The duality of Timothy Bradley once again took front and center under the bright lights of the StubHub Center in Carson. The former Junior Welterweight and Welterweight champion came one step closer to reclaiming a world title last weekend after outclassing a very competitive, but overmatched Jessie Vargas for the majority of their Welterweight contest.
For 11 rounds, two minutes and forty-five seconds, Bradley used all of the skills he had acquired in his illustrious career to keep the younger Vargas backpedaling all night and failing to mount any true offense for a sustained period of the fight. Bradley’s pressure was already enough to keep Vargas mulling whether or not he should engage, but as the norm for Bradley, he couldn’t leave well enough alone and continuously pursued a knockout.
The last fifteen seconds? The best right hand Vargas threw in the fight popped Bradley, and he was gummy-legged when referee Pat Russell erroneously called a halt to the fight when he heard the signal sticks for the final ten seconds. Bradley had emerged victorious on the scorecards, seemingly putting himself back into contention for another major fight, but Bradley is continuing to wage an internal battle that may very well exasperate the end of his career.
For a long period of time, Bradley climbed to the top of the rankings of a very deep Junior Welterweight division using a laser-like right hand, a consistent body attack and his trademark grit. His run at 140 included wins over the likes of Junior Witter, Kendall Holt, Miguel Vasquez, a stoppage win of Joel Casamayor and dominant victories over then undefeated Lamont Peterson and Devon Alexander. Bradley had earned his way into a fight with Manny Pacquiao, and that’s where everything changed.
Bradley should have lost a clear decision to Pacquiao had the judges not seen it the other way. The controversial ending to the Pacquiao fight was no fault of his own, but the trauma it induced on his family and his psyche took his career in a much different direction.
Following the first fight with Pacquiao, Bradley became hell bent on proving a point that a bad decision isn’t what makes him a champion, so he began to fight with his heart more so than his head. Ruslan Provodnikov walloped him, though he managed to survive the vicious beating and won the fight, and he also lapsed into his warrior-daze in the rematch against Pacquiao after boxing very well in the first half of the fight and the aforementioned Vargas fight.
At 31 years of age and well over a decade in the sport, Bradley is playing a dangerous game. He’s taken more mileage in the past two and a half years than he ever did at any moment of his career, and his desire to fight isn’t going to get him much further in a division that is about to experience a renaissance of fighters who are as powerful as they are skilled.
The Bradley we saw last Saturday will not struggle too much against guys like Vargas, Brandon Rios, or even Adrien Broner who only have a single layer to their game. It wouldn’t be out of the question to suggest that Bradley can grind out wins over other top fighters such as Danny Garcia or a forgotten fight with Amir Khan that can still be very viable today, but the landscape as well as his desires will not take him much further than that.
Had Bradley not resigned with Top Rank, the possibility of him being placed in against Shawn Porter and Keith Thurman would force him to go up against fighters who aren’t just stronger than him, but are seemingly more in tune to their own strengths and weaknesses than Bradley is. Bradley commits the cardinal sin of fighting to the level of his opponents when he has shown that he doesn’t have to, and that has come in the best wins of his career.
He outfoxed and shut down both Peterson and Alexander without taking any unnecessary chances. Against Juan Manuel Marquez, he outfoxed one of the most revered counter-punchers of this era. Would we see a virtuoso performance from Bradley against Kell Brook or Floyd Mayweather, who he almost certainly would have to fight at a tactical level? Could his ranting and raving about moving up to fight Saul Alvarez, Miguel Cotto or even Gennady Golovkin at 160 pounds, a fighter who he couldn’t engage with under any circumstances, turn out to be the defining moment of his career?
The internal struggle within Bradley has produced some of the most memorable moments and fights the sport has had in the past decade, and his accomplishments will surely land him in the Hall of Fame once his career comes to a close. That end can come sooner than later, and based on his career as of late, he’s on pace to burn out well before he should.