By Eric Raskin
Every boxer starts his career undefeated. From there, the longer you remain undefeated, either the better you are … or the more carefully you’ve been matched.
The only thing we can say definitively about an undefeated record is that it creates a built-in marketing hook. Perfection—and the pursuit of continued perfection—sells. But what the zero at the end of a record truly means varies from fighter to fighter.
Timothy Bradley is only the third undefeated fighter Manny Pacquiao will have fought in the last 10 years. What is the zero worth? The last two undefeated Pac-Man opponents, Jorge Solis and Emmanuel Lucero, will never be confused with Hall of Famers, while Pacquiao’s best opponents (Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Oscar De La Hoya) had all suffered multiple defeats before facing him.
HBO.com recently asked Larry Merchant what the zero on Bradley’s record indicates to him, and the legendary journalist replied with a laugh, “An undefeated guy is hard to defeat.” It’s an obvious truth that’s meant two ways: He must not be an easy fighter to beat or else he would have lost by now, and he has implicit motivation to stay undefeated.
In the case of Bradley, he’s remained perfect taking on the likes of Devon Alexander, Junior Witter, and Kendall Holt, all world-class fighters. So we know “Desert Storm” is no pumped-up fraud. But he also hasn’t taken on a fellow pound-for-pounder like Pacquiao yet. “If Bradley goes out there and fights a hell of a fight against Pacquiao and he loses, it could raise his stature,” observed Merchant. “He could be 28-1 with a check next to the ‘1’ instead of an ‘X.’ So he lost one? He lost to Manny Pacquiao.”
Who are the best undefeated current fighters? Obviously, the top dog is Floyd Mayweather, who enjoys reminding us that “43 have tried, and 43 have failed.” Rounding out this writer’s unofficial top five are super middleweight champ Andre Ward, Bradley, featherweight phenom Yuriorkis Gamboa, and under-the-radar mighty mite Roman Gonzalez. The next five includes Abner Mares, Chris John, Adrien Broner, Takashi Uchiyama, and one of the fighters on the Pacquiao-Bradley undercard, Guillermo Rigondeaux.
But it was just two Saturdays ago that we saw how much more important it is to be battle-tested than to be undefeated when Carl Froch, the most liberally matched man in boxing the last few years, hammered the perfection out of Lucian Bute in Nottingham, England. Being unbeaten doesn’t mean you’re unbeatable. It just means you haven’t met your match yet. Many experts believe Bradley will be meeting his this Saturday night.
But if he doesn’t, we’ll be looking at his zero in a whole different light come Sunday morning.