For weeks, Tim Bradley woke up, kissed his wife, hugged his kids and wondered when it was going to stop. He wondered when the headaches would quit pulsing through his skull. When his speech would stop slurring. When his life would get back to normal. He had never felt this before. Not after a grueling win over Luis Carlos Abregu. Not after a physical fight with Devon Alexander. Not after his controversial win over Manny Pacquiao. The lingering effects of Bradley's brutal, bloody win over Ruslan Provodnikov were like nothing he had ever experienced.
It was his own fault, Bradley reasoned. He asked for it. On the night before the Provodnikov fight, Bradley decided it was time to make a statement. For years, Bradley was known as a clincher, a head-butter, an aesthetically displeasing boxer who needed a fight to be dirty to win. No more. Against Provodnikov, Bradley was going to prove that he was much more.
"I had a chip on my shoulder," Bradley told me on NBC Sports Radio. "I wanted to show everyone what I was made of."
And he did. With anger in his eyes and with trainer Joel Diaz begging him to stop after every round, Bradley went to war. He stood toe-to-toe with Provodnikov, an opponent who couldn't be happier fighting any other way. For 36 minutes the two traded blows, with the fast hands of Bradley landing the cleaner shots and the powerful fists of Provodnikov landing plenty of heavy ones. Bradley got the win, but he paid a significant price.
"I went for the kill," Bradley said. "And I nearly got killed."
Months later the headaches are gone, the speech has returned and Bradley, preparing for an Oct. 12 showdown with Juan Manuel Márquez at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas (HBO PPV, 9 pm ET), says that any concerns he had about his health were fleeting.
"Most people that have lingering effects and get multiple concussions never get help," Bradley said. "They don't get treatment. I've been getting treatment for the last five months. A lot of fighters don't know that there is a lot of help out there for these concussions. NFL players have that help. My friends in the NFL got me the right treatment. I saw doctors out of New York, Long Beach, that could aid and assist me with therapy work. Everything is back to normal now. I feel 100 percent, and I never worried."
It's the cost of doing business, really. Most medical experts will tell you that experiencing concussion-like symptoms after a fight is far from unusual. Talking about them so openly is. But that's always been Bradley. He's bright and articulate. He doesn't pivot to talking points or avoid many questions. He's honest. If Bradley possessed Pacquiao's power, he would probably be a mainstream star.
And yet, Bradley has always been the fighter with something to prove. Most fans scoff at his perfect record. Didn't beat Pacquaio, they say, and they are probably right. Duane Ford and C.J. Ross were probably the only people in the building who thought that Bradley beat Pacquiao that night. Perhaps not just coincidentally, neither is judging boxing anymore.
The truth is, Bradley is a fantastic fighter. He is not a puncher. Opponents don't fear his right hand. They worry about his hand speed. They worry about his footwork. They worry that while they are looking for a clean power shot, he is racking up points with lighter ones. The boxing landscape is loaded with light-handed legends (Willie Pep, Pernell Whitaker, just to name two). Bradley isn't on that level yet, but he is cut from that cloth.
And he plans to stay that way. The Provodnikov fight is done, and so is Bradley's stomach for slugging it out. Throughout camp Diaz has asked Bradley repeatedly if he plans on sticking to the game plan against Marquez—the fighter, after all, who knocked Pacquiao out cold with a right hand. Each time, Bradley has said yes.
"I'm in a place where I really don't have to prove much to people anymore," Bradley said. "I just have to win. I've captured four world championships. If I haven't got the credit, I'm not going to. I'm going to win and let people think what they want."
A win over Márquez would certainly be a nice line on the résumé. That's why Bradley wants to fight him. After the Provodnikov fight, Bradley was offered a rematch with Pacquiao. He turned it down. He was then offered the fight with Márquez. It was for less money and was far less high profile. He quickly accepted.
"Márquez is 40 and on his way out and I wanted to get a shot at him," Bradley said. "I tried three years ago to get a crack at him. I wanted to fight him before he left the game. This is my opportunity to do that. Coming off the Provodnikov fight... I figured, let's keep going towards the light and let's face a new challenge in Márquez before he gets out, and beat him. Then maybe we can go back and revisit the dark side in Manny Pacquaio."
"I felt I wasn't ready to [face Pacquiao] again. After the Provodnikov fight I was in darkness, then I came to the light and I want to stay in the light. I want to shine and I can do that by having two guys on my resume who are by far the best fighters in the world, Hall of Famers, and if I could beat both of these guys I would be considered one of the best."
Maybe. As Bradley has proved, sometimes winning isn't enough. The critics could return, could hammer him for pitter-patter punching and a displeasing style. Let them come, Bradley says. At this point, he is at peace with that.