Sunday, September 12, 2021

Tim Bradley's Time

Tim Bradley had a great night on Friday. The ESPN commentator and former world champ provided a clinic in how a sharp boxing analyst can enlighten a broadcast. At the top of the show, Bradley pulled no punches when it came to discussing Oscar Valdez's failed PED test. In an emotional monologue, Bradley was adamant in how allowing Valdez to continue to fight despite the failed test helped erode the credibility of boxing and he condemned the powers that be in their failure to regulate the sport properly.  

And this theme was repeated throughout the extraordinary broadcast. Far too often we see boxing commentators and networks gently push unpleasantries aside. How often do we hear announcers nebulously refer to damaging behavior as "out-of-the ring difficulties" and just leave it at that, a mere footnote before the action commences? But ESPN and Bradley in particular went all in. Bradley didn't allow Valdez any wiggle room. To him a fighter was responsible for any substance he or she may use or ingest. And for proponents of a clean sport, Bradley was singing the perfect tune. 

ESPN Boxing Analyst Tim Bradley
Photo Courtesy of ESPN

Friday's broadcast was unusual in another aspect: ESPN was biting the hand that feeds it. ESPN has an exclusive contract with Top Rank to provide boxing content. And yet it was Top Rank that helped lead the charge to clear Valdez. However, Bradley, Andre Ward and Bernardo Osuna didn't succumb to those political considerations. In their mind, a wrong was committed, an egregious one, and it was more important to them to draw a line in the sand and stake a position on the clean side of the drug testing issue than to play nice with their corporate partners. 

In short, ESPN's commentators were being advocates for the sport, a position that HBO often held during its heyday, as well as former ESPN boxing analyst Teddy Atlas. To the ESPN broadcast crew, boxing's health and legitimacy were far more important than the transactional nature of broadcasting an Oscar Valdez fight or towing the Valdez/Top Rank company line for the reason for the failed drug test. It was refreshing to say the least. 

But it wasn't just the drug issue where Bradley shined on Friday. Throughout the broadcast he provided incisive commentary. During Gabe Flores' bout, where the young prospect was dismantled by Luis Alberto Lopez, Bradley shed light on a personality issue of Flores' that was contributing to his difficulty during the fight. Bradley relayed that he had asked Flores in Thursday's fighter meeting if he was going to work on keeping his left hand up more. To which, in Bradley's telling, Flores responded that he's going to be himself in the ring. In that answer from Flores, there was a hint of stubbornness, a refusal to examine criticism. After the fight, Flores, beaten up and demoralized, blamed himself for the loss saying that his dad provided him with the right instruction in the corner, but he had refused to listen. 

Bradley also pointed out additional aspects of Flores' style that he had failed to develop in his young career. While Flores maintained that he was getting more comfortable holding his feet and fighting on the inside, Bradley astutely pointed out that Flores resorted to backing up against the pressure fighter repeatedly, which invited even more aggression from Lopez. 

In the Xander Zayas fight, where the undefeated prospect was facing the toughest test of his young career against Jose Luis Sanchez, Bradley immediately saw that Sanchez could have success with his right hand over the top because of Xander's poor glove positioning with his left hand. And although Sanchez didn't win the fight, he repeatedly landed those right hands throughout the contest. It was a gut check fight for Zayas and he came through it well, but Bradley and Ward didn't act as a Greek Chorus marveling at the young fighter, as many broadcasters do. The commentators saw real issues and pointed them out. The final scores of the bout, which were a shutout for Zayas, didn't convey the competitiveness of the fight or the issues that Zayas still has to address. And it wasn't all negative. Bradley praised Zayas' skills, power and heart at points in the fight, but it was mixed with the type of reality check that he often gives as part of his commentary. 

The main event between Oscar Valdez and Robson Conceicao saw all three judges and the ESPN crew having Valdez at the victor, but many scoring at home thought that Conceicao had done enough to win. After a fast start from Conceicao, Valdez had more success in the back half of the fight. And as the rounds progressed, the number of authoritative punches from Conceicao started to drop. Yet Conceicao was dancing in the ring, holding his arms up, showboating. Bradley and Ward correctly pointed out that the judges may not respond well to that kind of display when the fighter isn't doing enough offensively to warrant it. There can be room for showboating in boxing, but it only works when one fighter is dominating the other. For Conceicao, he was playing with his food too much instead of putting more punches together, the kinds that can sway judges. 

It was no surprise to Bradley and Ward that the judges scored it for Valdez. And whether you agree with Bradley on who should have won the fight, the fact that he and his team pointed out that professional judges might not take kindly to a fighter (especially a challenger) who engages in those antics, and they were proven correct, is a point in their favor. They were right about how this behavior in the ring would be perceived, and that is what an astute analyst does – illuminate the action at hand. 

Tim Bradley is still growing into his role as a boxing commentator. Sometimes he can be overly negative on young fighters, wanting them to do things that are beyond their capabilities. Other times he, and his team at ESPN, can engage in too much hyping of a network favorite son. 

But he sees the action well. He's not afraid to be bold and he wants to matter in his position. Bradley understands that he has an ability to affect the sport and how it's perceived, and he takes that responsibility seriously. His performance of Friday was another sign that he possesses special qualities. I hope he continues to be bold and incisive. The sport has enough empty suits. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
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