Saturday, July 17, 2010 | 10:38 p.m.
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Timothy Bradley could tell from the opening bell that Luis Carlos Abregu might be much more trouble than he had imagined.
Bradley spent the next 12 rounds staying out of trouble so he could stay in the conversations around the biggest fights in boxing.
Bradley kept his unbeaten record intact with a bruising unanimous decision over Abregu on Saturday night, surviving a tough move up to welterweight with his usual superb technical fighting.
Although Bradley (26-0, 11 KOs) was tested and tagged by his relatively unknown Argentine opponent, the WBO 140-pound champion did enough work to win comfortably on all three scorecards against the previously unbeaten Abregu at the Agua Caliente Casino in Bradley’s native Palm Springs area.
“He boxed a little different than what I had seen on TV,” said Bradley, who sometimes claims he doesn’t watch tape. “He kept his composure out there. He fought a great fight plan. I dare to lose, and that’s what I’m trying to tell everybody. If it happens, it happens, but I’m going to learn from it, and I’ll become stronger.”
Bradley’s perfect six-year career has included titles and money, but relatively little fame—and his HBO debut really was an infomercial for his next bout. After fighting through an early cut and holding on when Abregu (29-1) surged in the middle rounds, he took advantage of his national platform to challenge the elite fighters who won’t return his calls.
Bradley immediately called out Manny Pacquiao, two-belt 140-pound champion Devon Alexander, fellow junior welterweights Marcos Maidana and Amir Khan— everybody but buddy Alfredo Angulo, who posted a dramatic first-round knockout in the co-main event.
“I feel I deserve a chance,” Bradley said. “Just give me a chance, that’s all I’m asking for.”
Bradley connected with 30 percent of his 531 punches, while just 16 percent of Abregu’s shots landed. Bradley also outjabbed Abregu and connected with twice as many power shots.
Bradley won on the judges’ cards by scores of 118-110, 117-111 and 116-112. The Associated Press also favored Bradley 116-112.
Abregu lived up to his reputation as a strong, hard-punching knockout artist, but fought with more discipline than he had exhibited in most of his big fights. Patience was a necessity against Bradley, a tremendous boxer who wouldn’t have fared well in a slugfest with his bigger opponent.
“He was every bit as tough as I thought he would be, but I didn’t think that the unanimous decision was fair,” Abregu said. “At a minimum, I thought it should have been a draw. I would immediately like a rematch. I hurt my right hand in training, and tonight only worsened it.”
Bradley was back in the ring for the first time since last December, when he outpointed previously unbeaten Lamont Peterson. Two potential fights with Maidana had to be scrapped while Maidana battled his management, and Bradley finally accepted a bout with Abregu, who didn’t have Maidana’s pedigree.
Bradley entered the arena to a rapper’s serenade and chants of “Desert Storm,” Bradley’s nickname. The third straight sellout crowd to watch Bradley in Rancho Mirage left no doubt about its favorite, chanting his name repeatedly.
A head-butt from Abregu in the opening minutes cut Bradley over his right eye, sending blood dripping onto his Lakers-colored trunks. Abregu also appeared to get cut higher on his head in the exchange—and Bradley seriously hurt him with an unblocked right hand in the second round.
Bradley peppered Abregu with shots in the fifth round, but did the biggest damage with the back of his head, opening a nasty cut over Abregu’s left eye in the seventh when he raised up from a crouched position and connected squarely with Abregu’s face.
Abregu dropped to the canvas in pain, but kept fighting—and he caught a second wind while taking over the eighth round, landing several punishing shots that had Bradley scrambling.
Bradley’s strong finish might have caught the attention of Pacquiao, although promoter Bob Arum dismissed Bradley as a potential opponent earlier Saturday, saying he isn’t popular enough to sell tickets or pay-per-views—even though Joshua Clottey, Pacquiao’s last opponent, also fits that description.
Bradley knows he can only reach his goals by fighting on bigger stages. If Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. won’t bite, his next endeavor might be a four-man junior welterweight tournament of sorts with Maidana, Alexander and Khan, if their promoters can put it together.
“Right now what we have going on in boxing is leagues,” said Gary Shaw, Bradley’s melodramatic promoter. “And there are two promotional companies involved in these leagues, and they only want to fight their fighters against their fighters. … To (Golden Boy’s) Richard Schaefer and (Top Rank’s) Bob Arum, tear down your walls. Don’t be afraid of Tim Bradley. You have fighters that we want.”