July 9, 2012 was supposed to be the greatest moment in Timothy Bradley’s life. He fought what he calls the “800 pound gorilla” in Manny Pacquiao for twelve rounds and made it to the final bell. Nobody gave him a chance to win. But when he heard his name called and his hand raised, Bradley exhaled and climbed the ropes to celebrate his shocking win over the man long considered the top pound for pound fighter alongside Floyd Mayweather.
He didn’t mind the jeers that filled the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas because he was certain that Pacquiao’s fans were going to be upset regardless. This was his defining moment until he realized that only he and two out of the three judges at ringside thought he won. The split decision victory was called one of the worst decisions in the history of boxing. His dream come true dissolved into a harrowing nightmare.
“It was horrible,” the unbeaten Bradley (31-0, 12 KOs) says from his gym in Palm Springs, CA. He’s in the midst of preparing to absolve himself from any doubt as the rematch with Pacquiao is set to take place on April 12 back in the very building that he was showered with boos. It’s been almost two years since the first fight took place but he cannot shake the torment he endured from their initial encounter. “I was ridiculed and demonized but I didn’t do anything but my job and I got all this backlash.”
The backlash didn’t just end in the ring on that night; it followed him wherever he went. After all, he put a controversial end to Pacquiao’s highway of destruction and perhaps single-handedly dashed the dreams of a potential showdown between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. The ire he had drawn was thick and cast a dark cloud over his career to the point where he considered some really disturbing actions. “A lot of nights I would cry in my bed because of all the backlash,” Bradley says as he recounts having to talk with his children about people saying that their dad robbed Manny Pacquiao. “There were times where I thought to myself ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.”
Bradley pauses and stares into space for a moment before he lowers his eyes to the floor. “I even thought about suicide.” To have a glorious moment turned into something so taxing that the thought of ending your own life seeps into your psyche is a difficult thing. But Timothy Bradley wasn’t going to let it defeat him. He decided to take his family on a long vacation to Hawaii to clear his mind. Upon his return to the U.S., he came back determined to prove that he’s more than a Trivial Pursuit sports question.
He took a fight with the little known but extremely dangerous Ruslan Provodnikov in an effort to prove that he does belong. It was a fight that many thought would be a boring affair that would see Bradley use his speed to dance circles around The Siberian Rocky. But that’s not what Bradley had in mind. A boring fight would do nothing for him on the quest for redemption. “I’ve seen this guy knock people out and nobody wanted to fight him,” says Bradley. “But my plan was to go in there and knock him out. I was going to show everyone what I was made of.”
On March 16, 2013, Bradley and Provodnikov engaged in a brutal back and forth brawl that would later be the overwhelming favorite for fight of the year. Bradley’s game plan nearly backfired as Provodnikov turned Bradley’s uncharacteristic aggression against him and nearly knocked him out. But his will to win would gut this one out as he took home a unanimous decision. Those that doubted him before could show him nothing but respect. But there was a price to pay from the blows he took to the head in that fight.
“My speech was slurred and my equilibrium was off,” Bradley says. The punishment he absorbed lingered on for a few months after the fight. In order to continue his career, he had to seek medical help to get back on track. The damage Bradley took was the kind that normally changes a fighter’s motor skills forever. However, “Desert Storm” was too determined to allow this to beat him and, through hard work, got himself back to 100%. “If you don’t kill me, I’m going to always be there,” Bradley says with a laugh.
Meanwhile, Juan Manuel Marquez had knocked out Manny Pacquiao several months prior and Bradley decided to put the Pacquiao rematch on pause to prove himself again. “I was offered the rematch but I turned it down because I wanted to fight Marquez,” Bradley says. “And he wanted me because he thought I was damaged goods.” Nobody gave Bradley much of a chance, but the product of Palm Springs boxed superbly and defeated Marquez handily last October. “That was easy,” Bradley laughs. “I could have went out to the club that night. Easy work.”
He couldn’t be denied any longer. The respect he demanded he had taken with two hard fought victories. But the shadow of the Pacquiao controversy still lingers and Bradley is determined to finally get the monkey off of his back on April 12. “This time around, I’m ready,” he says while citing that the bright lights and big spectacle of the first fight is no longer daunting. With everything he has been though, Bradley’s confidence is sky high heading into the rematch “I just beat the guy that knocked him out and went through hell against Provodnikov so what is Pacquiao going to do to me that I haven’t dealt with?
I’m going to prove to everybody that I was right the first time.” And once he substantiates his claim that he’s better than Pacquiao, there’s only one more mountain to climb in order to be the best pound for pound fighter in boxing. “If Floyd Mayweather wants to fight me, he knows how to get at me. We know how the boxing business is but he’s his own boss so it is up to him to make it happen. I would love to have the opportunity to beat him too.”
Pacquiao vs. Bradley takes place on Sat., April 12 live on HBO pay-per-view beginning at9pm ET/6pm PT