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Tim Bradley set to defend title few wanted him to win

Photo: Joihn Gurzinski/AFP/Getty Images

Tim Bradley's controversial win over Manny Pacquiao earned him scorn more than praise from many.

It's a time-honored boxing tradition, one that ranks up there with the pre-fight faceoff and a Michael Buffer introduction: The rehabilitation of the fallen fighter.

It's a simple process, really. Take a recently beaten star and put him on the shelf. Give him a break of, say, eight or nine months, then bring him back against an underwhelming, easy-to-hit opponent. Build his confidence up. Get him back on track.

This is what Top Rank is doing with Tim Bradley.

Wait ... didn't Bradley win his last fight?

Technically, yes. Last June, Bradley earned -- and let's use that term loosely -- a split decision over Manny Pacquiao. Bradley fought bravely, standing toe-to-toe with one of the most feared fighters in the world on two feet that were so bad that he needed a wheelchair to get to the post-fight press conference.

It was a valiant effort, though that's about all it was. Duane Ford, C.J. Ross and a few members of Bradley's family were about the only ones who thought Bradley won the fight. But Ford and Ross were two of the judges and, well, theirs were the only opinions that mattered.

A win's a win though, right? By all rights, Bradley should have earned at least a rematch, or a spot at the front of the line to face top money men like Floyd Mayweather or Miguel Cotto.

But instead of a big fight, Bradley got a long break. Instead of accolades, Bradley got death threats.

"People sent me death threats after the fight because [they thought] I won undeservingly," Bradley said. "[They said] I should have given the belt back. A lot of different things went on. I can talk all day about things that people said about me. But it doesn't matter; none of these people are going to get in the ring with me."

Actually, no one got in the ring with Bradley. In the fall, Bradley was offered a fight -- and a $2.3 million purse -- against Lamont Peterson, who Bradley slapped around in a blowout win in 2009. But Bradley turned it down, in part because his feet were still healing, in part because fighting Peterson again didn't get the blood flowing.

"It was a combination of the two things," Bradley said. "But mainly, I did not want to fight Peterson."

So Bradley sat ... and sat ... and sat. He watched as Brandon Rios and Danny Garcia became stars in the 140-pound division, while Robert Guerrero climbed the ladder of the 147-pound division, while Juan Manuel Marquez flattened Pacquiao in a fight he felt he deserved.

He sat ... and he didn't care.

"The Pacquiao fight ... made me realize who was important and who was not important and what is important in my career," Bradley said. "What is not important is what people's perception of me is. Everyone has an opinion and they can say whatever they want to say, but it's not going to stop me from what I do, and that's kick butt in the ring. What's important is my family and that I pay attention to my career and stop worrying about everyone else's career and what they are making. I just need to focus on my career and my life."

On Saturday night Bradley (29-0) will be back, defending his WBO welterweight title against Ruslan Provodnikov (22-1), a 140-pounder moving up (HBO, 10:15 pm ET). Instead of a sold-out MGM Grand Arena, Bradley will be fighting at a Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., that won't come close to it. Instead of a high-profile showdown with Pacquiao or Mayweather, Bradley will face Provodnikov, a sparring partner of Pacquiao whose trainer, Freddie Roach, is better known than he is.

For a fighter who hoped to step up, this is, unquestionably, a step down.

Bradley knows it. Has to. Still, he hopes a convincing win over Provodnikov will serve as a springboard to bigger things.

"Every fight from here on out is a statement fight," Bradley said. "I am looking to make a statement in this fight and I am looking to damage this guy. I am looking to put this guy out."

And in the process, move himself up.

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