Some upper-tier professional fighters are difficult to like and root for.
WBO welterweight titleholder Timothy Bradley 33-1-1 (13) falls into the category of fighters who it's easy to see why he's liked and why fans usually root for him to do well.
Count me as one of those who respects Bradley and all that he's accomplished as a professional fighter….and yes, I root for him to do well regardless of who the opponent is in front of him.
This past Saturday night Bradley took a very tough, though washed up, former title holder named Brandon Rios 33-3-1 (23) to boxing school.
After clearly winning all but perhaps the second round, Bradley dropped Rios twice in the ninth round and won by stoppage. Bradley's stoppage of Rios marks the first time he's won inside the distance in four years. And it was also the first fight for Bradley while under the tutelage of Teddy Atlas serving as his new head trainer.
Prior to the bout I said the marriage pairing Bradley and Atlas together as fighter and trainer will be a successful one, mostly because of Bradley and not Atlas.
Tim Bradley is a grounded man, not a know it all pertaining to the sport of professional boxing. He wants to learn and get better, which makes the trainer's job much easier. Atlas is a boisterous know it all and loves to take credit for his fighter's success by subterfuge. That said, Teddy knows what he's doing and is a terrific trainer. He understands the mental aspect and tribulations that fighters confront during combat better than most other trainers do, but believe me, he's no miracle worker…..and certainly not to the degree that HBO commentators Max Kellerman and Jim Lampley implied during the bout with Rios.
Everyone has known for years that Bradley is a skilled boxer and could fight on the move while using his feet for defense. In fact it was never more evident or on display better then when he beat Juan Manuel Marquez two years ago. Because Bradley respected Marquez's ability to counter-punch so efficiently, he relied on his hand and foot speed to get in and out while scoring and not being lured into trading and exchanging with the more accurate and sharper punching Marquez.
During the bout with Rios Saturday night, Bradley boxed as well or even better than he did against Marquez. He jabbed beautifully and set up his finishing hooks and crosses with almost surgical precision. And during those occasions when he was tempted to fight it out and go to war with Rios, he broke off the exchange and prevented Brandon from using his 15 pound post weigh-in advantage. But in all honesty, Rios was lethargic from the rapid weight gain and was always vulnerable to being out-boxed by fighters who didn't fight him as if their feet were cemented to the ring canvas. Brandon has always been easy to hit, so if you didn't stand there and wait for a receipt after hitting him with two and three punch combos, you could more often than not get away unscathed, and that's exactly how Bradley fought him.
I think Bradley looked terrific in taking apart a shop-worn, tailor-made stylistically Rios. I also don't think Teddy Atlas and his rules of no cell phones or music at training camp had a damn thing to do with it. If Bradley is in shape, he can fall out of bed every day of the week and twice on Sunday and still out-think and out-maneuver Brandon Rios. If you want to give Atlas his due credit for what he brought to the table enabling Bradley to fight such a clean bout versus Rios, I say it boils down to one word: “focus.” Yes, Atlas was wonderful in preventing Bradley from falling into the same traps he has in past bouts when he went to war with his opponent and suddenly what should've been an easy fight turned into a life and death struggle.
The fact that Atlas kept Bradley focused on the fight plan and held his Arturo Gatti/Matthew Saad Muhammad mindset of wanting to go to war in check, played a big part as to why Bradley jogged to a ninth round stoppage and was unmarked after the fight. As good as Bradley looked this past weekend, it had everything to do with Timothy owning the style match-up in much the same way Floyd Mayweather holds it over Manny Pacquiao. Bradley could fight Rios and have his wife advising him in the corner between rounds and the result is always going to be the same. The difference is Atlas's insistence on Bradley not taking too many punches and fighting more like a professional boxer resulted in him not taking unnecessary punishment.
Bradley was terrific with Atlas in his corner, but I didn't see one thing that has changed my mind in as far as picking him to beat a fighter who I thought he'd lose to before aligning with Atlas. However, I expect the media to make a big deal over the influence Atlas had on the outcome of the bout, but then again they really don't know any better.
If by chance Bradley is Manny Pacquiao's next opponent, which was mentioned before the bout, I expect him to acquit himself well and the reason for that is, Bradley has the speed and style to trouble Manny. If Timothy goes into the bout realizing he's the boxer and boxers really bother the older Pacquiao, it'll make for a pain in the rear-end night for Manny, and it was like that before Atlas arrived.
Frank Lotierzo can be reached at GlovedFist@Gmail.com