LAS VEGAS – A wall remains that separates fighters under contract to promoters Top Rank and Golden Boy to those managed by Al Haymon.
The sad truth is that many of the great fights that could be made are scuttled before they start because, for the most part, the sides don’t do business together.
It’s especially sad for fighters like WBO champion Timothy Bradley and Brandon Rios, who meet Saturday on the UNLV campus in what figures to be an entertaining HBO welterweight title fight.
Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions has a number of fighters who would be potentially terrific matches for not only the Bradley-Rios winner, but also the loser.
Imagine, for a second, a Bradley-Keith Thurman bout or a Rios-Shawn Porter match. Highly touted prospect Errol Spence Jr. could make his name and vault into stardom by defeating the winner. A Rios-Robert Guerrero bout would be fun, as would a Bradley-Danny Garcia match.
All of those fighters, and more, are off-limits to Bradley and Rios because of the politics of boxing.
Further complicating things for the winner of Saturday’s bout is the looming specter of Manny Pacquiao.
Pacquiao is one of the great fighters of this generation, and the careers of both Bradley and Rios are inextricably linked to him.
Pacquiao and Bradley fought twice, and neither bout was particularly compelling. Pacquiao won the rematch last year going away, and most believe he also won the first bout as well.
But the judges gave Bradley a hotly disputed split decision in the first fight. And so Bradley lost even though he won, enduring a torrent of abuse, including death threats and other threats of violence, from out-of-control Pacquiao fans.
Bradley has long been one of the sport’s classiest men, and he’s been nipping at the heels of the top dogs in his division for years. He could never get a bout with the now-retired Floyd Mayweather – yes, an Al Haymon client – and the perception is he was handled easily by Pacquiao.
His biggest win, other than the controversial 2012 verdict over Pacquiao, was a 2013 win over Juan Manuel Marquez. But Marquez is now 42, coming off an injury, and there is no guarantee he’ll fight again.
And if he does, it’s questionable if the economics can work to make Bradley-Marquez II a viable proposition.
So there aren’t a lot of potential paydays out there for Bradley.
Promoter Bob Arum has talked of the possibility of the Bradley-Rios winner meeting Canelo Alvarez next year, but even if that occurs, it would be amid much consternation among the fan base.
Alvarez is facing WBC champion Miguel Cotto for the middleweight title on Nov. 21 in Las Vegas. WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman has already proclaimed the winner must fight Gennady Golovkin or be stripped of the crown.
Now, the threat of being stripped hasn’t often stopped a fighter from taking a fight he wants, but Alvarez is a shrewd businessman. It seems that an Alvarez-Golovkin fight would be more lucrative, though far, far riskier, for the Mexican superstar than a bout with the Bradley-Rios winner.
Clearly, Bradley understands the significance of the bout with Rios. Arum has listed him as one of three potential opponents for Pacquiao’s supposed final bout, though it seems likely that Amir Khan and Terence Crawford, Bradley’s close friend, are ahead of him in the pecking order.
He’s only on that short list with a win, just like he is for a potential Alvarez bout.
To give himself the best chance, Bradley has cut ties with longtime trainer Joel Diaz and brought in Teddy Atlas in an attempt to jumpstart his career. Bradley is coming off a less-than-inspiring win over Jessie Vargas in which he was hurt badly in the waning seconds and was nearly stopped.
Atlas’ methodical approach has seemed to reinvigorate Bradley.
“When Teddy came to camp he took a book of images of certain rounds I had fought previously,” Bradley said. “There were notes about what I did right and what I did wrong. No trainer of mine has ever prepared for a fight like Teddy has for me against Rios.”
Whether that is true or not is immaterial, as long as Bradley believes it.
Bradley and Diaz had been together for years, with great success. But just like in team sports, when the players tune out the manager or coach, it can be time for a change.
Atlas is a different voice and it’s got Bradley eager to show his improvement.
“My game plan is to stay totally focused for 36 minutes of fighting,” he said. “Rios fights hard, is relentless, can endure pain and [will] look for one shot to hurt me. I want this fight badly. I plan to keep it in control my way. Teddy is full of wisdom. Together, we are going to win this big fight.”
Rios thought he hit the lottery when, coming off a unanimous decision loss to Mike Alvarado, he landed a Nov. 24, 2013, bout with Pacquiao in Macau.
Pacquiao’s speed and quickness overwhelmed Rios, who appeared timid and disengaged, and not the aggressive, attacking tiger who put on one of the more entertaining bouts of the 21st century when he defeated Alvarado in their first bout.
Pacquiao won in a waltz, taking all 12 rounds on judge Michael Pernick’s scorecard and claiming 11 of 12 on Lisa Giampa’s and 10 of 12 on Manfred Kuechler’s.
Worse than simply suffering his second defeat in a row, Rios’ inability to get anything rolling against Pacquiao created a perception that he couldn’t compete with the absolute best fighters in the world.
A win over Bradley would at least somewhat negate the poor performance he had against Pacquiao.
“I want to get back on top in boxing,” Rios said. “Bradley is in my way. Bradley is going to be my ticket back to the top.”
There aren’t that many rich paydays remaining at welterweight these days for fighters outside of the Haymon sphere.
And given their results against Pacquiao, the biggest name on the other side of that sphere, Bradley and Rios find themselves in a difficult spot.
A win on Saturday would be huge for both of them.