In boxing, as in life, timing is everything. Timothy Bradley figured that out a long time ago.
After being stripped of the WBC light welterweight title for allegedly ducking Devon Alexander 18 months ago, Bradley was accused of refusing to risk his future. Alexander went on to lay claim to the belt Bradley once wore while Bradley cited business considerations and Alexander’s low profile as the reason he opted out to pursue what he hoped would be bigger paydays.
As Bradley went off to lay claim to the WBO title but far less money than he’d hoped, Alexander’s profile grew and now, come Jan. 29, they will square off in a unification fight in Detroit that is being talked about as one of the biggest fights between two American champions in years. If Bradley was ducking anyone it doesn’t look or sound like it any more.
“The zero on my record doesn’t matter to me,’’ Bradley (26-0, 11 KO) said. “My biggest goal in boxing is just to be remembered. I don’t want to be forgotten about. Whether I win seven or eight world championships, that will be in the history books and I just want to be remembered. That is my biggest goal. You do that by fighting the best.
“I will become the best by fighting the best and giving the boxing fans the best fights out there that can possible be made. I am sick of fighting average guys. The top 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – let’s go. Win this fight, who’s next? (Amir) Khan? Let’s go. After Khan, (Manuel) Maidana, let’s go. After him...(Juan Manuel) Marquez. There are so many fights out there to be made at 140.
“I think the fighters are willing to fight but their handlers or promoters are not willing to make the fight. It will be a task because if you are not a part of their team they do not want to fight you. I don’t know why that’s the way it is but that’s the way it is. They won’t give you a chance and that’s what’s killing boxing.’’
What will save boxing – if saving it truly needs – are fights like Bradley-Alexander. Along with Khan, Maidana and Marquez, they are the five best 140 pound boxers in the world and the world knows it. There is only one way to prove that however, and if they all agree to try, what will result is the same kind of buzz presently circulating around Alexander and Bradley.
Time will tell if any of them really gets this but Bradley certainly sounded this week like a fighter who finally does. So, too, did Alexander, who has always seemed willing to face anyone if his promoter, Don King, would let him off the leash.
For this fight he has and the winner will be sitting both at the top of the division and with obvious opponents in front of him with whom he can make serious money and a bigger reputation. Whether that happens only time will tell but you can’t take the next step until you take the first one and that comes when these two climb up the three steps leading into the ring at the Silverdome.
“Nobody knows who is number one (in the division) until we get in the ring,’’ Bradley refreshingly said during a conference call with the boxing media this week.
For once he was not a champion claiming to be the be all and end all of his weight class without having taken on the most obvious challengers to prove his point. To say it was refreshing was like saying Detroit is cold in January. Obvious but still important to understand.
“The winner of these two fights will definitely have to fight Amir Khan,’’ Bradley continued. “If they don’t do it, the media should put the pressure on them because I think that’s the way it should go. I think we all should get a shot at each other.
“Styles make fights and on any given night, you know you might be in there with the wrong style and you might get beat. We should do a round robin. I should get a shot at Amir; Devon should get a shot at Amir. He should get a shot at Maidana and I should get a shot at Maidana. Like back in the old days with Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler – they all went at it a couple of times.
“Alexis Arguello and Aaron Pryor – they went at it a couple of times. Let’s do that - the best fighting the best. Muhammad Ali fought Joe Frazier three times. That’s what boxing needs to bring it back.’’
Bradley is right. Those names he mentioned became NAMES only because they took great personal risks to make it so. They became NAMES because they fought each other.
Leonard without Hearns, Duran and Hagler would not have been as sweet. Ali without Frazier would have been like salt without pepper. Same of Arguello and Pryor. They are all joined together in shared greatness, the loser really winning as well. They all risked much to gain the kind of immortality that still has fight fans talking about them well into their dotage.
If Timothy Bradley, Amir Khan, Devon Alexander or anyone else in boxing today – including Mann Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. – hope to have that same kind of longevity, the kind that transcends a man’s final fight, there is only one way to get it. It is only with the acceptance of great risk that boxing offers up its greatest reward.
That reward is a life beyond living. A life that lives in the lore of the sport long after the fighters themselves have faded and all that’s left of them is the memories they created. Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander will be trying to create memories for a new generation of fans on Jan 29, knowing there is only one way to do it – risk all you have.
“This is a huge fight,’’ Bradley said. “I don’t know on what scale everyone else out there sees this fight but this is the biggest fight of my career and Devon’s career. It shows what type of fighters we are. We are young and both in our prime and you rarely ever see two undefeated guys – two world champions – two Americans, fight each other. You rarely see that and it’s come down to this.
“I am seeded No. 1 and he has to prove to the world that he is better than I am. That’s going to be a hell of a challenge. I’m hungry to show the world that I am the best 140-pounder out there. This division is loaded and I feel I am the best. I’ve got to prove it on January 29th.’’
That is the essence of what long made boxing one of America’s most popular sports. It is why the biggest crowd in the schoolyard even today is around two young boys trying to prove who’s the toughest kid in the fifth grade.
Too often in recent years boxers and the men who manage and promote them seem to have forgotten that. They mistake empty victories, undefeated records and phony title belts for achievement. Boxing has always been about proving who the better man is, which is why one champion out of many is always the sport’s greatest selling point.
Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander will be trying to prove who that man is at 140 pounds come Jan. 29. When they’re done the proving won’t be finished however.
There will still be Khan and Maidana and Marquez waiting for them both. If the men who promote them will can simply get out of the way and allow them to face each other they’ll be surprised about two things.
One will become a superstar and they’ll all get paid more than once because the public doesn’t care about how many fights you’ve won as much as they do how you got those wins.
“I do think the state of boxing right now is at a low,’’ Bradley said quite rightly, “until you have great fights like this in the 140 division. I think it’s going to bring it back. We are the most talented division in boxing and we are going to bring it back just like the old days. If it’s an awesome fight like I think it’s going to be we are going to do it again for the boxing fans and for the world. This is the best fight in boxing because you are not going to see Manny and Floyd fight any time soon.’’
It’s time for boxing to create new heroes and there’s only one way to do it. The old-fashioned way. Put them at risk and see how survives.