable headline status with a grinding unanimous-decision defeat of rugged Argentine gatekeeper Diego Chaves.

    Or at least he should have.

    Instead, thanks to the second poor decision on a three-fight Saturday night HBO card, Bradley had to settle for a split-decision draw after one judge had him winning seven rounds, one had it even at 6-6 and the third saw Chaves as somehow-superior in eight of 12.

    Bleacher Report scored it 8-4 for Bradley.

    HBO's Max Kellerman labeled the vote for Chaves, from Julie Lederman, as "a bad scorecard."

    Bradley agreed, but was more diplomatic.

    "I thought I won the fight clearly," he said, "but if the judges saw it a different way, there's nothing I can do about it."

    Though the verdict left Bradley at 31-1-1 in a pro career that began a decade ago, it should nonetheless get him back into the big-fight conversation he'd previously reached, thanks to consecutive defeats of Devon Alexander (TD 10), Joel Casamayor (TKO 8), Pacquiao (SD 12), Ruslan Provodnikov (UD 12) and Marquez (SD 12) from 2011 to 2013.

    "Everything's possible with me," he said.

    Bradley was quite vocal leading into the fight about a continuing desire to fight the best opponents available and suggested to CBSSports.com that it meant "in your weight class, above your weight class or below your weight class."

    As a result, and thanks to a fan-friendly style, his options going forward are many, and it's likely his dance card will remain crammed for as long as he stays on the elite level. With that in mind, we've suggested a handful of top possibilities here, with the permanent invitation to make your thoughts known in the comments section.

5. Diego Chaves

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    David Becker/Getty Images

    Chaves had arrived after determined, albeit losing, efforts against Keith Thurman (KO 10) and Brandon Rios (DQ 9) in two of his last three fights, but the questionable verdict Saturday night may give him another crack at Bradley before he drops another rung on the gatekeeper ladder.

    In fact, if Bradley sticks to his for-the-people guns and decides he can't move forward with big events until the ledger with Chaves is cleared, it may be a predictable step to take once the cuts, abrasions and grotesque swelling the two men left the ring with subsides to manageable levels.

    He was the better fighter for the majority of the rounds Saturday, landing the cleaner single shots and simply doing everything that Chaves did, only a little more and a little better. It won't get him any closer to the Hall of Fame in Canastota if he does it again in six months, but it might help him sleep a little easier.

4. Juan Manuel Marquez

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    If they can't get anyone else in the ring, perhaps Bradley, Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez could organize their own round-robin tournament.

    Bradley fought Pacquiao for the second time eight months ago, and it cost him his WBO welterweight title. So it's hardly a shock to think that a guy who's fought Pacquiao four times himself would be interested in a second go-around with Bradley, too.

    For those who don't recall, Bradley and Marquez had a pay-per-view showdown of their own in October 201310 months after Marquez starched Pacquiaoand Bradley emerged with a tactical and sometimes tedious split decision that made him a top-five commodity on many well-regarded pound-for-pound lists.

    Marquez didn't feel he'd gotten a fair shake on the scorecards, and it's that lingering angst that's still got him considering Bradley for 2015. It could be a title fight, too, if Pacquiao vacates the WBO belt and heads to 140 pounds. Marquez and Bradley were Nos. 1 and 2 in the WBO rankings in November.

    It's old (literally) ground for Bradley to cover, but a guy could do worse than Marquez as a stay-busy foe.

3. Kell Brook

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    It hasn't been a memorable title reign so far for Englishman Kell Brook.

    The 28-year-old was spectacular at times in wresting the IBF welterweight crown from previously unbeaten Shawn Porter four months ago in California, but he's thus far been unable to draw his most logical rival—fellow Brit Amir Khan—into the ring for an all-UK showdown.

    Not to mention, he suffered a foot-long gash on his left leg during a machete attack while on vacation just weeks after the Porter win and hasn't yet gotten back to full-time training.

    His first defense of the IBF belt is expected in February, and representatives from Top Rank, Bradley's promoter, have discussed the prospect of Brook-Bradley in 2015 if Brook-Khan isn't an immediately done deal.

    Bradley is seeking belts, which makes it worthwhile.

2. Cornelius Bundrage

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    Scott Heppell/Associated Press

    Perhaps the most intriguing chatter leading up to Bradley's Saturday fight with Chaves was his repeated suggestion that a rise to 154 pounds was occupying prime space in his mind.

    “I've got a vision right now and a goal in mind that I want to fight at 154 pounds against one of the top 154-pounders out there,” he told CBSSports.com. “That's another vision that I'm having and another challenge that I'm embracing. That's always an opportunity."

    And while his down-the-road dreams might lean more toward ex-champs at 154 such as Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez, Bradley's ambition has to be music to the ears of IBF titleholder Cornelius Bundrage, who was also mentioned as a possible target at the new weight, per Ben Thompson of FightHype.com.

    A 41-year-old from Detroit, the 5'6" Bundrage began his second IBF reign two months ago with a unanimous 12-round defeat of Carlos Molina, after previously wearing the crown over 30 months from 2010-2013 and successfully defending twice.

    If Bradley is indeed serious about 154, it's a good way to get a title and make himself a commodity for a bigger future quarry.

1. Keith Thurman

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    At the intersection of fighting the best and going after a belt at 147 pounds, Bradley may just find a guy named Keith Thurman. 

    The unbeaten Florida-based slugger has developed a reputation as the most avoided commodity in the division, and though the hardware he holds—the WBA's interim title—is dubious at best, a Bradley victory over him would carry legitimate significance.

    The two men have sparred intermittently via media in the last year or two, with Thurman telling The Ring as early as April 2013 that "as soon as I get my hands on (Bradley), it’s over."

    The sarcastic sparks flew heading into Bradley's match with Chaves, whom Thurman stopped in 10 rounds in July 2013. Thurman was interviewed by Dontae's Boxing Nation (link is NSFW) as a follow-up to a prior chat with Bradley, in which Bradley had suggested he was a superior fighter.

    "I'm actually not too sure about my hand speed or my power," Thurman said. "I don't know if my power's real or if people like to lay down for me. Bradley, I think I'm the most overrated fighter you know. If you want to outbox somebody real nice and easy, you should pick me."

    Good enough for us.