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Bradley Marquez 131012 002a c49bfOn October 12th, Tim Bradley fought Juan Manuel Marquez at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. The belts were irrelevant. Most fight fans had no idea which sanctioning body strap (WBO welterweight) was on the line. This was a bout between two elite fighters, period. And it was particularly significant for Bradley.

“Beating Márquez will make me one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world,” Tim said days before the fight. “I don’t do this just to make money. The money is important, but I want to fight the best to be the best. That’s what motivates me. After I beat Marquez, there’s no way that people will be able to deny me what I’m due.”

Bradley stands just under 5-feet-6-inches tall and wears size twelve shoes. “Big heart too, baby,” he’s quick to note. He’s a volume puncher without knockout power (unbeaten but with only 12 KOs in 31 fights). Roy Jones calls him “a 147-pound Evander Holyfield without the punch.”

Like most fighters, Bradley dreams big dreams. But he pushes himself harder than most to accomplish them.

“I can be stubborn at times,” Tim says. “I never doubt myself. Doubt me; tell me I can’t do something. I love it. I admire people who push themselves beyond what anyone thinks they can do. Diana Nyad; sixty-four years old, swimming in the ocean with sharks, jellyfish; keeps swimming for more than fifty hours. That’s me. I’ll go into the devil’s mouth, dive into the deepest part of the ocean, do whatever I have to do to win.”

Bradley knew that he’d have a hard road to travel against Marquez.

Mexican pride has taken a beating in the boxing ring lately. Earlier this year, Canelo Alvarez was whitewashed by Floyd Mayweather; Julio Cesar Chavez Jr embarrassed himself against Brian Vera; Alfredo Angulo quit against Erislandy Lara; and Rafael Marquez was stopped by Efrain Esquivias. In 2012, Erik Morales lost twice to Danny Garcia, and Jorge Arce was demolished by Nonito Donaire. Prior to that, Antonio Margarito was bludgeoned by Shane Mosley and Manny Pacquiao and out-finessed by Miguel Cotto. Marco Antonio Barrera disappeared from the spotlight after being terminated by Amir Khan four years ago.

That left Marquez, whose most recent outing was a one-punch highlight-reel knockout of Pacquiao last December.

“I’ve seen every one of his fights,” Bradley (seen unloading on the Mexican in Chris Farina-Top Rank photo) said during a media conference call in early October. “I’ve always been a fan of Márquez.I always thought he was a great fighter and I still think he’s a great fighter. He’s one of the best counter-punchers in the game. People struggle when they fight him. He never ducked anybody.He has been in there with Mayweather. He fought Pacquiao four times. There’s nothing he hasn’t seen.Marquez isn’t easy for anyone.”

Two issues were troubling to Tim’s fans where Bradley-Marquez was concerned. The first was PED testing.

In other sports, the great athletes are getting younger. In boxing, they’re getting older. Age thirty-five used to be washed up and over-the-hill in the sweet science. Marquez is forty (ten years older than Bradley) and as formidable as he has ever been. Indeed, in recent years, Juan Manuel seems to have gotten bigger, faster, and stronger. Sort of like Barry Bonds.

Bradley is an awesome physical specimen. “I’ve got the six-pack, the back-pack, and the ninja turtle shell,” Tim says. But he’s within three pounds of the weight that he turned pro at nine years ago. And the fact that he has made a commitment to VADA testing (all of his VADA tests came back negative prior to Bradley-Marquez) entitles him the presumption that he’s clean.

Marquez, by contrast, has elevated through six weight divisions during the course of his career. And after joining forces with conditioner Angel “Memo” Heredia (who previously admitted under oath to being a purveyor of performance enhancing drugs), Juan Manuel has come into the ring with a significantly more-muscular physique and added punching power.

Marquez refused to submit to VADA testing prior to fighting Bradley.

Also, in Bradley’s most recent fight – a narrow decision win over Ruslan Provodnikov on March 16th – he was seriously concussed and suffered from slurred speech and dizziness for ten weeks afterward.

Most fighters don’t talk about their vulnerabilities. Bradley does. In fact, he talked more openly about his concussion and its aftereffects than any active fighter in recent memory.

