One year ago, Manny Pacquiao was on top of the boxing world. He was one of the clear top stars of the sport, a pound for pound great riding an amazing 7 year win streak through an increasingly difficult level of competition. So when he finally lost - when that streak finally ended last summer - the man who beat him should have been immediately launched into superstar status, right?
Unfortunately for Timothy Bradley, that's not how things worked out.
Bradley's June 2012 win over Pacquiao should have been a career defining moment. And it may in fact be. But not for the reasons Bradley would like. After the decision was read and Bradley's hand raised in victory, none of the talk focused on Bradley's in ring performance or his technical skills. Instead, it focused entirely on the horrible judging. After Bradley unwisely chose to immediately begin hyping Pacquiao vs. Bradley II, the talk shifted to corruption. Despite earning the biggest win of his career - a bigger win than 99% of pro boxers will ever claim - Bradley walked out of the MGM Grand a villain that night.
In the 9 months since that fight, things have not significantly improved in Bradley's career path. The controversial rematch never happened, as Pacquiao's camp instead opted for the 4th Juan Manuel Marquez fight (a terrible decision in retrospect). Once that was off the table, Bradley's camp began looking at their options. Various names were tossed around including Lamont Peterson (Bradley refused that fight) and Marquez. Yet none of those materialized. And over the course of those nine months, the man who was involved in one of the most discussed boxing fights in years simply faded away.
Now he is back, not against a marquee opponent. Instead, he faces the little known Russian Ruslan Provodnikov, an all action fighter who should turn in a fun fight against Bradley, but is unlikely to bring much of an audience. Still, it's a good fight for Bradley to take, if for no other reason than to get back in the public eye and to move past the Pacquiao fight.
In the lead-up to Bradley vs. Provodnikov, this has been one of the big talking points - Bradley's need to "move past" Pacquiao. That idea sums up the odd position Bradley currently finds himself in. Terrible decision or no terrible decision, he holds a win over one of the sport's greats. His name was everywhere in boxing circles last summer. Shouldn't that be a high point? But it hasn't worked out that way, as Pacquiao has become a black mark on the resume of Timothy Bradley.
Tonight, on HBO World Championship Boxing, Bradley takes the first step towards erasing that black mark. It will be a long process, and it certainly won't be completed tonight. Yet perhaps here, Bradley can show fans that he is a fighter worth watching, not because of the controversy, but simply on his own merits. A high octane, action packed win over Provodnikov will help him in that cause. Timothy Bradley certainly knows this - we'll see how he acts on that knowledge tonight.
Join us tonight March 16 here at Bloody Elbow for HBO boxing: Bradley vs. Provodnikov results, discussion, and live fight coverage.