Timothy Bradley walked into the ring on Saturday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., as something of an outsider. He had a cool relationship with his promoter and an uneasy one with his manager.
With boxing fans, it was downright hostile.
After 12 unexpected violent and entertaining rounds with Russian Ruslan Provodnikov, however, things were decidedly different when he slipped between the ropes and headed to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center for a post-fight check.
Suddenly, after retaining his WBO welterweight title in what could go on to be the 2013 Fight of the Year, Bradley was the toast of boxing.
The ratings on HBO, which averaged 1.2 million viewers, peaked at 1.4 million as people clearly were calling their friends and telling them to tune in.
"Obviously, word was getting around what a great fight this was," Top Rank's Bob Arum said.
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It was Bradley's first fight since what should have been a career-defining win over Manny Pacquiao on June 9 in Las Vegas. Most people, though, felt he didn't win that fight and he received death threats in the aftermath.
It was bizarre, to say the least, that someone would have chosen to threaten Bradley's life, but that, sadly, has become an all-too-familiar thing in sports today.
After a lot of time away from the game in which he did plenty of soul-searching, Bradley went out and put on a show with the previously unknown Provodnikov.
Bradley pointed out that whenever he chose to box Provodnikov, things were relatively easy for him. He was able to land clean shots and not take much in return.
The danger came, though, when Bradley chose to set his feet, stand in front of Provodnikov and slug. Provodnikov proved to be a massive puncher, and in those scenarios, it would become a firefight. Bradley was hurt badly several times in those exchanges.
Why, he was asked, would he choose to slug when he could have won so much easier by simply boxing the Russian's ears off?
The line went silent as Bradley took a moment to ponder the answer.
"Good question," he said, before breaking into a chuckle. "Very good question. The fans wanted a show and they got one."
It was the kind of a fight that fans had hoped Bradley's 2012 match with Pacquiao would become. Pacquiao later dismissively said Bradley ran in that fight and used that point as a reason for not giving him a rematch.
Bradley didn't run away from Pacquiao, though he clearly used his boxing ability far more than he did against Provodnikov.
Bradley, who suffered a concussion, said he was woozy from the first round on.
"It was easy when I boxed him," Bradley said. "But I don't know what it was. I don't know if it was the warrior mentality in me or what, but there were times in that fight I just said, 'OK, let's give these people what they came to see.' That was really it."
By taking that path, Bradley erased whatever stain that followed him following the Pacquiao fiasco. He's suddenly a hot ticket again and will be in the mix for all manner of significant fights.
He'll be in Las Vegas on March 30 to watch Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado fight in the rematch of their 2012 classic. He could fight the winner. He could also wind up in the ring against Juan Manuel Marquez or Pacquiao again.
Standing in front of one of the division's best punchers isn't the kind of tactic that is going to lead to a long career, which Bradley well knows.
He also knows, though, the way perception of him changed dramatically after the Gatti-like effort he gave against Provodnikov.
He says on one hand he doesn't care much if the fight is named Fight of the Year, but on the other, he speaks of wanting to be recognized for what he's done.
The more he fights like that, though, the more people are going to recognize him.
"There weren't a lot of guys jumping up and down looking to fight Ruslan," Bradley said. "He's a tough, tough guy and I'm convinced he's going to win a title if he gets a chance. I really believe that. But he was a guy that guys weren't looking to face, because they knew he didn't have a name and he could punch.
"I've been in with guys like that my whole career. I went into their hometowns and fought with the odds against me a lot. I've always been willing to fight the best no matter what and I'm going to keep doing that."
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