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Inside The Psychology Of A Fighter: Will Tim Bradley Ever Be The Same Again?

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Elite-level athletes, by nature, are insanely competitive people.

Elite-level boxers, however, take this trait to place most can’t even fathom —

To compete at the absolute highest level of pugilism, a fighter must possess ridiculous self belief, bordering on grandiose delusion.

“I walk this Earth like a God,” Charles Martin said leading up to his IBF heavyweight title fight vs. Anthony Joshua. Instead he got put on his ass.

It’s a place in the mind so extreme some would rather die than lose. But fighting a highly-trained assassin half naked before the world, you have to.

Hence why many fighters — once they lose — do not compete at the level before their first defeat.

George Foreman fell into a 10-year depression, finding God, before eventually purging the ghost of defeat 20 years later.

Ricky Hatton fell into depression and substance abuse.

Kelly Pavlik was never the same. Ronda Rousey, we shall see. Nonito Donaire. Roy Jones.

The list goes on and on and on.

Enter Tim Bradley.

A legitimate pound-for-pound talent, Bradley’s the total package inside the ring; beautiful footwork, slick defense, can throw any punch and tough as nails.

Yet, his greatest trait has always been his indomitable will to win.

When he was undefeated, he fought like he would rather die than lose. “Dude is just a monster,” Andre Ward — a fierce competitor in his own right — has said, calling him the toughest fight of his life when they fought in the amateurs. “I just never forgot it.”

After the bullshit following the first fight with Manny Pacquiao, Bradley took the rematch and basically committed pugilistic Hara Kiri: Gunning for the KO, Bradley fought like a fool, knowing that he’d either lose on points or win dramatically.

In the post-fight interview, Bradley seemed almost relieved he had lost his “0” — especially in the fashion of essentially forfeiting it.

Yet, in the 3rd fight with Pacquiao, however, he seemed to really, really try to fight an intelligent fight…and he lost.

He didn’t just lose. He lost in the same type of mind-fucking fashion Floyd Mayweather usually does to his opponents – where he was outsmarted and could do absolutely nothing about it.

Ever since then, Bradley has seemed…different. Content. All about business. Which makes me wonder whether we’ll ever see the best Bradley again.

Let’s run through Bradley’s recent history in more detail.

After earning the disputed decision against Pacquiao at the height of Pacquiao-mania (I was ringside; scored it 9-3 for the Pacman), Bradley was tormented by a rabid fanbase, receiving death threats and strange requests to somehow relinquish — even apologize! — a career-defining (and life-altering) victory.

 

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Falling deep into depression — even contemplating suicide — Bradley hid from the media. He later reemerged with a chip on his shoulder, taking on power puncher Ruslan Provodnikov with the sole aim to take off the Russian’s head.

From the very first round, Bradley fought an almost idiotic fight, going toe-to-toe with a stronger, but inferior fighter, nearly costing him a knockout loss.

“I felt like my life flashed before my eyes,” Bradley later said.

However, in his next fight, Bradley reverted to his intelligent self, outboxing the great Juan Manuel Marquez in a virtuoso performance, which led to a rematch with Pacquiao.

No doubt bothered by the backlash from the first fight, Bradley went on a Kamikaze mission, giving zero fucks about preserving the coveted “0”, instead fighting squarely to flatline the Filipino icon.

“He fights in a very, very undisciplined manner at times,” Paulie Malignaggi said before the rubber match in April. “You look at the way he fought Juan Manuel Marquez and go, ‘Oh, this is the Bradley we want.’

“Then you look at the way he fought Ruslan Provodnikov and the Manny Pacquiao rematch where he’s loading up every single shot, throwing one shot at a time, and go, ‘What the fuck is wrong with this guy?’”

What was wrong with Bradley was that he basically stepped in the ring with a fuck you-attitude: “I’m either knocking you the fuck out or you’re walking away with the decision because these motherfuckers are not going to give to me anyway.”

Interestingly enough, in the post-fight interview Bradley looked almost relieved, as if he got a huge monkey off his back. “He’s the better fighter, no disrespect, but he’s the better fighter,” he said. “I thought I had to do more, I was shooting for a knockout and I didn’t get it tonight.”

Sure enough, balance and fairness was restored in the eyes of the fans and Bradley walked home, content with the illusion that Pacquiao was the superior fighter.

Even though he, himself, in his mind, knew better.

Fast forward to 2016, Bradley was chosen to face Pacquiao in a rubber match in Pacquiao’s first fight back from the rich Floyd Mayweather fight.

Despite the lack of interest in the fight, it seemed like a good idea for Top Rank. A built-in storyline in a bout that would tell a lot about both men.

If Pacquiao had anything left, he was expected to win. If he didn’t, Bradley would kill off the old lion and rule the landscape moving forward. At least on that side of boxing’s political fence.

On Bradley’s end, “Desert Storm” — brand new trainer in tow — was coming off an exhilarating performance vs. Rios, boxing intelligently before eventually stopping Rios with a body shot in the 9th.

Full of fire, confidence, and perhaps a bit a contempt, Bradley seemed committed to outsmarting, outboxing Pacquiao a la TBE’s blueprint from #MayPac.

“Even though people said the [Mayweather-Pacquiao] fight was boring, it was entertaining to me because he was doing exactly what I should’ve done in the fight with Pacquiao,” he said.

Instead, Pacquiao outsmarted him, frustrating him all 12 rounds and punctuating the performance with a pair of knockdowns.

After the fight, Bradley knew he had been defeated, legitimately and without controversy. Immediately after the decision, Bradley’s trademark intensity was gone, substituted by some strange Bible study planning with Pacquiao in the center of the ring.

(Funny how Pacquiao likes to do Bible studies when he wins. No mention of that after getting outclassed by Floyd. But I digress…)

“I didn’t do what I was supposed tonight, man,” a resigned Bradley said. “I didn’t follow directions like I was supposed to. Manny pretty much exposed me.”

A Twitter exchange between two former champs at the twilight of the careers underscores the psychology of fighters.

 

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Every time a fighter faces defeat, a part of his soul leaves with him — like a rapidly deflating balloon losing air.

Just look at the quiet defiance of Malignaggi post-Cotto, post-Hatton compared to the resignation on his face in his most recent defeat vs. Danny Garcia.

It’s not easy coping with the reality that the necessary delusion for combat is…well, just that. A delusion.

Now married, rich, with a beautiful family and kids, does defeat still hurt him as bad? Is he still willing to die before taking defeat?

That was really Bradley’s X-factor.

He’s still competitive and tenacious, don’t ever get it twisted. But will he ever be what he once was?

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