Timothy Bradley Is Still Fighting For Respect

Timothy Bradley, who fights this Saturday on HBO, is not a big puncher. That’s probably being kind. Of his 31 wins, “Desert Storm” has scored 12 of them by stoppage, good for a knockout percentage of 35 percent. At the top level, that’s just not very good, which makes his record more remarkable when you glance at some of the names he’s defeated — guys like Lamont Peterson, Junior Witter, Ruslan Provodnikov and Juan Manuel Marquez.

The reason for Bradley’s success despite his limited pop, is that he doesn’t just carry a chip on his shoulder, but rather an entire lumberyard. He’s also a little bit of a lunatic. These qualities, while not suitable for everyday life, make for an excellent fighter. He fought Provodnikov toe-to-toe, going to war with a man he had no business doing so with. Why? To prove a point.

Normal guys don’t do stuff like that. But Bradley has been scratching and clawing for respect for years, fighting like an animal and taking the starch out of bigger, harder hitting opponents. In late 2011, he’d finally reached a point where he’d earned the admiration of fans and writers, popping up on several pound-for-pound lists. He ran through the junior welterweight division with an unblemished record, and after destroying what little remained of Joel Casamayor, he called out and earned a fight with fellow Top Rank fighter, Manny Pacquiao.

The respect he’d earned disappeared rather abruptly.

Despite losing nearly every round in most viewers’ eyes, he was awarded the fight. And like that, fans turned on him. He became a pariah, a symbol of all that was wrong with the sport. Bradley was left reeling, holding a belt that he didn’t earn. He spent the next several months hidden away, but reemerged for the Provodnikov bout. He told anybody who would listen that he would eschew boxing in favor of brawling with the brawler. He wasn’t lying.

Bradley spent 12 rounds in hell. In his mind, he had to, not only to win back the fans, but to prove himself worthy of that elusive respect. He had no game plan other than to trade shots, even though he probably would have won handily by simply using his superior ring skills and boxing ability. He fought his opponent’s fight, suffered a concussion, barely survived on his feet, and got the win.

He followed that up with a close decision victory over Juan Manuel Marquez, firmly stamping his place among the elite. But with Bradley, serenity always tends to be fleeting. He was (once again) beaten easily by Pacquiao in their rematch, when he (once again) tried to out-punch the puncher. Most pundits agreed that Bradley had to use his considerable boxing skills to have a shot at beating Pacquiao. But Bradley realized early on that he just wasn’t going to match up with Pac Man. So rather than run, he stood and traded. I don’t think he even knows how to run; it’s not in him.

He had a chance to salvage his 2014 with a December fight, but he got a taste of what it’s like to be hosed by some questionable judging. It appeared to most spectators that he outboxed the rugged-but-limited Diego Chaves rather easily, but took a hotly disputed draw after the normally rock-solid Julie Lederman turned in one of the worst scorecards of the last decade.

Saturday night, Bradley will face undefeated Jessie Vargas in an effort to move past his winless 2014 campaign. Vargas is moving up from the 140-pound division after going 3-0 last year. He’s a good young boxer who, like Bradley, isn’t known for dropping guys with his power.

The bout is almost certain to go the distance. Neither guy has scored a knockout in four years. Vargas seemed to punch with some more pop under the tutelage of Roy Jones, Jr. when he beat Antonio DeMarco last year, but Jones is no longer training him. Even if Vargas did somehow find some power, Bradley already proved against Provodnikov that it would take a sledgehammer and some Ambien to put him down. Seriously, go back and watch that thing. He defied the laws of human physics by appearing to fight while unconscious for a couple of rounds.

And while Bradley doesn’t bring the pain like say, Lucas Matthysse, he’s found a way to avoid the dreaded “boring” label by fighting as fearlessly as someone who could cripple you with one blow. In fact, Bradley is pretty damn exciting, mainly because he fires away with both hands and is utterly unafraid to eat punches like so many Pez.

Vargas is younger, and he’s got height and reach advantages. But Bradley’s hunger, even at 31, remains insatiable. He’s desperate to put last year behind him and move on to bigger things. The thought of a young, undefeated fighter in front of him will only serve as motivational fodder. He’s going to come out aggressive, and he’s going to make Vargas fight.

Bradley forced himself into the forefront of boxing at first by being hard to beat, and then by being hard to ignore. He is a throwback fighter, a guy who will take on anyone, regardless of his size. That’s why he can call out feared middleweight Gennady Golovkin and we know he’s actually serious about it. Call it a chip, call it drive, whatever it is, it works for him.

He’s an angry guy, at least in the ring. I wouldn’t bet on that changing anytime soon.

(Photo: Timothy Bradley against Diego Chaves, David Becker/Getty)