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Bradley battles way to top

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

You can follow Kevin Iole on Twitter at @KevinI

It's hard to fly under the radar when you're 25-0, a world champion in one of boxing's best divisions and widely regarded by industry experts as one of the game's pound-for-pound finest.

Yet, Timothy Bradley somehow manages to do it.

He hasn't run for public office. He hasn't adorned himself with an outrageous nickname. He just fights – and beats – the best fighters in the world.

Bradley, the World Boxing Organization super lightweight champion, will fight unbeaten Luis Carlos Abregu in a non-title welterweight bout July 17 in Rancho Mirage, Calif., that will be televised on HBO's "Boxing After Dark" series.

There are a lot of great fights to be made at super lightweight against men like Devon Alexander, Marcos Maidana, Amir Khan, Victor Ortiz and Zab Judah, among others. Bradley, though, doesn't want to be confined to a single division.

Bradley is only 5-feet-6, but he fought as high as 152 pounds in the amateurs where he became "unbelievable," according to his current manager and noted amateur boxing expert Cameron Dunkin.

"He just was one of those guys who always fought up in weight, and he was the guy nobody wanted to draw," Dunkin said of Bradley's amateur days. "He was outstanding. He had unbelievable ability."

He's mostly fought as a super lightweight as a pro, though he's made some dalliances with the welterweight division. He's got his eye on Alexander & Co., but he's ordered Dunkin to make the biggest matches possible, even if it means going to 154.

"The reason you get into this business is to prove yourself and to make the most money possible," Bradley said. "When you fight those big-name kinds of guys, people pay a lot more attention, and then there's more money involved. And when you get in that group, you tend to get attention and you get those kinds of fights."

He's fought a list of notoriously difficult men as professionals, though many of them haven't been big names, either. He's coming off a 12-round rout of previously unbeaten Lamont Peterson >.

That bout was preceded by a no-contest over Nate Campbell, a bout in which Bradley was dominating >, and a gut-check victory in Montreal over Kendall Holt for the WBO and World Boxing Council 140-pound belts.

Holt, one of the division's hardest hitters, decked Bradley hard in the opening seconds of the fight, but Bradley not only survived, he went on to dominate most of the rest of the fight >.

His promoter, Gary Shaw, hasn't had much luck to this point getting Bradley into the mix with the elite at 140, though he is confident that's about to change.

"I'm not frustrated," Shaw said. "I know I have the No. 1 fighter in the world at 140 pounds, and I know that Top Rank right now, like Golden Boy, is trying to do all their fights in-house. Well, eventually the public and the writers hopefully will force their fighters out of their in-house mentality to fight the best in the world.

"What's hurting our sport is that the greatest fighters in the world are not fighting the greatest fighters in the world. So, right now, we're doing what we think are the right things … and opening up a new vista for him at 147 pounds. He fought at 152 in the amateurs and if we have to take on some of those 154s, maybe we will. When someone has real talent like Timothy Bradley, and he has real talent, he'll fight anybody in the world."

However, if you happen to run into Bradley, you might have a hard time knowing that he's a superstar in the making.

He's the president of a youth football program for boys ages 7-14 near his Southern California home, and he serves as the program's conditioning coach. The players are well aware of who he is, but pay him no special attention because that's how Bradley likes it. He's all about working hard and doing the right thing.

"I try to motivate the kids and set a good example by getting out there with them and doing what they do and making sure they're working hard," he said. "I want to show the kids that I'm no different than they are. Just because I do something really well doesn't make me different. I want to show them that hard work does pay off, and I'm a firm believer in that.

"I've been working hard at this boxing stuff since I was 10 years old, and I've finally made something of myself. These kids are around the age I was when I started, so they know if they see me and they know I came from around here and could do it, so can they. I just want to inspire them to push themselves to be their best."

The hard work will eventually pay off for the youth football players, just as it is beginning to pay off for Bradley. He stands on the threshold of greatness and figures to be near the top of most pound-for-pound rankings if he can come through the Murderer's Row at 140 still unscathed.

In Dunkin's mind, the only reason Bradley isn't more highly regarded – he's eighth in the Yahoo! Sports June rankings – is that he hasn't had that one defining fight. Alexander, who faces Andriy Kotelnik on Aug. 7 in St. Louis, Mo., figures to be that opponent.

The fight is still a bit down the road, but it's one Dunkin has spent plenty of time thinking about.

"Timmy Bradley is one of those guys who finds a way to win – and I'm not saying that Alexander doesn't – but I just think even though it's a very tough fight, he'll find a way," Dunkin said. "I think he handles everyone in that division. Amir Khan [the WBA champion] is a good fighter, but I think he opens himself up and Timmy will get inside on him and tear him to shreds.

"[Marcos] Maidana [the interim WBA champion] is a rough, tough guy, but he doesn't have the speed. I think Bradley would box him to death. Ortiz, forget about it. The fight is with Alexander and that's a hard, tough fight, but I think Timmy finds a way. That's the kind of guy he is."