Undeterred Bradley climbing toward deserved recognition

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LAS VEGAS -- The argument was heated, but Tim Bradley looked like he couldn't be having any more fun. Standing at a podium in the press room at the MGM Grand, Bradley found himself in the middle of an ugly spat with Joel Casamayor, who Bradley will defend his WBO junior welterweight title against on Saturday (HBO PPV, 9 p.m.)

"Sit down," Casamayor barked.

"You sit down," Bradley shot back.

When Casamayor stood up and made a move toward him, the grin on Bradley's face stretched from ear to ear.

"Bring that fire to the fight," Bradley said. "I'm going to hurt you."

It's been a while since Bradley has had an opponent to verbally spar with. Ten months, to be exact. Last January, Bradley got the right decision (a unanimous, technical decision victory over Devon Alexander) in the wrong fight. Though Bradley dominated, the fight was universally panned, both for its aesthetic (an ugly, head-butt infused bore) and its atmosphere (the sparsely crowded Pontiac Silverdome). A fight that was supposed to launch Bradley to the next level ended up setting him back. Instead of seeing his name mentioned as a candidate to fight Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather, Bradley was tagged as boring. In the months that followed, Bradley sunk into a depression.

"I was down, man," Bradley said. "I took a lot of bashing in the media. Some nights, I would cry. My father and my wife told me not to worry. But I couldn't shake it."

Indeed, things were bad. Then, they got worse. Bradley was livid about the way the Alexander fight was promoted. The Silverdome was a disaster. The announced attendance of 6,247 looked to actually be about half. An energy-less fight week led to poor publicity and, ultimately, one of the lowest rated HBO shows of the year.

Bradley was determined to leave his promoter, Gary Shaw. The problem: Shaw's deal with HBO guaranteed Bradley another fight -- and a $1.2 million purse. Shaw went out and cut a deal with fellow titleholder Amir Khan, which, with a boost from the foreign revenue, would have guaranteed Bradley $1.8 million. When Bradley declined, Shaw and co-promoter Ken Thompson slapped Bradley with a lawsuit to prevent him from signing -- and fighting -- for another promoter.

Undeterred, Bradley dumped Shaw and signed with Top Rank, which lured him in with the possibility of a multimillion dollar fight with Pacquiao. Bradley, though, says the decision to jump to Top Rank had little to do with the riches one fight could rake in.

"Now I have a promoter who is going to push a fight and make it big," Bradley said. "Not put it in Detroit where there is nobody there. When I beat Casamayor, I'll get the credit I deserve. After Alexander, I didn't get any damn credit. I beat a guy who didn't want to fight. I took a lot of bashing from the media and I had to eat it. It didn't live up to expectations, but I was taken a back. That didn't do anything for my career. That hurt my career. And I felt that if I went in there and fought Amir [with Shaw], no one would care. No one would know who I was."

Top Rank has put Bradley front and center. They involved him in social media (@TimBradleyJr) and pushed him to start a website (TimBradleyJr.com). They made him the co-feature in Pacquiao's welterweight title defense against Juan Manuel Marquez and have made no secret that if a deal with Mayweather can't be made, Bradley is next in line.

When Bradley talks about these things, the smile returns. He says he is in the best shape of his life. He will fight Casamayor at 140-pounds but made it clear his future is at 147, a division Pacquiao and Mayweather rule and one Khan and Marcos Maidana will eventually move to. He says he is ready to fight Khan, at 140 or 147. Khan, Bradley says, and everyone else.

"The public wants it," Bradley said. "And I think it will be a great fight. Khan is a whiner. He knows that I'll bust him up. If he wants it, bring it on. If Pacquiao or Mayweather want it, bring it on. I'm ready.

Shortly after the press conference broke, Bradley's walk back to his room was interrupted by a fan who wanted to shake his hand. When a reporter noted that Bradley was already recognizable, already known, Bradley paused and flashed yet another 1,000-watt smile.

"Not yet," Bradley said. "But I will be."