SHORTLY after one o’clock on the afternoon of April 10, 2014, Manny Pacquiao concluded a series of satellite interviews that were conducted in Section 118 of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The interviews were designed to promote his April 12 rematch against Tim Bradley, and everything had gone according to plan. After the interviews ended, Pacquiao was leaving the makeshift set when a voice from across the arena shouted out loud and clear: “Manny, we love you. Manny, we love you. Manny! Manny!”
Pacquiao turned to acknowledge the fan, one of many who follow him wherever he goes. Then his face broke into a broad smile. The man shouting was Tim Bradley.
Manny waved. Tim waved back. In two days, they would try to beat each other senseless in a boxing ring. But for the moment, there was fondness between them.
Pacquiao’s saga is well known. In an era of phony championship belts and unremitting hype, he has been a great fighter and a true peoples’ champion.
Unlike Pacquiao, Bradley hasn’t had to make his way through a mob of adoring fans each time he steps onto the street. But the more time that people spend with Tim, they more they like him.
Bradley is a man you’d let babysit for your children. He’s devoted to his wife, Monica, and has a smile that lights up a room when he enters. There are no allegations of domestic violence, no conspicuous spending. The thought of Tim blowing twenty thousand dollars in a strip club is ludicrous. When he takes his children to school in the morning, it’s not a designed photo op for television cameras.
“I try to be the best person I can be,” Tim has said. “I love friends and family. I stay out of trouble. I always try to do the right thing. I don’t like a lot of drama in my personal life. I’m outgoing, stubborn, ambitious. I work hard and do whatever it takes to get what I want. I don’t want anything given to me. I want to earn it. Whatever life brings me, I deal with it.”
Bradley came as close to getting 100 per cent out of his potential as any fighter in boxing. His success in the ring was based in large part on physical strength and a will of iron. Roy Jones called him “a 147-pound Evander Holyfield without the punch.”
“I’m not the most talented fighter in the division,” Tim acknowledged. “There are guys with better skills and better physical gifts than I have. Where I separate myself from other fighters is my determination. I wear the other guy down. That’s what it is; hard work and determination. I work my butt off. I come ready every time.”
Bradley turned pro in 2004 and, over time, crafted a 28-0 ring record en route to annexing the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Organisation super-lightweight crowns. That led to June 9, 2012, when he traveled to Las Vegas to challenge Manny Pacquiao who, at the time, held the WBO welterweight title.
“First round of the Pacquiao fight,“ Tim later recalled, “I was like, ‘Wow; this is it?’ This is the best fighter in the world? I can deal with him.’ Second round, I stepped on the referee’s foot and felt something pop. I’m like, ‘Damn! I think I broke my foot. I can’t believe this is happening.’ I’d spent years trying to get to that place. It was the biggest fight of my life. So I told myself, ‘Forget about the pain. Do what you gotta do.’ So I bit down hard on my mouthpiece and kept fighting. I fought every minute of every round. Then, trying to protect my left foot, I sprained my right ankle. So now I had pain wherever I put my weight. And I had a lion in front of me. All I could do was take it round by round. And it wasn’t enough to survive each round. I had to win them. It was a close fight. I thought I’d done enough to win, and the judges agreed with me. I was on top of the world. And then the roof caved in.”
An overwhelming majority of on-site media had scored the fight for Pacquiao. Jerry Roth agreed that Pacquiao had won, although his 115-113 scorecard was closer than some observers thought appropriate. Duane Ford and CJ Ross ignited a firestorm of protest, scoring the bout 115-113 in favour of Bradley. Brian Kenny (who handled the blow-by-blow commentary for promoter Top Rank’s international feed) also scored the bout for Bradley. But his voice was drowned out in the tumult that followed.
Suffering from severely strained ligaments, Bradley was rolled into the media center in a wheelchair for the post-fight press conference. There, Bob Arum (who promoted both fighters but whose financial fortunes were linked to Pacquiao) declared, “I have never been as ashamed to be associated with the sport of boxing as I am tonight. To hear scores like we heard tonight; it’s unfathomable. This is an absurdity.”
Much of the debate in the days that followed focused on round seven, which HBO labeled “the smoking gun.” The CompuBox “punch-stats” had Pacquiao outlanding Bradley in round seven by a 27-to-11 margin. Yet all three judges scored the round for Bradley.
A smoking gun?
This writer went to HBO headquarters a week after the fight and watched a video of round seven in its entirety from multiple camera angles . . . Several times . . . In slow motion . . . In reality, Bradley outlanded Pacquiao 16-to-12 in round seven. It was a close fight, and Bradley deserved better treatment than he got from fans and the boxing establishment afterward.
