With yesterday’s press conference announcing the final chapter in the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez quadrilogy, December 8th should find this rivalry renewed under the lights of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. It was on that same blue canvas that Pacquiao suffered a split-decision loss to Tim Bradley in June. It was his first defeat since March of 2005, when Erik Morales’ belligerent craft trumped the Filipino’s fury. Pacquiao would avenge the loss to Morales twice via knockout, reducing the defeat to the exception confirming the rule in a roughshod assault that produced fifteen consecutive victories in five weight divisions. Unlike Morales, Bradley is being denied a rematch.
The loss of a 10-million dollar payday has Bradley understandably upset. Here is an incredulous Bradley in an interview with The Desert Sun: “I can’t believe it. Any champion who lost his belt, you would want to redeem yourself.” His frustration getting the best of him, the normally polite fighter resorted to some rather puerile mud slinging, calling Pacquiao “chicken shit” in the same interview. It says here there’s a modicum of truth in Bradley’s accusation. While the pitchforks and torches were wielded with vigor in the aftermath of Bradley’s controversial decision over Pacquiao, that Bradley performed as well as he did on two bad ankles, and that his effectiveness was rewarded by the judges—despite going either ignored or undetected by a particularly partisan HBO broadcast team—might give Pacquiao pause. Moreover, Bradley stands to improve on his performance in a rematch if for no other reason than it’s unlikely he suffers similar injuries. But a rematch is not in the cards, and not simply because of the legitimate threat Bradley presents.
Merit in boxing is multifarious: there is merit in professionalism, merit in ability, in resilience, aesthetic, even in atavism. There is also financial merit, and while Bradley is an exemplary prizefighter, he sorely lacks the crucial financial element. Rather inexplicably, Bradley doesn’t resonate among the African-American community; aesthetically, his name has become almost taboo. While Marquez can sweeten the pot with money generated through Mexican television rights and a raucous caravan of traveling fans, Bradley brings little more than an honest effort and the dubious distinction of being “the man who beat the man” to the bargaining table. Perhaps the disillusioned Bradley should reach out to Shane Mosley—another disappointed usurper—in coming to grips with a cold reality of the cruelest sport: It is glacial, yet however beautifully the violence towers above, it is three times as deep in business below the surface.
Moreover, there are few options available for Bradley. He has expressed an interest in fighting Floyd Mayweather, but the feud between Top Rank and Golden Boy (assuming Mayweather allows GBP to bankroll his next fight) scuttles that match up. Ditto for Victor Ortiz, Marcos Maidana, and many of Bradley’s prospects at junior middleweight, as Danny Garcia, Amir Khan, and Lucas Matthysse all fight under the GBP banner. There is surely no interest in an Alexander rematch, except perhaps as filler for the pages of a penny dreadful. A Bradley – Brook fight is intriguing, but promoter Eddie Hearn probably sees that as a bridge too far for the developing Sheffield fighter. Paulie Malignaggi is fighting Pablo Cesar Cano at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on October 20th. Ricky Hatton—far enough removed from the night Pacquiao turned his last name into a synonym for “pole-axed”—isn’t going to tackle someone of Bradley’s caliber right out of retirement. Andre Berto is targeting Cornelius Bundrage, the name Jan Zaveck is likely to be met with a furrowed brow and shaken head, and Lamont Peterson, who’s rough tussle with Bradley in 2009 elevated both men’s standing in the sport, is looking at Zab Judah.
Bradley will make an easy defense of his WBO candy necklace before ratcheting up the competition. The belt doesn’t help him, nor does the intangible distinction of having beaten the man—especially since so few believe he actually won. His own promoter has seemingly abandoned him, Arum having rattled his saber at the decision in June, and done nothing to support Bradley since. One imagines Arum thinking that giving Bradley the Pacquiao fight after paying him seven figures to bump coconuts with Cuban curmudgeon Joel Casamayor more than absolves the octogenarian huckster of future responsibilities. Besides, an unremarkable opponent is precisely what Arum needs to keep Bradley in line for the winner (or loser) of the upcoming Pacquiao-Marquez fight.
As it stands, for all his accomplishments Tim Bradley is like the last man at the bar—left with whatever suitors are around when the lights go up and the drinks are cleared. He is an undefeated champion reduced to taking what he can get.