Timothy Bradley beat Manny Pacquiao last June to remain undefeated.
It was Pacquaio's first defeat in seven years. But instead of being hailed, Bradley was vilified.
Rather than return to Las Vegas' MGM Grand for a big pay-per-view date, Bradley on Saturday will return to the ring and fight an obscure Russian welterweight, Ruslan Provodnikov, at Home Depot Center in Carson for the World Boxing Organization title.
"I understand what people say, that just because you beat Tiger Woods doesn't make you Tiger Woods," Bradley said last week in his Indio gym before a training session. "But give me the credit for beating Pacquiao. That's what I want: credit for beating this guy.
"But I didn't get any credit. At all. I felt like I stole something from everybody, it was the worst feeling ever. That's what's bothering me. . . . How do you deal with that?"
Beyond the boos in the arena that first showered Bradley at the moment of his greatest triumph last year, even his Coachella Valley neighbors ridiculed his victory over Pacquiao as nothing more than a mistake by Nevada boxing judges who awarded Bradley a split decision.
Death threats were mailed and called in to Bradley's Cathedral City home, he says. The WBO ordered a ceremonial special panel of judges to view a replay of the bout and all five selected Pacquiao the winner.
Pacquiao was so free of public pressure for a rematch — a fight that would have paid Bradley more than his $5-million first-bout payday — the Filipino star opted instead to take a fourth fight against his Mexican rival Juan Manuel Marquez. And Marquez delivered a stunning knockout victory on Dec. 8 that sets up a likely fifth fight in September.
All of that took a harsh toll on the proud and typically good-spirited Bradley, who retreated to the privacy of his family in what he described as a downward spiral into "depression." His weight ballooned from the welterweight limit of 147 pounds to 185 and his thoughts strayed to retirement at age 29.
"He didn't get what he should've got from that win," Bradley's father, Ray, said last week as the Bradleys finally began granting interviews about the post-Pacquiao torment. "He was exiled. This has happened in boxing before. It happened to Marvin Hagler after he lost to Sugar Ray Leonard and he left the country."
Bradley was convinced his fitness and his ability to box and take a punch would elevate him to an upset over Pacquiao and lock him into a rematch purse he believed could reach $9 million. Instead, Bradley (29-0, 12 knockouts) will earn $1.75 million to fight Provodnikov (22-1, 15 KOs).
Provodnikov was a little-known boxer before he landed a job sparring against Pacquiao. He's trained by Pacquio's trainer, Freddie Roach.
He's a brawler known for coming forward, sticking his head toward his opponent and throwing punches.
"I'm going to use my power to the full," Provodnikov said about the Bradley fight. "Once I hit him, my punches will be stronger and stronger. My style is what I was born with. . . . This is a fight that gives me a chance to change my life, and if I didn't think I'd win this fight, I wouldn't be a boxer."
Meanwhile, Bradley is still doing some wrestling with last year's Pacquiao fight.
By the end of the fourth round, Bradley had sprained his right ankle and pulled tendons in the bottom of his left foot, but he kept fighting. Two judges awarded Bradley the victory, and a third scored it seven rounds to five, 115-113, for Pacquiao.
"Pacquiao was missing a lot of punches," Bradley, who emerged mostly unmarked from the fight, asserted after watching multiple television replays. "I don't think the punch stats were accurate.
"The judges saw that he was missing a lot of shots. Pacquiao got tired toward the end of the rounds. Later in the fight, he got real complacent. He kept trying to pick his shots, I kept punching — value punching. I controlled the action at the beginning and toward the end."
That certainly wasn't the public's perception, and many ringside reporters furthered the Brink's job reaction to the judges' decision.
Not only did Bradley quickly have to come to terms with the fact that he was not "the man" simply because he had beaten "the man," he endured the slower, more draining realization that Pacquiao wouldn't fight him again and that a mega-millions purse had vanished.
"This was the biggest moment of my career and it's like an embarrassing moment for me because everyone's perception is that I didn't win," Bradley said. "And I'm like, 'Damn it, I didn't win? Are you serious?' I want to get this . . . back, I want to fight this guy again and prove to everyone I beat him — with two bad feet.
"The only way to fix the perception was to have a rematch and [he] . . . wouldn't give me one."
Sleepless nights, irritability and depression followed, Bradley said. He bought an RV, took his family to Disney World, Hawaii and San Diego for vacations, but thoughts of despair continued to nag.