By Steve Kim
On the night of June 9, 2012, Tim Bradley -- who faces Juan Manuel Marquez this weekend in Las Vegas -- was declared the split-decision victor over Manny Pacquiao. Usually, a win over one of the game's best performers and a worldwide icon is a joyous occasion, but not when most of the world believes the wrong man got to raise his hands in victory.
Unfortunately for Bradley, in the eyes of most observers, the scorecards rendered in that fight made it one of the most controversial -- and some would even say crooked -- decisions in years. Outside of the two judges who had Bradley winning the fight, it was universally accepted that the Filipino icon had won the contest handily. In the hysteria and outrage following that event, boxing was once again read its last rites.
When does winning feel like losing? When the whole world tells you as much. And with that, Bradley, by nature a friendly and amiable sort, went into a deep personal funk, after what should've been a crowning moment of his career.
"Oh, hell yeah," he said this summer at the Beverly Hills Hotel, as his fight with Marquez was officially announced. "I was in a dark place, mentally, physically, everything. I mean, everything that went on during that time was a tough time. Y'know, my kids go to school, and they come back and tell me what kids are saying. It just spread like wildfire. Once people see something, they have their own perception of things. They start listening to all the media, the media drives everything, the media is like the ship that drives everything ... At the end of the day, I'm just moving past that. I'm moving past the whole controversy thing."
In the immediate aftermath of the Pacquiao fight, he says, he received death threats, constant heckling on Facebook and hundreds of negative interactions on Twitter. Rancid boxing decisions unfortunately have been a part of the sport's storied history, and there have been many, but you'd be hard-pressed to find an example where the derision and blame were placed so squarely on the fighter who was declared the winner.
Bradley hasn't said the right things to help his cause. He insisted he was indeed victorious that night against Pacquiao. And when one of the judges who had ruled in his favor rendered another highly controversial decision -- C.J. Ross somehow saw a draw, where the rest of the world saw an easy victory for Floyd Mayweather over Saul Alvarez -- Bradley saw no problem with defending Ross and supporting her.
"Beating" Pacquiao turned Bradley into a pariah. He spent the rest of 2012 nursing the foot and ankle injuries he'd suffered in the fight, eventually deciding not to face Lamont Peterson in a rematch that would have earned him a few more million dollars. His relationship with Top Rank, who promoted him as well as "The Pac-Man," was strained. He became cold and distant to the outside world, weary of the boxing industry that had made him a multi-millionaire. Despite winning multiple belts at junior welterweight -- and despite victories over the likes of Miguel Vazquez, Junior Witter, Kendall Holt, Devon Alexander, Luis Abregu and Peterson -- it seemed Bradley would never live down the two scorecards that deemed him the winner over Pacquiao.
But the night of March 16 changed the public perception of Bradley. He was paired with Russian Ruslan Provodnikov, in a fight so overlooked and lightly regarded that the Home Depot Center (as it was known then) in Carson, Calif., wasn't even half-full. Just a few thousand fans were in attendance, but what began as an afterthought quickly became must-see television. Provodnikov staggered Bradley early on, and from there they waged war for 12 spirited rounds. Bradley ended up taking a knee in the final seconds of the bout, as he held off the hard-charging Provodnikov to win a hard-fought, unanimous decision.
As it stands now, it's probably the fight of the year. It was a vicious and violent encounter, as beautiful as it was brutal. There were no limo rides back home for Bradley, but rather an ambulance waiting to take him to the hospital for observation. It was so grueling and physically taxing that both Bradley and Provodnikov could be irrevocably damaged -- yet at least for Bradley, even that steep price might be worth it.
"I was in a dark position in boxing, and the Provodnikov fight definitely brought some light to my career," Bradley said. "A lot people were like, 'Man, what a heart, I can't believe you stood there and fought with a guy like this, my goodness, this is unbelievable. We've never seen a fighter, fight like you and show that much determination and will.' So with that said, I wanted to stay in the light, man. I wanted to be in the light, I didn't want to go back."
And with that, like Marquez -- who knocked out Pacquiao in their fourth meeting in December -- he eschewed another, more lucrative hook-up with Pacquiao to face the accomplished Mexican. This is the matchup he yearned for.
"I wanted this fight, for this time and place," Bradley says. "Granted, with the Provodnikov fight a lot of people were like, 'Ah, you should've taken a tune-up before this fight, you don't know how you're going to react.' I just want to fight the best, man. Honestly, a lot of people say, 'Oh, your 30-0 record, what does it mean?' It doesn't mean anything to me. There's a lot of guys out there that are 30-0, 40-0, 50-0, and they haven't fought anybody. I want to fight the best. You look at my resumé, I fought some good fighters, man, great fighters, world champions, former world champions. I fought against guys that are world champions right now."
And so the prideful resident of Palm Springs continues to fight for his standing within the hierarchy of the sport -- and to make sure he isn't defined by an unpopular decision that happened to go his way.
"I'm not worried about losing my 'O,'" he says. "I just want to fight the best out there, make the most money out there and fulfill my legacy in boxing. If I can add this name to my legacy, you can't deny me a spot. A top spot."
Steve Kim began covering boxing in 1996 and has been writing for Maxboxing.com since 2001. He is also a regular contributor for Boxing News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he tweets (a lot).