Timothy Bradley Jr. has often referred to the fallout of his contentious June 2012 win over Manny Pacquiao as the dark cloud that has hung over his head, keeping him up at night.
Two years later, both fighters will finally get a chance at a piece of their own personal redemption following one of the most controversial decisions in recent history when they meet in Saturday's rematch (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Bradley (31-0, 12 KOs), who will make his third defense of the welterweight title he won from Pacquiao (55-5-2, 38 KOs) by split decision, recently talked with ESPN.com what this opportunity means to him:
When did you first speak up and ask for the rematch?
I wanted it after the first fight but it didn't happen. It was offered to me after the Ruslan Provodnikov fight [in March 2013] but I turned it down. I wanted to do a little more to grab the fans' attention. The fact that Pacquiao was knocked out by [Juan Manuel] Marquez, I knew that if I beat Marquez it would get the fans attention. After beating Marquez I knew I was ready to take on that dark cloud that has been lingering over my head. I'm a completely different fighter now. I know Pacquiao and he knows me so it's going to be interesting to see how we adjust in the ring.
Do you feel you are finally over that hill of winning the respect of the fans?
I honestly, truthfully feel like I'm over that hill even though I'm the underdog coming into this fight. Pacquiao is such a huge fighter and another 800-pound gorilla in the game. He's one of the highest paid along with [Floyd Mayweather Jr.] I feel that people respect me and respect what I bring. They respect the fact that this fight is happening and that Pacquiao and myself have agreed to fight each other to clear up the controversy from the first fight. I'm getting a lot of love from a lot of people. A lot of people are picking me to win.
How much have you embraced the underdog role throughout your career?
I like being the underdog. My mom always told me that as long as they are against you, you'll always be on top. And I always believe that statement because my mom always told me constantly. I embrace the underdog role because I love to prove people wrong. That's just me and the nature of me. I felt that I grew up being the underdog growing up in the ghetto and I found a new life with this boxing so I'm used to it.
Some prematurely predicted you were damaged goods after the Provodnikov fight. Did you surprise even yourself with how well you boxed in your next fight against Marquez?
I wasn't surprised. I knew what type of fighter I had in front of me. Sometimes [against Provodnikov] we as competitors go down to the level of our opposition. The fact that I was no facing Marquez, I knew my game would rise automatically just because of how skillful he is and how talented.
You have routinely made the claim throughout the buildup to Saturday's fight that Pacquiao has lost his killer instinct. What makes you believe that?
There have been a lot of excuses from [trainer] Freddie [Roach]. I don't talk too much in the media and I try not to but there have been a lot of things that I've been hearing through the grapevine like Freddie talking about how compassionate Manny is. He lightens up on his sparring partners and these guys he is facing. I started really paying attention to it. When he fought me I had two banged up feet and I would figure when you have a guy wounded and you're as vicious as Pacquiao is you would take me out. But he wasn't able to take me out even though I was damaged goods. That and the fact that he was knocked out by Marquez and then after that he stepped back against Rios when he was pinned in the corner. I was like, "Are you getting a little gun shy now? You don't want to gamble in that last round and get him out of there? You're hitting him with everything and the kitchen sink. Ok, something is a little different there. I don't know." Then Pacquiao is saying "God told me not to do this and God told me not to do that." He said that God told him not to knock me out that night. So when you have a guy that compassionate who couldn't even tell me during [HBO's] "Face Off" that he wanted to knock me out, I just think that guy is just not even focused to be in a fight mentally. This sport is the hurt business. You ought to seek and destroy and if you show compassion, that's where you end up -- on the canvas.
Do you believe Pacquiao holding up the start of your fight against him to watch the end of Game 7 of the Heat-Celtics series led to him being distracted?
No, I just thought it was more like Pacquiao is just arrogant and how he wanted to finish watching the game. It was more like he was taking me lightly, like I'm going to knock this kid out and he's not going to know what hit him. And then it backfired on him.
People don't identify you with your unbeaten record in the same way they do with Floyd Mayweather Jr. How important is that to you?
It doesn't matter to me. I'm not in that game. Of course you want to win every fight but the most important thing to me is fighting the best fighters in the world. That's the most important thing to me. The money is great and all of that but if you want to be the best in the game and be the best of all-time you need to fight the best fighters in the world. Period. That's just how I look at it. That's how you separate -- it's about fighting the best. If people don't see you fighting the best, they're not going to consider you the best. Period.
What's the biggest thing at stake for both fighters in this fight?
There is a lot on the line for both of us. The stakes have definitely risen in this fight. The blood and the energy are rolling. I'm expecting a fantastic show for the fans. I honestly don't see how they won't be entertained considering what's at stake. If Pacquiao loses this fight you can pretty much stick a fork in him and he will be done and just another guy and have to go to retirement. If I lose this fight everybody will say, "Oh well, he didn't win the first one either." It will be mayhem after that but I'll be content with that because at the end of the day I really need to finish this chapter and move on.