(Juan Manuel Marquez, left; Timothy Bradley, right)
You can’t fault Tim Bradley for the way in which he beat Juan Manuel Marquez the other night.
It was the blueprint that everyone agreed would work. The big question was whether or not he could stick to it and whether or not Marquez could disrupt it.
As it turns out he could. And Marquez couldn’t.
But a bloodless victory is not an entertaining victory. A safely acquired triumph is not a revered triumph.
And so it goes for the hapless Bradley that though his boxing resume now includes victories over two legendary fighters, his name will likely continue to be ignominiously muttered by fight fans.
Punch like Pacquiao and you’re a Prince. Mangle muggers like Marquez and you’re a Master.
But Bradley, bester of both, is battling with a sneaky foe he can’t stand in the ring with.
It’s a secret that fighters like Bradley must live and grapple with as they struggle to connect with fans. A secret -- only in the sense that it’s in plain view, but set alongside the clutter and noise of everything else in the sport -- that isn’t always so obvious as it should be...
As is so often the case, standing atop the mountain, the path to the zenith seems so obvious as you look back down on it.
But you can remember the questions, looking up the grade and imagining the path that would lead you skyward and what the view would look like once you got there.
Well, at the end of the night on Saturday, once we’d crested that peak and saw the view, Bradley’s hand was held up in victory while Marquez was left disputing another close loss in his storied career.
From that vantage point, it was pretty easy to see the inevitability of this outcome.
With Bradley looking like damaged goods off his war with Ruslan Provodnikov and Marquez coming off his one punch decimating pulverization of Pacquaio, perceptions started to bend to a reality no one was sure of.
Was Marquez suddenly a power-punching chin destroyer? Was Bradley a speech-slurring punching bag?
Instead of those new wrinkles dictating the outcome of this fight, it was the old wrinkles that did -- wrinkles that had been worn into these fighters for years, over the course of their careers.
Boxers and movers stymy Marquez. Athleticism and determination drive Bradley.
Seeing the two terrific fighters in the ring it became obvious that an in-control Bradley was all wrong for Marquez style-wise. But those of us who believed Marquez would win did so largely based on the thinking that Bradley would feel compelled to brawl just a little bit more with the old master.
As it turns out Bradley did not feel particularly compelled to do so and wisely chose to use the attributes that set him furthest apart from Marquez:
His youth and athleticism.
Being a little faster, a little more agile, and a little less willing to engage served Bradley well and in the end he managed to win a thinking man’s contest with a a very smart fighter.
But while he earned a decision over his foe in the ring, and surely set himself up for more paydays down the road by virtue of his great skill and disciplined performance, he very likely lost ground in gaining acceptance from fight fans who have held his paper victory over Pacquiao unfairly against him.
For Marquez the future is sill rife with possibility. A meet up with Marcos Maidana should he best Adrien Broner would be a fight to see, the kind of showdown that Marquez excels in.
And there are a slew of rising junior welterweights like the winner of Provodnikov and Mike Alvarado that would seem perfect foils for Marquez.
Other hard-punching prize fighters like Lucas Matthysse and Brandon Rios are action-orientated aggressors that would mesh well with Marquez’s dynamic counter punching personality.
And then there is the lure of Rios’ next opponent, Manny Pacquiao and the payday that another confrontation would bring. Though Marquez has been steadfast in his denial of a fifth match with his great rival, the door will not be entirely closed until the men retire.
The scintillating straight right hand that annihilated Pacquiao’s perch from pound-for-pound glory and washed away his three previous, failed, bitter showdowns with the Filipino icon has been priceless to the Mexican fighting legend.
Priceless in what it meant to him personally to close out a rivalry in such dramatic and satisfying fashion, but also priceless in the type of imagery it forever burned into the imagination of those who saw the iconic final moments of that fight.
Esteem that money can’t buy.
We shall see in the coming months and perhaps the years left on Marquez’s career just how much that moment in time, the pinnacle of his career, his ultimate victory... just how much it’s worth to him and wether he will sell it at any price.
What Marquez won with guts and that precision punch for the ages is what Bradley has found elusive and maddening to the point of putting himself in pervasive and perilous danger in his previous bout with Provodnikov.
In the ring on that night, Bradley, stung from criticism for his performance against Pacquiao decided to engage in an out of character brawl to prove his mettle.
For all the torturous bombs thrown and absorbed, he wasn’t really fighting the hard slugging Russian at all.
The truth is, Provodnikov is a fighter that doesn’t have the skill or acumen to hang with an in control Bradley. He needed help.
He had an insidious ally creeping in the corners of the ring with him.
Who Bradley was fighting with was that secret foe that so many prizefighters battle with.
The one who creeps in the shadows of your mind and picks away at you.
Invisible, but vocal.
Like a dark whisper that goads you into bad things.
It’s a battle of and against the amorphous workings of the human psyche -- not your own, but that of the spectator’s.
For a boxer, if your style is honest, hard working and you put yourself on the line, then you will be embraced.
If you don’t seem willing to give fully of yourself should the time come, then you will not find great spoils in the hearts of the sport’s watchers.
What is so awful in the case of Bradley is that for the vast majority of his career, he has been that honest, hardworking fighter whose dogged will knows few bounds.
The dishonesty that he struggles with now was thrust upon him, scrawled like a scarlet letter by the incompetent judges that struggled to asses a simple fight and levy the appropriate outcome when he faced Pacquiao.
The sad twist is that Bradley went out in his next fight and gave wholly of himself. He took outrageous punishment to try and show fans that he was deserving of their admiration.
And having felt the repercussions of that decision in his health, in this latest fight, against Marquez, he dialed back and played safe... perhaps safer than had he not felt the need to give so much in his previous bout.
He is a fighter struggling with an unfair burden, little of which he is responsible for.
What we saw on Saturday was a Bradley that relied on his athleticism to win -- faster hands, quicker feet. Against a lesser foe, fans would forgive it more.
Against a fighter like Marquez, with hard-fought credibility and fighting admiration won through bloody battles and catastrophic carnage, the eyes, and hearts, and minds of those ringside demand you meet him on his terms.
A victory with capitulation to war.
Maybe not the blind bloodlust of his Providnikov bout, but Bradley engaged in vicious skirmishes, enough at least to satisfy that he was worthy of beating the battle proven warrior in front of him.
Ambiguous, nebulous, unreasonable... a battle against the psychology of the spectator.
With many eyes upon him and against him, Bradley was unable to fight Marquez on the invisible terms set by those watching.
When he engaged he looked vulnerable. And so he disengaged and fought sparingly.
And while this necessary strategy delivered victory against the man who stood across from him, that more cunning foe hunkered in the shadows.
And when all was said and done, and the judges had rendered a fair verdict, proclaiming Bradley the winner, it calmly strode out and snatched away some of his credit.
Dragged it into the deep shadowy recesses of the crowded arena, into the jilted condemnatory corner of our minds, and beat the hell out of it.
Suddenly the triumph over a future Hall of Famer pales. Examined in the harshest of bright lights, turned and examined, the victory seems little better than a loss.
The feckless win versus Marquez is the crown jewel in Bradley’s career to this point.
However still unbeaten since the dawn of fighting history, Bradley falls to his unseen adversary.
That most insidious foe.
Spectator psychology, by way of decision.