LOS ANGELES (AP) — Timothy Bradley remembers the first and final rounds of his last bout. The rest has vanished into a foggy haze.
The welterweight champion candidly acknowledges his brain took a beating in his victory over Ruslan Provodnikov last March. Determined to prove his ring bravery to a doubting public, Bradley (30-0, 12 KOs) consciously abandoned years of technical discipline and waded into a fistfight with the Siberian brawler.
"I wanted to prove to people that I was the true champion," Bradley said this week. "I was going to prove it to everybody just by trying to knock out Ruslan. I was trying to show a different side of me."
He paid for it with a swollen skull, ugly injuries and two months of pain and slurred speech. Yet it's a transaction he would make again. "I still want the fans to be happy," Bradley said. "I'm a four-time world champion, and I'm trying to build a fan base. That's tough. I'm trying to make the real big money. I think about all of this. ... I almost died in that fight, but I loved the attention after it."
That visceral display in an outdoor ring in Carson, Calif., set him up for a lucrative pay-per-view fight against vaunted Mexican champion Juan Manuel Marquez in Las Vegas on Saturday night. Bradley is determined to be smarter against Marquez, but he also remembers how he got to the Thomas and Mack Center.
"I'm not stupid," he said. "I know a lot of people are probably going to watch this fight because of that fight." Bradley's strategy stemmed from his fury and confusion after his victory over Manny Pacquiao in his previous fight.
The decision was among the most criticized in recent boxing history, and Bradley took it all very personally. The online comments on Twitter and Facebook would start at 5 a.m. and wouldn't stop until about 3:30 a.m. the next day, leaving Bradley baffled by the trolls' tenacity.
"Man, they wake up thinking about me," he said. "I was in a bad place. A lot of people lost a lot of respect for me, especially the fans, after the Pacquiao fight. A lot of people were like, 'Bradley is a fake champion. He doesn't deserve the belt.'"
Nine months of simmering anger culminated in a decision he announced to his wife, Monica, the night before his fight against Provodnikov. "I was like, 'I'm going to beat him down. I'm going through him,'" Bradley said. "And my wife was scared. She said, 'Don't do it, don't do it.' She cried that night, because she knew what I was going to do. When it happened after the first round, in the second round, she got up and left, because she knew my plans. She knew it wasn't going to get any better."
Bradley remembers getting knocked down by Provodnikov in the first round, and he recalls the brutal 12th round. He has watched the other 10 rounds on video. "I was just blown away," Bradley said. "I was like, 'Wow, why did I fight like that?' I just couldn't believe that I was able to take that many big shots like that, and I couldn't believe I was still standing after the fight. It just showed me what type of fighter I am, the type of heart I have, the type of determination I have."
The fighters traded huge shots throughout the night, including a dynamic sixth round. Bradley also returned to his usual sharp boxing for long stretches with prodding from his infuriated trainer, Joel Diaz, who threatened to stop the fight if Bradley didn't stop taking crazy risks.
Bradley is imprecise about the nature of his injuries, just saying everything "felt weird for a while." At Monica's insistence, he consulted with brain doctors in New York and Long Beach, embarking on a program of therapeutic exercises to bring his brain back to proper function.
Doctors couldn't decide whether Bradley had an actual concussion, as he suspected from the first round on. The visible injuries were more than enough to frighten his family. "My son couldn't stand to look at me," Bradley said. "He couldn't believe the way I fought. He said, 'You're better than that, Tim. You're better than that.'"
Bradley knew his son was correct — and yet it worked. He had changed the perception of the wide majority of boxing fans who love all-action fights, even if they inevitably shorten their fighters' career. A headfirst, technical fighter with little knockout power had turned himself into an action hero.
"HBO brought me in, and they treated me differently," Bradley said. "My promoters treated me differently. People around town showed a lot of respect. 'Man, what type of heart you have. I can't believe you could withstand such big shots like that.' ... The feedback made it all worth it. I felt like it brought some more light to my career, because after the Pacquiao fight, the lights got real dim."