There may be many ways to skin a cat but these days there seems to be only one way to become a boxing superstar, as Tim Bradley is beginning to understand.
If Willie Pep were fighting today (not to compare one of the sport’s greatest pure boxers to Tim Bradley, by the way) boxing fans would not be lining up to watch him or writing checks to cable networks to buy him on pay-per-view. They’d be booing him for inaction.
That is how the game, or at least the perception of the game, has changed over the years. While boxing may still call itself “The Sweet Science’’ it pays most often today for guys who swing ax handles.
In his own way Bradley was as dominating in his recent dismantlement of WBC junior welterweight champion Devon Alexander as Nonito Donaire was in his one-punch knockout of unified bantamweight titleholder Fernando Montiel, yet Donaire became an instant star with one left hook while Bradley remains in boxing’s shadows despite landing nearly 100 of them to the face and body of an undefeated champion for 10 one-sided rounds.
Bradley (27-0, 11 KO) methodically broke down Alexander, who many believed had superior speed, by first tearing at his body before later moving to his head. During the course of this beat down, Bradley took away Alexander’s spirit, breaking his mind before finally breaking a hole over his right eye with an inadvertent head butt.
At that point Alexander (21-1, 13 KO) completely unraveled. Overwhelmed by the relentless pressure Bradley had been putting on him, he quit. It was a classic case of a mentally stronger fighter taking away the physical advantages of an opponent and thereby breaking him down mentally round by round. It was, frankly, a boxing masterpiece.
Yet when it was over no one was calling for Bradley’s ascension to the top of the pound-for-pound ratings and debate over whether or not he should be in line to fight Manny Pacquiao – which was rampant before the fight – all but ceased.
“I was faster,’’ Bradley said. “If that’s the best in the world then that’s weak. He was jumping in. He just didn’t want to get hit with the big shot.’’
Because of that he didn’t land one but he peppered Alexander with a multitude of small ones, including 98 power shots and 39 jabs. What they combined to do was break young Alexander both psychologically and physically.
There is a subtlety to that kind of work inside a boxing ring which eludes most fans and nearly all television executives. Once there was a time when that kind of skill would be widely admired. He would be seen as a fistic surgeon, a technically dominating force.
Today the boxing world and the real world are more fast-paced. There is little room for, or understanding of, subtleties either outside the ropes or inside them. Knockouts and the men who deliver them have always been the driving force in boxing because this is, after all, the hurt business and nothing hurts more than a concussive shot to the mandible.
What’s changed is the make-up of fight fans, who for the most part are people who look at Donaire’s one-punch knockout of Montiel as not only the primary validation of greatness but the only one.
Donaire’s concussive powers were already well known, as were Montiel’s. It seemed assured one of them would not have to work a full shift and that turned out to be Donaire (26-1, 18 KO), who wobbled Montiel in the first round and sent him crumbling to the floor in the second. Although Montiel’s body got up, his mind was still on the floor and so the fight was stopped at 2:25 of the second round. It was, to be sure, a marvelous execution.
“I hit him with a left hook, looked down and saw him twitching,’’ Donaire said. “I knew the fight was over then.’’
What he also knew was with that one punch he had pushed his way into the pound-for-pound debate in a way Bradley had not. Although few would argue that anyone but Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. are some form of 1-2 in that discussion, Donaire catapulted himself toward the top while Bradley failed to move the needle.
Donaire immediately became the best bantamweight in the world and one of the sport’s most explosive performers. Bradley, on the other hand, was immediately seen as having to face England’s Amir Khan, a power puncher of note himself, to further establish his 140-pound bonafides with the paying public.
That is the nature of boxing in the 21st Century. If you possess concussive power you can quickly enter the public’s collective consciousness. If you don’t, you’re Timothy Bradley, a dominating performer in a way too few people understand.