Think of boxing's quest for fame and fortune as a game of musical chairs. Recently, the song stopped and Tim Bradley quickly sat down.
The 28-year-old fire hydrant, a 140-pounder from Palm Springs, Calif., with lightning-quick hands and feet, signed with Top Rank Promotions. That's Bob Arum's company, and 46 years after he quit being a Harvard lawyer and found Muhammad Ali, Arum's is still the logo you want on your boxing gloves.
Bradley had been with Gary Shaw's promotions, but when his contract ran out this summer, Bradley ran out too. Right to Arum.
And once that happened, the never-ending game of Who's Got Next increased in intrigue.
Boxing these days is like a Depression food line. Everybody queues up, waiting for Manny Pacquiao to hand out the bread. A fight with Pacquiao is an instant retirement plan, usually both financially and physically. Get in the ring with him, last as many rounds as you can without being totally embarrassed, then climb into the Brink's truck and ride away while they stitch up your eyes, nose and mouth and ask whether you remember your wife's name.
To a man, any fighter weighing anything close to Pacquiao's favored 147 pounds, and having shown indications that he can limit his bleeding to less than a pint and return punches long enough to justify $3,000 ringside seats, wants into the lineup. They all say the same thing. They want to fight the best, which Pacquiao is. But what they really mean is: "Show Me the Money."
Arum is nothing if not clever, even devious.
He says he has not promised Bradley a Pacquiao fight, nor even mentioned his name to Pacquiao. That's probably true.
But he quickly made Bradley the semi-main event for Pacquiao's Nov. 12 fight at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas against Juan Manuel Marquez, who has proved, indeed, in his two previous fights with Pacquiao that he can last awhile and bleed a lot. On the undercard, Bradley will fight Joel Casamayor, the Cuban who defected to the United States just before the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and has had a nice capitalistic career ever since. His record is 38-5-1, and he has fought only three times since his biggest payday, a knockout at the hands of Marquez on Sept. 13, 2008.
The two pertinent things about Casamayor, relative to this fight, are that he is 40 and left-handed. Pacquiao is left-handed. Fill in the blanks.
Bradley gives Arum another option, as he masterfully delivers a couple of $20 million paydays each year to Pacquiao, who then fits them in between his duties as a congressman in the Philippines.
For Pacquiao, the boxing world wants Floyd Mayweather Jr. Sadly, so do several judges in Las Vegas, where Floyd is accused of sucker-punching more than just Victor Ortiz.
"Floyd may have the biggest fight of his life ahead," says Arum, referring to several assault charges Mayweather faces. He says it with the look of a concerned parent. The proper reaction is to suppress a giggle.
If Pacquiao fights Mayweather, it will come to pass because there is so much money at stake that it can't be rejected. But if Arum goes to his grave never having put on the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight, he certainly will rest in peace. He once promoted Mayweather, through much of his early success. But that didn't end well and now Arum speaks in amazement at what has become of his former client.
"First of all, he is a terrific fighter," Arum says. "At one point, he appeared to be a good guy. But then, his people (handlers after he left Arum) got this idea to make him into a villain. They thought they could attract an audience that comes to see him get beat. Let me tell you. It's tough to promote a villain."
Bradley is the countervillain. He is well-spoken, friendly, accommodating and unbeaten in 27 fights.
Arum says, "Our goal is to make Tim Bradley one of the major stars in boxing. We know he is one of the best fighters, but that doesn't make him a star."
Todd DuBoeff, Arum's stepson and the president of Top Rank, says of Bradley, "He has marketability and ability." In a recent media gathering, Bradley spoke for about 10 minutes and DuBoeff said later that he "lights up the room." Which he did.
So, with Bradley, the line to Pacquiao just got longer.
Mayweather is the obvious first choice, but Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito might like another shot, despite the beatings they took by Pacquiao. Circumstances could give the shot to Amir Khan, Andre Berto or Marcos Maidana. Erik Morales could find his way back to Pacquiao, though the public probably wouldn't buy that. Saul Alvarez is Golden Boy's hot fighter right now, but he'd have to lose lots of weight, as would impressive middleweight Sergio Martinez, who says he could and would get down to 154 or lower, to fight Pacquiao.
The permutations are endless. The line snakes around the block. Arum loves it.