Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tim Bradley's Two Problems

Tim Bradley should be more popular.  In theory, a unified American titleholder who fights the best available would be among the sport's most recognizable figures.  That Bradley presents himself well and interacts magnificently with the media would be the icing on the Q-rating cake.  But Tim Bradley is not a star.  I doubt many casual boxing fans even know who he is at this point in his career.  Essentially, he has two main problems: he has not been promoted properly and he has an awkward fighting style. 

Bradley had a very good amateur career, going 125-20 and placing well in PAL and Golden Gloves tournaments.  He never qualified for the Olympics and was defeated in his amateur career by names such as Andre Berto and Vanes Martirosyan. 

Notice that those two boxers fight at welterweight and junior middleweight, respectively.  Bradley fought his amateur career at those two weight classes.  Even as a pro, he started at welterweight before dropping down to his optimal weight class of junior welterweight. 

Despite his amateur pedigree, he didn't turn pro with an eye-popping bonus or promotional agreement.  He was shepherded through the pro ranks by Thompson Boxing, a small boxing outfit based in Southern California.  Almost all of his early fights were held in hotel ballrooms or small Indian casinos away from the bright lights and media scrutiny of Los Angeles.  Even leading up to his title shot against Junior Witter in England, Bradley had never left Southern California to fight.  He fought once in Los Angeles and his other fights were in more remote SoCal outposts.  To say he was an obscure titleholder after beating Witter, is an understatement.

As a titleholder, Bradley has defeated fellow belt holders Kendall Holt and Devon Alexander, stopped highly touted prospect Lamont Peterson, marked time with a win over Ender Cherry and had a no-contest with former titleholder Nate Campbell -- a fight stopped early due to cuts on Campbell from Bradley's head butts.  Bradley also moved up to 147 to fight Luis Abregu when attempts to fight Marcos Maidana fell through.

To grow Bradley's stature, Gary Shaw was brought in as lead promoter.  Shaw worked his TV connections to make Bradley a featured fighter throughout his title reign, first on Showtime and then HBO. 

Shaw can secure a network TV date as well as anyone, but creating stars has not been his forte.  To Shaw, getting TV dates and holding a few press conferences encompass the sum total of his promoting. 

To this point, Bradley has not drawn well anywhere.  He cannot even fill local Indian casinos near his hometown of Palm Springs.  The unification bout against Alexander drew a little more than 6,000 people.  Who knows how many of them actually paid for a ticket?

Even with Bradley's drawing power difficulties so noted, it is not wildly speculative to suggest that if he were fighting under a different promotional banner, he would be a much bigger name.  Bradley has charisma.  Listening to him in interviews, he is a student of boxing and has many insightful observations and comments.   He may lack the drama and self-promotion that others exhibit, but he has a warm presence and seems to be a good guy.  

Shaw has yet to demonstrate any ability to get his American fighters publicity beyond traditional boxing circles.  Bradley, for his part, does as many interviews as any fighter.  If he signs with one of the other promotional entities that feature more creative thinking, the number of opportunities that await him could blow his mind. 

The second major hindrance to Bradley's superstardom results from his style of boxing; he doesn't produce entertaining fights.  Having an awkward style that is equal parts Ricky Hatton, Evander Holyfield and Bernard Hopkins can have that effect.  Like Hatton, Bradley can be a mugger.  He's kind of a pressure fighter who uses his superior physicality to wear down opponents.  Like Holyfield, he leads with his head, which leads to frequent head butts.  Similar to Hopkins, Bradley takes away an opponent’s best weapon. 

Bradley's fights produce a lot of grappling, holding, butting and delays of action.  To his credit, Bradley tries to make the fight; he is the aggressor.  He is not per se a cheap fighter but he knows a lot of the veteran moves needed to break down opponents. 

In terms of achievement or overall skills as a boxer, Bradley has not yet reached the lofty perches of a Holyfield or a Hopkins but he posesses Holyfield's doggedness and self-belief and he wants to become the master boxing student like Hopkins.  His most promising feature as a fighter might be that he fights his fight and thwarts his opponents' game plans.

Bradley still has some significant flaws as a fighter.  He squares himself up to his opponent when he wants to throw his lead right hand from close range.  This makes him vulnerable to a left hook or a straight right hand against a conventional fighter.  Kendall Holt landed both punches, leading to two knockdowns of Bradley.  Southpaw Devon Alexander had some limited success landing uppercuts.  Also, Bradley sometimes paws with his jab and doesn't always turn over his right hand.

These problems are well known in boxing, yet nobody has been able to beat him.  Bradley, though not a big puncher, creates a lot of emotional duress for his opponents.  Devon Alexander didn't want to finish his fight, neither did Nate Campbell.  Lamont Peterson and  and Alexander never looked comfortable in their fights against him.  Despite the two knockdowns, Holt lost practically every other second of their contest.  Bradley's will and self-belief rank in the top tier of all boxers.  He has great training habits and will be a tough out for anyone.  

Bradley's next task should be challenging.  His probable next opponent, Amir Khan, is both a headhunter and possesses an excellent left hook.  (Bradley to this point looks more susceptible to head shots than body work.)  Khan also employs Freddie Roach, one of the best tacticians in the sport.  Khan will be well prepared for the fight and in excellent condition.

If Bradley wanted to, he could rightfully bemoan his lack of name recognition in the sporting world, but time is on his side.  He can become a free agent after his next fight.  Every major promotional player in American boxing will take a run at him; his fortunes will improve.  Wherever he lands, he is hitting the market at a great time.

At 27, Bradley has beaten world-class fighters and is already a unified champion.  His fight with Amir Khan will recognize the best at 140.  Large names like Maywather and Pacquiao loom for that winner.    

At 27, Bernard Hopkins was just a club fighter in Philadelphia without a big-time promoter or even a regional belt.  If Bradley keeps himself in shape and works on some defensive flaws, he has another good 10 years in his run.  He may never be the mega-attraction of someone like Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather Jr., but as Hopkins has proven, if you keep winning, the recognition and the big money will follow. 

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