Timothy Bradley was out of action for over nine months following his win over Manny Pacquiao. Despite the controversy surrounding the decision victory -- which most agree Bradley did not deserve -- the hopes certainly weren't to keep him out of the ring following his widest exposure ever.
When he did step between the ropes again, it was to face Ruslan Provodnikov in a fight that many felt favored Bradley's more methodical, technical style. Instead of a boxing match, fans were treated to an unexpected all out war. Both men spent the entirety of the twelve rounds landing massive shots in a bout that will certainly be in the fight of the year discussion -- and would likely win if not for Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado's incredible rematch.
Bradley spent much of the later rounds of the fight swelling up and looking badly hurt with each Provodnikov punch, even going down for the first time in his career in the final round.
Bradley will step back into the ring this Saturday night on HBO pay-per-view to take on Juan Manuel Marquez with his WBO welterweight title on the line.
During the HBO Faceoff hype segment between the two fighters, Bradley was asked directly about his health following the fight, he'd stated in the post-fight interview that he was dizzy throughout the bout and felt he had suffered a concussion early.
"A few weeks after the fight, I was still affected by the damage that was done," he said. "My speech was a little bit off. I was slurring a little bit. But after about two months, I cleared up and I have my wits about me now."
It was a confession that set cyber-tongues wagging. What kind of physical state was Bradley in? Was he in danger of suffering an acute injury in his next fight? Did his symptoms suggest he was at greater risk of chronic brain damage? In short, should he be allowed to fight Marquez?
But those who study correlations between boxing and brain injury, although not exactly sanguine about Bradley's comments, argue that the most remarkable thing about his symptoms isn't that he suffered them. It's that he has been open about them.
"To say that the symptoms Tim reported are common, I wouldn't necessarily go that far," said Dr. Margaret Goodman, former chair of the Nevada State Athletic Commission's medical advisory board, and now president of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Organization (VADA). "But I would say that I think they happen far more often than we imagine, and that it's very, very rare for an athlete to talk about it. I think it happens after a four-round fight, an eight-round fight, a 10 or a 12 -- it can happen after sparring. And people just don't talk about it. I remember, I would run into boxers after a fight -- and they may not have been fighting on the card; they may have just been at an arena supporting someone else or just watching -- and they would go, 'Yeah, for several weeks, I was off-balance or dizzy.' I'd reply, 'Well, did you seek medical attention?' and they'd say, 'No, that's just what happens.'"
Fighting professionally is not a safe endeavor. There's an assumed risk that comes with putting on the gloves and facing another man in a contest based around who can be more successful in their physical assault of the other. But there's also been a willful ignorance in the sport for a long time when it comes to concussions.
Similar to what we so often hear about regarding football players who brush off head trauma as "just getting your bell rung," it's not uncommon at all to see fighters in the gym sit out for two or three minutes before jumping back into sparring if they "got buzzed by a punch." And fighters rarely seem willing to take extra time away from the gym if they suffered significant trauma in a bout.
Part of it may be the need to be "macho" in a sport that seems to demand it and part of it may simply be lack of understanding of risk. But when someone like Bradley opens up about something so simple as his experiences and his willingness to step aside for a while and get his health right, it shines a much needed light on the risks involved and protocols necessary when it comes to brain trauma in boxing.
But every fight caries its own risks and one too many wars will add up no matter how long you wait between fights. Marquez is likely going to make Bradley fight, how Tim responds if he starts eating big punches from a suddenly physically strong Marquez, and if there are ghosts of the Provodnikov fight will be one of the more interesting things to see.