Just a few years ago the super-lightweight division was populated by talented young prospects who many believed represented the future of boxing. Four of them will see action tonight in the welterweight division, and it’s interesting to see how diverse their paths have been in getting here. Devon Alexander and Amir Khan will headline a card at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in what is deemed a Mayweather eliminator, the culmination of a long march towards relevance that may or may not reach an apex, depending on whether Floyd decides to fight the winner. In contrast to Khan and Alexander, Victor Ortiz’ career resembles less a steady climb forward and more a roller coaster. Consider how in 2009 he earned millions fighting Floyd Mayweather, but tonight he appears on the untelevised portion of the Khan-Alexander card.
The fourth member of this group is Timothy Bradley, who will headline an event at the Cosmopolitan in Vegas against Diego Chaves, whom many regard as B-level opposition. Like Ortiz, Bradley already had a taste of the big time by facing Manny Pacquiao twice; but unlike “Vicious”, “Desert Storm” has been a consistently tough competitor, always focused on fight night, and less on becoming a celebrity or hawker of beauty products.
Back when the foursome competed at 140, fans salivated at the thought of them fighting each other. Out of all the possible combinations, only Bradley vs. Alexander ended up happening. While far from a big event, that fight was embraced by hardcore fans who believed Timothy and Devon were the cream of the crop in the division. The contest ended when Alexander was ruled unable to continue due to a gashing cut produced by a Bradley headbutt. Besides this clash, the only other fight that could’ve potentially happened was Bradley vs. Khan, but the parties could never finalize the terms, and it’s largely believed Bradley is the one who refused to sign on the dotted line to make the fight happen.
For a while it seemed Khan would end up being top of the class, due to impressive wins over Zab Judah and Paulie Malignaggi, but the Brit’s career was sent off-track by Lamont Peterson and Danny Garcia. Alexander, for his part, found it hard to secure quality opponents following his loss to Bradley, and in fact became the first to move up to welterweight. Bradley went through a dark period as well, given the high-risk/low-reward proposition his name represented, in addition to his awkward fighting style and propensity for leading with his head. His solution was to sign a contract with Top Rank, who at the time was eagerly looking for potential adversaries for its biggest cash-cow, Manny Pacquiao.
Bradley’s first meeting with Pacquiao ended in an infamous decision victory for “Desert Storm,” but the fight’s larger purpose was to bring the new champion’s name into the limelight. Bradley then went on to face Ruslan Provodnikov in what became for most pundits 2013’s Fight of the Year, before going on to outbox the Mexican professor, Juan Manuel Marquez. A second go-around with Pacquiao followed in the spring of 2014, and even though Bradley failed to get the win, he gave the Filipino some tough, competitive rounds, which is more than can be said of most of Pacquiao’s opponents. This is how Bradley became the third best welterweight in the world.
Bradley’s upcoming fight against Chaves is and isn’t a validation of Tim’s decision to sign with Top Rank and of his quality as a prizefighter. On the one hand, Bradley has benefited from Bob Arum’s shallow pool of talent at 147, which gave him the chance to fight Pacquiao twice and Marquez as well, in the process becoming a multi-millionaire. And even if his opponent this weekend is not that highly-regarded—having already been defeated by the up-and-coming Keith Thurman—Bradley’s purse has been quoted at a hefty two million dollars, more than twice as much as Khan is getting for fighting Alexander. The fact that Timothy can collect a paycheck like that against a B-level opponent without commanding a discernible fanbase of his own speaks to his bargaining position at Top Rank as much as it does to his name recognition amongst hardcore aficionados.
Bradley has earned said recognition the hard way, fighting fellow pugilists in the ring and naysayers outside of it. In his time at welterweight, Bradley has shown he has the toughness, athleticism and versatility of an elite prizefighter. It’s true that unless he’s fighting Pacquiao the masses won’t show up to see a Bradley fight, but it’s also true he makes the hardcore fans tune in every time, because they know “Desert Storm” takes no assignment lightly. Many of us believe his match with Chaves isn’t much more than a stay-busy affair, but no one takes it more seriously than Bradley himself, and that’s the way it should be.
Hailing from Argentina, Chaves has earned a reputation as a banger unafraid to mix it up, able to get the best of every exchange when the fight takes place under his terms. However, with his experience and mobility Bradley has what it takes to outbox the South American easily. Similar to his choosing to go to war with Provodnikov, Bradley being the tough competitor he is might be tempted into brawling with Chaves just to prove he can bang with the best of them. But in any case, the fact remains this fight is Bradley’s to lose, and the outcome likely depends on how hard Bradley wants to make things for himself.
Going by his comments in a recent interview with Tha Boxing Voice, we should expect Bradley to be cautious and smart in his outing against Chaves, instead of gung-ho. Interestingly, his tilt with Ruslan Provodnikov molded the way Bradley approaches the fight game these days, even though that brutal war did wonders in earning him widespread appreciation from fight fans. Wiser, and no doubt with retirement in mind, the 31-year-old Bradley not only intends to make it to the finish line loaded with money, but also as healthy as possible.
Perhaps it was never a plan of Bradley’s to prove himself the best amongst that crop of junior welterweights—his avoiding the Khan fight, and his signing with a diminished Top Rank speak to that. But it’s still admirable how far he’s come and how fortunate his decision to side with Bob Arum looks in retrospect. With two years left on his contract with Top Rank, perhaps big fights against the biggest welterweight names will remain unfeasible due to boxing politics and the Cold War, but the new Bradley seems okay with that. Being a family man, he puts his revenue-making opportunities and his well-being above everything else. It’s possible we’ll never know for sure who the best fighter is out of the foursome, even after all this time. But it looks like Bradley might end up outsmarting them all. – Rafael García