“It should have been the happiest time of my life,” Bradley said of the weeks that followed. “And I wound up in the darkest place I’ve ever been in. You prepare your entire life to get to a certain point. You get there. And then it all gets taken away. I was attacked in the media. People were stopping me on the street, saying things like, ‘You didn’t win that fight; you should give the belt back; you should be ashamed of yourself; you’re not a real champion.’ I got death threats. I got hate mail like you wouldn’t believe. I turned off my phone. The ridicule got so bad that there were times when I didn’t know if I wanted to fight anymore. All I did was do my job the best way I could, and It was like I stole something from the world.”
“I watched the tape of the fight again and again,” Bradley continued. “I can be obsessive. I watched the tape maybe fifty times. I think I won. Part of the problem, I believe, was that the HBO announcers had Pacquiao on a pedestal. It was like they were calling The Manny Pacquiao Show. Don’t get me wrong. I like HBO. But their call was way off that night. A lot of the punches the announcers said were landing didn’t land. And everything they said was going into viewers’ minds. I was shattered. It was a dark time for me. I was walking around angry, bitter. Finally, my wife asked me, ‘Aren’t you tired of this?’ I said, ‘You’re right. Enough is enough. This isn’t me. I’m not going to let these people change who I am. The fight is over. It’s in the past.’”
In Pacquiao’s next fight, he suffered a one-punch knockout loss at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez. Eleven months later, he rebounded to decision Brandon Rios. Meanwhile, Bradley edged Ruslan Provodnikov in a thriller and outboxed Marquez en route to another split-decision triumph. That brought Tim’s record to 31-0 and set the stage for his rematch with Pacquiao.
Bradley was the reigning champion, but Pacquiao was the engine driving the economics of Pacquiao-Bradley II. Each fighter felt that there was unfinished business between them.
Pacquiao was a 9/5 betting favorite, down from 4/1 in their first encounter.
Bradley was confident. “The first time we fought,” he said, “I didn’t know how much intensity Manny brought to the ring. He throws so many feints and closes the distance so fast and punches from all angles. He always keeps you guessing when he’s going to come in and out. Now I know what to expect. I was able to make adjustments in the first fight, and Manny had problems with me when I was moving. With two good feet, I’ll be able to move quicker this time and set down harder on my punches. With two good feet, I can adjust my footwork to deal with whatever Pacquiao brings to the table. Pain-free is another dimension, and I’ll be pain-free this time. I’m a more mature fighter now than I was two years ago. I’m better at getting in and out on guys and controlling the distance between us, which I showed in the Marquez fight. I’m a better fighter now than I was the first time Pacquiao and I fought. And Manny can’t say that.”
Indeed, the main concern in Bradley’s camp was that the judges might overcompensate for the perceived injustice of the scoring in Pacquiao-Bradley I and, fearing ridicule, have a default setting on close rounds that favored Pacquiao.
On fight night, Tim Bradley arrived in dressing room #1 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena at 6:00PM. His father (known as “Big Ray”), Joel Diaz (who had trained Bradley from his first pro fight), assistant trainer Samuel Jackson, conditioning coach James Rougely, and attorney Gaby Penagaricano were with him. Big Ray had helped train his son from the early days of Tim’s career.
Bradley sat on a cushioned metal chair and rested his feet on another chair in front of him. HBO production coordinator Tami Cotel entered the room and asked if Tim would weigh-in on HBO’s fight-night scale. Bradley complied. One day earlier, he’d tipped the official scale at 145-1/2 pounds. Now he weighed 152. Minutes earlier, Pacquiao (who’d weighed in officially at 145) had registered 151 pounds.
After his weight was checked, Tim sat back on the chair and closed his eyes, envisioning the battle ahead. His family’s financial future, his physical wellbeing, and his legacy as a fighter were all at risk. He was as well-prepared as he could be. But in all likelihood, so was Pacquiao.
At 6:25, Freddie Roach (Pacquiao’s trainer) came into the room to watch Bradley’s hands being wrapped. Tim took off his wedding ring and handed it to his father for safekeeping. Joel Diaz began taping. Roach’s own hands were shaking visibly, a symptom of his Parkinson’s condition. Big Ray offered him a chair. Roach gestured “no, thank you.”
No one spoke. At 6:40, the taping was done. Tim took off his jacket and shadow-boxed for 10 minutes, stopping twice to sip water from a bottle that his father was holding. Then he sat down again.
Bradley gets his game face on earlier than most fighters. “On the day of a fight,” he has said, “it’s like there’s this huge rock on my back and I want to get it off.” The next few hours would be about fighting, not charm school. The look on his face said, “Don’t f**k with me.” Joel Diaz went next door to watch Roach wrap Pacquiao’s hands. Tim stayed on his chair – sometimes with his eyes closed, sometimes open; sometimes with his head up, sometimes down – playing different fight sequences through in his mind. If I do this, Pacquiao will do that. If Pacquiao does that, what do I do next? The mood in the dressing room was intense. There were no attempts at levity, no smiles, no upbeat conversation. Few words were spoken.
