Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Tim Bradley and Synthesis

The Hegelian dialectic is a philosophical framework that can help explain history, progress, thought and/or a host of other phenomenon. The central thrust of the dialectic is this: thesis + antithesis = synthesis. Meaning, to arrive at truth, one must resolve a central issue and its antagonistic response before reaching an optimal solution, one which combines elements of the initial two approaches. In evaluating the boxing career of Tim Bradley, I think that a Hegelian analysis provides a meaningful assessment of his transitions as a fighter. 

Part I. Thesis  

During Tim Bradley's ascension from young fighter to top boxing talent, he used a particular style that was very successful. He fought aggressively with a high punch output. He featured a lot of pressure, an abundance of grappling on the inside and very little power. Like an irrepressible gnat, he tormented opponents. Leading with his head was perhaps his most feared weapon. His style wasn't aesthetically pleasing but it got the job done. He won three different versions of the junior welterweight title and defeated unbeaten fighters such as Lamont Peterson and Devon Alexander. 

Through 29 fights, Bradley had yet to lose. After dealing with promotional issues earlier in his career, he was now aligned with boxing powerhouse Top Rank and he had become a fixture on HBO. Bradley had also started to climb in the pound-for-pound rankings, an acknowledgement that he was now one of the top fighters in the world. 

In 2012, Bradley was given the opportunity to face Manny Pacquiao, a living legend in the sport and a fighter who was then no worse than the second best talent in boxing. For Bradley, this was his chance at the big time. With the exception of the official decision, the fight didn't go well for Bradley whatsoever. Pacquiao’s superior hand speed, combinations and power troubled him throughout the first half of the fight. In the last few rounds, Bradley had some limited success by being more evasive; however, it's more than possible that Pacquiao took his foot off of the gas thinking that he had a sizable lead. Somehow, two of the judges had Bradley winning seven rounds and he was given the undeserved victory. (It's worth noting that the judges who favored Bradley, C.J. Ross and Duane Ford, no longer judge professional boxing.) 

Bradley was summarily booed after the decision and boxing fans turned against him. With the welterweight title belt around his waist, Bradley was the evening's big loser. Even his promoter called for an investigation of potential malfeasance with the decision (however, it must be said that Pacquiao was Top Rank's ultimate cash cow). In an instant, Bradley had gone from a scrappy champion to a target of ire and derision. Something had to give. 

Part II. Antithesis

The first part of his career is now over."
– Bernard Hopkins

Hopkins said this memorable line to Danny Garcia in the tunnel of the Alamodome after Adrien Broner lost to Marcos Maidana, but the quote could certainly be directed towards Bradley after his first fight with Pacquiao. Essentially, whatever had worked for Broner to that point of his career (or, read Bradley here) was no longer enough. Change was needed. After the Pacquiao fight, Bradley faced a problem; his current ring style couldn't beat the best. In addition, he had lost most of whatever fan following that he had; his career was in crisis. 

During Bradley's next four fights – against Ruslan Provodnikov, Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao in the rematch and Diego Chaves – Bradley adopted a new ring style, one that would rely more on power and excitement. Gone was the guy who threw 80 punches a round. He participated in less infighting and the clinching was minimized. More often, he stood at a distance trying to trade hard shots. He learned how to throw looping right hands from distance, punishing left hooks to the body and stinging right uppercuts. This new style produced a fight of the year (against Provodnikov), probably his best career win against Marquez, a competitive decision loss to Pacquiao in the rematch and a draw against Chaves. True, he boxed Marquez for much of the fight but he also fired some enormous shots in its final third, asserting his physical dominance on top of his tactical supremacy. 

However, one could observe these four fights and see some diminishing returns. Although almost all believed that Bradley was robbed with the Chaves decision, this new style certainly allowed Chaves to remain in the fight. Yes, he bettered Chaves in many of the exchanges but he still got hit with some monster shots. In the Pacquiao rematch, Bradley was able to rock him at points but ultimately he got outworked (you could never say that about the old Bradley). While Bradley was looking for one big shot, Pacquiao let his hands go more often and won the decision. Although Bradley was certainly more TV-friendly in this reconstituted style, he went life-and-death with Provodnikov, nobody's definition of an elite fighter. As a reaction to his earlier ring style, Bradley 2.0 was more exciting. However, this newer version faced even more peril in the ring and perhaps additional dangers on the scorecards. 

Part III. Synthesis

In Bradley's fight against Jessie Vargas a few weeks ago, he seemed to turn a corner. Incorporating elements of his original style with aspects of his power-punching antithesis, he produced one of his best performances as a pro. After a three-year hiatus, his pressure and high punch volume had returned. Through sheer will and determination, he outworked Vargas on the inside and got the best of the action. Utilizing what he had developed in his second iteration as a fighter, his looping lead right hand was devastating at points. In addition, he gave himself enough space not to smother his work. There were very few head butts and the action had a great flow to it, something not often said about Bradley's bouts in his initial ring style. 

Yes, he got tagged at the end of the fight and had to survive (the ref, Pat Russell, stopped the bout about seven or eight seconds early) but most believe – as I do – that he would have found a way to stay on his feet until the final bell. I had Bradley winning convincingly, 116-112, against a fighter who did some very effective sharpshooting. Overall, Bradley was awarded his most comfortable decision on the scorecards since prior to the first Pacquiao fight. This third ring version appealed to judges and fans alike. 

I don't know if Bradley's performance against Vargas was a one-fight anomaly or the beginning of a new phase in his career. However, I'm encouraged by what I observed. In my opinion, it was Bradley at his most complete. He boxed, he banged, he pressured, he let his hands go and he displayed some decent power. Against Marquez, I felt that Bradley intentionally stayed away in the first portion of the fight. He picked up points early by boxing conservatively. But facing Vargas, Bradley continued to fight intelligently, but he also exchanged throughout the fight. 

I'm curious to see what's next for Bradley. Excepting Mayweather, I'd make this version of Bradley a favorite over any other welterweight (even against Pacquiao, whom I feel has really slipped). Bradley's synthesis has made him a more well-rounded fighter. Now, he finally has the formula to be his very best in the ring. Here's hoping that he gets the fights. 

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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