When Tim Bradley recently turned down a substantial offer to face Amir Khan, he set in motion a chain of events distressing to nearly all involved. HBO saw its unofficial junior welterweight tournament begin to curdle like buttermilk on a hot summer day; Gary Shaw lost a paycheck and an opportunity to add more tracksuits to his wardrobe; and Amir Khan—no stranger to trouble himself lately—was left scrambling to find another opponent for his July 23 date. In addition, some boxing observers sat at their keyboards, puzzled by the fact that a fighter who is unable to sell out small casinos would pass up a cool million plus.
If boxing was a religious order—or a cult—Bradley might be excommunicated or charged with heresy for violating one of the chief commandments of the sport: go where the money is. According to Dan Rafael, Bradley was offered $200,000 more than the initial $1.2 million purse, and Amir Khan chipped in a percentage of U.K. pay-per-view revenue. Add to that the 80-20 profit split Bradley had with Gary Shaw Promotions, and Bradley was looking at a possible $2 million dollar purse. Even in this era of overpaid HBO fighters, $2 million is an awful lot of money to walk away from. The way Bradley explains it, since HBO and Gary Shaw are contractually obligated to deliver him a fight by June 30, he will wait for them to meet terms. As Bradley told Undisputed Fight Magazine, “What I’m doing right now is basically waiting on my promoter… to do their job. I’m waiting on options. There’s never any options for me.”
Bradley is the latest fighter to be at odds with Shaw since GSP was formed in 2002. Shaw has had acrimonious splits with—or has been dumped by—Manny Pacquiao, James Kirkland, Nonito Donaire, Winky Wright, Jeff Lacy, and Diego Corrales. Give the man credit for surviving in the clip joint atmosphere of the prizefight world for as long as he has, but his premium cable and site fee strategy can only take you so far, or, even worse, it can sometimes take you too far.
Like some time travel episode from The Outer Limits, Bradley has found himself fighting in odd places and under even odder circumstances over the years. Canada, for example, against Kendall Holt (from New Jersey) and, most infamously, in Pontiac, Michigan, when he took apart uninspired Devon Alexander in a fiasco whose surreal elements cannot be overstated. Although there were—and still are—plenty of observers who insisted this fight was a super event and that the site was irrelevant, even one its two main participants thought it was harebrained. “I took the Devon fight because I was forced into it,” Bradley told Steve Kim. “I really didn’t want the fight; everybody knows that but it happened. It is what it is. We look back at it; it wasn’t as great as everybody thought it should’ve been.”
Bradley may very well be displeased with Shaw. But if Shaw can come up with the $1.4 to $2 million for a fight that is probably pick ‘em going in, then surely Bradley can put up with his promoter for another few months, even if Shaw is just looking to cash out before Bradley kicks up dust into his face. No, it seems like something else might be driving the Bradley Affair: Manny Pacquiao, perhaps.
Fighters are drawn to Pacquiao like magpies are to shiny objects. But instead of flying away with a beakful of tinsel, fighters are hoping to make off with a fistful of dollars—millions of them—and the opportunity for more if they can manage to upend Pacquiao. Although Bob Arum has steadfastly denied approaching Bradley while “Desert Storm” is still under the Death Valley auspices of Shaw, it is worth noting that Arum has close ties to Cameron Dunkin, who manages Bradley and whose antipathy toward Shaw is well known. Ironically, Dunkin first started working with Golden Boy Promotions (and thereby expanding his promoter portfolio) when he delivered James Kirkland, also a Gary Shaw fighter, to Richard Schaeffer with a ribbon tied around his head a few years ago. Arum has spoken highly of Bradley in the past. The same cannot be said about Shaw, however, who generates quips like the one Arum shared with BoxingScene a few weeks ago: “They ask, “Why are you matching your own fighters with each other?” Well, we match them with each our own fighters so we don’t have to deal with idiots like Gary Shaw.”
Signing Bradley would not only give Arum a future opponent for Pacquiao, but it might also give him an extra date on HBO, since the outrageous contract HBO worked out to concoct Project Silverdome will probably have to be justified by having Bradley back on the air. Thus, Arum would also have a chance to put Bradley in an HBO showcase and try to promote him properly for a potential fight with Pacquiao. Whatever happens, the Bradley Affair has opened up the possibility of one gambit after another among Top Rank, Golden Boy, HBO, two or three weight classes, and even Manny Pacquiao, whose ability to generate $60 to $75 million events has everyone in boxing plotting one or two steps ahead.
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