Timothy Bradley Jr. should have been the happiest man around after receiving a split decision victory against superstar Manny Pacquiao last June.
After all, Bradley had claimed a welterweight world title, made a career-high $5 million purse and had his hand raised against one of boxing's all-time greats following a major pay-per-view fight in Las Vegas.
But instead of being able to enjoy the moment, he suddenly realized that, apart from the two judges who scored the bout for him, almost everyone who watched it thought he had clearly lost the fight.
Even his own promoter, Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, immediately railed against the decision. Arum, who also promotes Pacquiao, obviously had wanted a win for Pacquiao, who means so much more to Arum's business than Bradley does. Arum went so far as to call for the Nevada attorney general to investigate the judges' scoring. (No wrongdoing was uncovered.)
Arum wasn't the only one disgusted by the decision. Fans around the world savaged Bradley -- many wrongly blaming him for the outcome, when all he did was fight, not judge -- and even Sen. John McCain, a longtime boxing fan and advocate for reform in the sport, hammered the decision in remarks on the senate floor.
Because of the massive public outcry against the decision, the WBO, whose title was on the line, had its own independent panel of five judges review the bout, all of whom declared Pacquiao the winner. Although the official result would stand, it was just another dagger thrown Bradley's way when he should have been celebrating.
Instead, he was angry and retreated into near-seclusion at his home in Palm Springs, Calif. There was no victory lap, no avalanche of media appearances, no spike in popularity. Just a lot of hard feelings and a summer of discontent that included death threats from those who took the outcome of a boxing match way too seriously.
"I didn't get any credit after the Pacquiao fight, whatsoever," Bradley said. "People talk about me, my style, that I'm boring. Some people talk about my wife, my kids. People sent me death threats after the fight because I won undeservingly. I should have given the belt back? A lot of different things went on. I can talk all day about things that people said about me. But it doesn't matter -- none of these people are going to get in the ring with me.
"People can say whatever they want -- it is a free country -- so I am going to say whatever I want, when I want to say it and how I want to say it. Those people don't know me at all. If you get to know me, if you know what I go through, how I train, and you still talk crap about me, then you have the problem. No one knows what I go through to prepare for my fights. People need to sell papers, I guess. I am the nicest guy you will ever meet on the street, ever."
Bradley said the death threats came via mail and telephone, but he didn't report them to the police.
"I am in my house and nobody will mess with me when I'm in my house," Bradley said. "I didn't really take them seriously. People were mad, but I didn't think they would come to my house and take me out. I don't think that would ever happen."
Nine months after the controversial fight with Pacquiao, Bradley is set to return. But instead of a big-time fight against a star opponent, Bradley will instead face one of Pacquiao's sparring partners, little-known Russian brawler Ruslan Provodnikov, a fringe junior welterweight contender who is moving up to welterweight for the opportunity Saturday.
Bradley is looking to take out the frustrations of the past nine months on the 29-year-old Provodnikov (22-1, 15 KOs), whose only loss came in a 2011 decision to Mauricio Herrera, one of Bradley's sparring partners.
"I am looking to make a statement in this fight and I am looking to damage this guy," Bradley said. "I am looking to put this guy out. I don't want to go 12 rounds with this guy. The longer he stays around, the more confident he will get, so I want to get him out of there as soon as possible."
In the co-feature, unbeaten welterweights Jessie Vargas (21-0, 9 KOs), 23, of Las Vegas and Wale "Lucky Boy" Omotoso (23-0, 19 KOs), 27, a native of Nigeria, each hopes to continue his ascent against the other in a scheduled 10-round bout.
After Arum so publicly went against Bradley in the aftermath of the Pacquiao fight, he has stepped back from his involvement in promoting Bradley, given their fractured relationship. Instead, Arum's stepson and Top Rank president Todd duBoef is the one working closely with Bradley (29-0, 12 KOs), 29, on the fight.
"The result of the Pacquiao-Bradley fight was a very tough result for everybody in the sport and very tough for a lot of people," duBoef said. "Fortunately, Tim, [his wife] Monica and myself have been able to communicate. There was no handbook for what the result of the fight was. No one knew how to handle it. We had death threats, Tim had death threats, and it was a very spirited blogosphere campaign that we all got sucked into. Fortunately, we have a healthy relationship moving forward and we are looking to keep him active and making the biggest fights we can for him."
Bradley had the opportunity to come back in December to fight a rematch with junior welterweight titlist Lamont Peterson, a fighter Bradley had already easily outpointed (and dropped) in 2009 during his own junior welterweight title reign. Top Rank had even secured Marlins Park, the baseball stadium in Miami, to hold the fight. Instead, Bradley passed on a $2.3 million payday, which would have been the second biggest of his career.
Bradley said he passed because he wasn't interested in facing Peterson again and also because his feet, both of which he injured against Pacquiao, weren't fully healed. Some close to Bradley said he passed because he was still so upset by the way he was treated after the Pacquiao fight.
"My feet were not 100 percent. In the back of my mind, I was thinking about if I was ready or not," Bradley said. "I also did not want the rematch with Peterson. It was a combination of the two things, but mainly I did not want to fight Peterson."
Said duBoef: "For the December fight, we were talking with both [Robert] Guerrero and [Andre] Berto. We had offers with them and we had accepted the fight with both of them. HBO was brokering a deal for us in December and we were going to go to Marlins Park and we were waiting for them to wrap that up; but both of them declined the fight and decided to fight each other. Then it came down to Peterson, and Tim expressed that he already fought and beat this guy -- been there, done that. So let's go onward and upward, and that was it."
While Bradley sat on the sideline, Pacquiao returned in December, electing to fight rival Juan Manuel Marquez for the fourth time rather than exercising the option he had for an immediate rematch with Bradley. Marquez spectacularly knocked out Pacquiao in the sixth round.
So what did Bradley think about seeing Pacquiao get drilled?
"Do you want the devil's side or do you want the good side of me," he asked. "One side said, 'That's what you get for not rematching me.' The other side said, 'That was a helluva fight and I can't believe what just happened.'"
Whatever happens in Bradley's fight with Provodnikov, and whether he ever has a rematch with Pacquiao, they will always be tied in some fashion because of their controversial fight.
It's a fight that, despite the uproar, taught Bradley a lesson.
"The Pacquiao fight made me grow as a person and as a fighter, and it made me realize who was important and who was not important and what is important in my career," Bradley said. "What is not important is what people's perception of me is. Everyone has an opinion and they can say whatever they want to say, but it's not going to stop me from what I do -- and that's kick butt in the ring.
"What's important is my family and I pay attention to my career and stop worrying about everyone else's career and what they are making. I just need to focus on my career and my life."