At 7:10, Big Ray spread two towels side-by-side on the floor. Tim lay down and began a series of stretching exercises; first on his own, then with his father’s assistance. The exercises grew progressively more rigorous. At 7:40, Big Ray picked up the towels and Tim shadow-boxed again.
Referee Kenny Bayless entered and gave the fighter his pre-fight instructions. Bayless left and Tim resumed shadow-boxing. Big Ray stepped in front of his son with a folded-up towel in each hand, assumed a southpaw stance to emulate Pacquiao, and aimed punches at his son. “Don’t let him get lower than you,” Big Ray cautioned. At eight o’clock, Tim sat again and stared silently ahead. Big Ray, Diaz, and Samuel Jackson took on the role of a Greek chorus, voicing thoughts one at a time.
“Fast, like lightning.”
“Control the pace. Make him do things he doesn’t want to do, and he’ll get tired.”
“Don’t be a gentleman. Rip his ass up on the inside.”
The voices were complementing, not competing with, each other. “It ain’t about strength. It’s about knowledge.”
“That right hand will get him every time.”
“Fight like a cat.”
Big Ray slammed the palm of his hand down hard on the table beside him. “Do not be on the ropes,” he warned. “Do not be on the ropes. You’re in deep s**t if you’re on the ropes.”
Diaz gloved Tim up.
There was more shadow-boxing.
Again, the Greek chorus.
“That’s the way. Snap those punches.”
“On the inside, keep both hands up by your head.”
“Watch for his right hook on the inside.”
“It’s your night, baby. It’s your night.”
“I’m excited,” he said. Then he fell silent, his face registering a range of emotions.
The Greek chorus continued. “Right hand to the body. Hook to the body. Tear that body up.”
“If he gets under you, come up with the uppercut.”
“The conditioning is there. He won’t be able to deal with the pace.”
“Control him. Don’t let him control you.”
“Patience is a virtue. Take your time. If it goes twelve, amen.”
“We’re happy, man; we’re happy. Have fun”
“You’re the real deal, babe.”
Bradley rose and began hitting the pads with Joel Diaz.
“Right over the top,” Diaz instructed. “Beautiful. You got 12 rounds, 12 f**kin’ rounds to time that punch. You’re the champion. You’re the boss. You’re the big dog. You’re the man.”
The padwork ended. Pacquiao could be seen on a television monitor at the far end of the room, leaving his dressing room and walking to the ring. “It’s fun time, baby,” Bradley said. Then the members of Team Bradley joined hands in a circle and Tim led them in prayer. He asked for the strength to prevail in the battle ahead. He asked that both he and Pacquiao emerge in good health. And he closed with a final thought for the Creator: “Love you, man.”
The fight itself was heartbreak for Bradley. After a tactical first round, the combatants exchanged in the second stanza with Pacquiao getting the better of the action. In round three, Manny scored big early and maintained his edge with speed and angles. Then Bradley found a home for his right hand, buzzed Pacquiao with a hard right up top, and took rounds four and five. At that point, Bradley seemed to be where he wanted to be in the fight. Two of the judges (Michael Pernick and Craig Metcalfe) had him leading three rounds to two, while Glenn Trowbridge’s card was the reverse. Tim’s strategy from day one had been premised on the idea that the second half of the fight would belong to him. But the unthinkable was happening. After round three, Bradley had returned to his corner and told Joel Diaz, “I pulled a muscle in my calf.” Now Tim’s gastrocnemius muscle was tearing apart. “You’re losing your rhythm,” Diaz told his charge after round six. “What the fk is wrong?”
“I’m hurting,” Tim answered.
The rest of the fight belonged to Pacquiao. Except for a right hand to the body that hurt Manny visibly in round seven, Bradley couldn’t do much more than survive. The grinding aggression typical of his style was missing. He was an impaired fighter. And round by round, the injury was getting worse. Tim backed into corners, beckoned Manny in, and swung for the fences with wild right hands up top. It was an inexplicable strategy unless one knew that he was fighting on one leg.
The final scoring of the judges was anti-climactic: 118-110, 116-112, 116-112 for Pacquiao.
Monica Bradley was waiting for her husband when Tim returned to the dressing room after the fight. Their 14-year-old son, Robert, and Tim’s mother were with her.
A large lump was visible on the back of Bradley’s right calf. He was limping badly. “What’s up, baby?” Tim asked as he hugged Monica.
Then father and son embraced. “Some you lose; some you win,” Tim said. “A champion has to accept defeat when it comes. I tried my best.”
A kiss for Kathy Bradley was next. “I love you,” Tim told his mother.
Joel Diaz took out his cellphone and began snapping photos of the lump on Bradley’s calf. A commission doctor came in to examine the injury. “I don’t want to go to the emergency room,” Tim told the doctor. “And no wheelchair. I’m walking out on my own tonight.”
Thomas Hauser’s most recent book – Staredown: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.