by Kieran Mulvaney
To judge from the reaction at Friday’s weigh-in at the Wynn Las Vegas, Timothy Bradley will be in hostile territory when he defends his welterweight title against Juan Manuel Marquez at the Thomas & Mack Arena on Saturday night. If Bradley’s reaction on the weigh-in stage is a guide, he won’t care one bit.
As the boos cascaded from the pro-Mexican crowd, Bradley cupped his hands to his ears, and then motioned for more, smiling the smile of a man who is more than happy to nurture the chip on his shoulder. After a few seconds, a small chant of “Bradley, Bradley, Bradley” began in one corner of the theater, spreading through a section until it briefly rivaled, but was ultimately overwhelmed by, competing cries of “Me-xi-co, Me-xi-co.”
It isn’t that Bradley is an especially hated figure. Notwithstanding the bizarre torrent of abuse he received for being awarded a dubious decision against Manny Pacquiao last year, there is – or at least should be – little if anything to hate. While he may not excel at any one component of his craft, he does most things very well, with an impressive adaptability that allows him alternately to box or, when he chooses, to engage in a slugfest as he did against Ruslan Provodnikov in his last outing. He also shows a disarming openness with the media – perhaps too much openness for his own good, as one wonders whether his comments about lingering speech and balance issues after the Provodnikov battle might weigh subconsciously on the mind of referee Robert Byrd should Bradley find the going especially tough at any point on Saturday.
It seems reasonable to infer that the boos were less an indictment of Bradley than a Pavlovian response to his role as the opponent of Juan Manuel Marquez, a fighter who has grown from being a relative also-ran among his contemporaries and compatriots to becoming a bona-fide star, to the extent that his support exceeded that of Manny Pacquiao when the two rivals last clashed 10 months ago. Marquez, like Bradley, has long been regarded as one of the honest brokers in a sport all-too-often bedeviled by slime - although his newly enhanced physique has raised eyebrows, and sparring between the two camps over what kind of testing would best establish that neither man had ingested anything more potent than Wheaties has provided the one real note of conflict in a promotion that has otherwise been noticeably civil.
It is almost invariably the case, however, that, for better or worse, by the time the two fighters step on to the scales and then stand face-to-face for the last time before they enter the ring, any controversies that may have dominated the storylines of the previous few weeks are forgotten and the focus is turned to the contest itself. It says a lot about Saturday’s matchup that prognosticators are almost equally split in predicting victory for Marquez, who weighed in at 144.5 pounds, and Bradley, who at 146 was one pound inside the welterweight limit.
Ultimately, however, such predictions, however varied, matter not one bit. There is a time for talking, and that time is now over. Marquez and Bradley exited the stage and returned to their respective suites, where they will sequester themselves for the next 24 hours, replenishing their bodies with food and liquid and preparing themselves mentally for the battle that lies just ahead.