“One of the reasons I’ve been so open about this,” Tim explained several days before Bradley-Marquez, “is so other fighters will get the help they need when they’ve been concussed. Every fighter knows that, when he enters the ring, he might not come out the same. But a lot of times, there are things you can do to get better. Testing, therapy. And you’ve got to do them.”

Marquez was a 6-to-5 favorite. Bradley dismissed those numbers, saying, “The odds are about the last punch in Marquez’s last fight. And then you look at my last fight, when I was concussed. But I was trying to prove something against Provodnikov that I shouldn’t have tried to prove. And Pacquiao was beating Marquez until he got sloppy-overconfident. I’m fine now. Everything is back to normal. I am not worried about getting punched or can I take a punch.”

Still, many of those who predicted a Bradley victory over Marquez did so with a caveat: “If Tim is okay.”

Both fighters made the 147-pound limit with room to spare. Bradley weighed in at 146 pounds; Marquez at 144-1/2. An announced crowd of 13,011 was on hand when the main event began.

It’s hard to outbox Marquez. But for much of the night, Bradley did it.

“Concentration will be very important in this fight,” Tim had said earlier in the week. “Never taking a second off physically or mentally, but especially mentally.”

Bradley stayed true to that creed, making adjustments throughout the night in a tactical fight fought at a high skill level with neither man able to establish control.

“The game plan was to move and keep moving,” Tim said afterward. “I felt his power in the first round. He caught me with an uppercut that hurt . . . My speed and footwork were the key. I got in a rhythm early . . . You have to be careful when you fight him. He’s really dangerous when he backs up. You follow him in and BOOM . . . He knocked Pacquiao out with that big right hand. I knew he’d be going for that . . . I had a good tight defense. I was blocking a lot of his shots and making him miss . . . He changed gears in the second half of the fight, kept making adjustments, started closing the gap. After a while, he started timing my jab and I said to myself, ‘It’s time to do something else’ . . . A lot of times when we had big exchanges, I wanted to fight with him. But he was throwing heavy shots and I told myself, ‘Stay disciplined; stay smart’ . . . Marquez is a smart fighter and very dangerous.”

It was a hard fight to score. According to CompuBox, neither fighter outlanded the other by more than six punches in any round. In six of the twelve rounds, the differential was two punches or less. There were only five rounds in which the judges were in agreement.

Glenn Feldman scored the bout 115-113 for Marquez. But he was overruled by Robert Hoyle (115-113) and Patricia Morse Jarman (116-112), each of whom gave the nod to Bradley.

Marquez and Nacho Beristain (his trainer) were notably ungracious at the post-fight press conference.

“The judges did it again,” Juan Manuel said, alluding to his previous losses by decision to Pacquiao in Sin City. “To win in Las Vegas, I need to knock my opponent out.”

“Bradley is a good fighter and he’s also very lucky,” Beristain added. “He’s the only undefeated fighter with two losses [the other “loss” being a controversial decision victory over Pacquiao in 2012].”

But in truth, there’s no judging controversy here. Bradley-Marquez was a close competitive fight that could have gone either way. Two of the three judges said that Bradley won. It’s as simple as that.

One might also note that Juan Manuel’s face was bruised and swollen after the fight, particularly around his left eye, while Bradley was largely unmarked.

How good is Bradley?

Tim doesn’t talk constantly about the “0” on his record. But it’s there. After decisioning Marquez, he had a 31-and-0 record. In addition to beating Juan Manuel, he has victories over Manny Pacquiao, Devon Alexander, Lamont Peterson, Junior Witter, Ruslan Provodnikov, Luis Abregu, Joel Casamayor, and Nate Campbell to his credit.

Floyd Mayweather, at the same age, had a 36-and-0 record with wins over Genaro Hernandez, Diego Corrales, Jose Luis Castillo, Arturo Gatti, Zab Judah, Carlos Baldomir, Angel Manfredy, and Jesus Chavez.

“Fighting Mayweather is a huge goal for me,” Bradley says. “I’m not Manny Pacquiao. I’m not Juan Manuel Marquez. I’m not Floyd Mayweather. But you can put my name in the conversation. I’m Tim Bradley and I know how to fight. If you think you can beat me, come on and try.”

Tim Bradley has arrived. Enjoy the show.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (Straight Writes and Jabs: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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