Who will WBO welterweight champion Timothy Bradley be fighting tonight at the Thomas and Mack Center? His challenger, or himself?
That may be the central question for the undefeated Bradley as he puts his title at risk against the 40-year-old conqueror of Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez. For Marquez this fight is an opportunity to make history, to chase the future by becoming the first Mexican-born boxer to win world titles in five different weight classes, but for Bradley it is as much about the past as the future.
Has he fully recovered from the terrible injuries he suffered in his March victory over Ruslan Provodnikov, when he was so badly concussed early in the match that for several months after he suffered with slurred speech, memory loss and problems with his equilibrium? Is he still the fighter he was that night, when he fought off both Provodnikov and a deep, lingering fog to win?
Since then Bradley (30-0, 12 KO; seen above at weigh-in, in photo by Chris Farina-Top Rank) has become an advocate for concussion monitoring among boxers and has been open about both his treatment, which included four months of complete inactivity in which he was instructed to avoid raising his heart rate, and his willingness to advise any fighters who find themselves in a similar post-concussive wasteland.
Bradley said this week he had come into the Provodnikov fight dehydrated from having had to battle to make weight, a condition many neurologists believe makes a fighter more vulnerable to brain injury, and when he began training for Marquez he admits he was 185 pounds because of his long inactivity. At that point, he was also still battling equilibrium problems.
As the weight came off, however, Bradley said he began to return to normal and will enter the ring at the Thomas and Mack Center with both a clean bill of health and the firm belief that his concussion problems are behind him and he remains the same fighter he was on March 16, when he first entered the ring in Carson, CA. to face Provodnikov.
Yet he admits that as he pondered his fistic future there were those around him who wondered if the price of glory had become too high.
“I never asked if it was worth the price because every fighter knows when you enter the ring you may not come out the same,’’ Bradley said this week. “You might not come out at all. Fighters accept that.
“This is boxing. If you can’t deal with it, get the hell out of my corner. I told my wife and my mother if it’s too hard for you to watch then don’t come inside the arena. You can be in denial and try and keep it a secret but this comes with the territory.
“I’ve fought with a broken rib. I’ve fought with two messed up feet. I’ve fought concussed. I’m going to keep on fighting. I’ve got so much mind control and self-belief, man. I’m not going to quit on the stool if I’m hurt. I’m in a championship fight. I’m not going to lose my title on the stool.
“Look at that woman Diane Nyad. She’s 63-years-old. Spent 53 hours in the ocean. Sharks. In the water day and night. Jellyfish. Come on, man! That’s inspirational.
“That fight I felt I had to earn the fan’s respect. The fans pay the bills. That’s why I fought the way I fought that night. I wanted to make a statement to the world. Boxing fans want to see a good fight. I gave them a good fight.
“This time I definitely promised Cameron (Dunkin, his manager) I won’t fight that way. I’ll use my athletic skills and boxing ability. ‘’
The unanswered question is how much of that ability survived that harsh night with Provodnikov? Bradley has received a clean bill of health and insists he will box more intelligently this time. He knows the stakes are high because a victory over Marquez, coupled with his disputed victory over Pacquiao last year, would set up a big-money rematch possibility with Pacquiao or perhaps even a bigger money showdown with boxing’s walking ATM, Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
For any of that to happen however Bradley must be Bradley tonight, which means he has to have retained the mobility, sharp footwork and quick reflexes that have kept him undefeated and made him a world champion. These are things he not only knows but expects to be true.
“Against a counter puncher like Marquez I have to use a lot of feints, use my footwork, set traps for him,’’ Bradley explained. “I need to find the right distance and the right timing and close the gap on him. He hates that. I’ll find the key. In three rounds I’ll find the key.’’
If he does, Bradley believes this is the fight that will unlock the door for him, one that will set the stage not only for another huge payday but also for establishing who he is in boxing.
“I’m looking at this fight for legacy purposes,’’ Bradley said. “When I beat him that’s two Hall of Fame fighters I’ve beaten in my career. I win Saturday night you can’t deny me top three in the world anymore.’’
Perhaps not. Now all he has to do is prove he’s still the fighter to do it.