Storm Warning: The return of Tim Bradley

Mark Butcher
17/04/2015 9:00am

Tim Bradley is a man at peace. After his battles with Manny Pacquiao, injury and perhaps more importantly himself, the four-time world champion has healed physically and mentally and is re-engaging with the sport as a man renewed. On 13 December at the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, the former WBO welterweight and WBC/WBO junior welterweight champion returns to the fray against gritty Argentine Diego Chaves with more titles on his mind.

Widely regarded as one of the world’s pound-for-pound best fighters in recent years, Bradley has enjoyed a restorative period since his first defeat against Pacquiao in April. A troublesome calf injury inhibited Bradley from the second round of their rematch, but has since healed and that renowned footwork has returned.

“I feel like I lost to a legend in the sport,” the cordial Bradley told Boxing Monthly over the phone from his home in Palm Springs, California. “You have to credit Manny Pacquiao for what he’s done. Being an eight division world champion is unparalleled in the sport so it’s not like I lost to some nobody or guy on the way up. I lost to a high quality opponent, but I also have a victory over him, too. Some day there will be a Bradley-Pacquiao III, I hope.”

Bradley started their rematch aggressively, keen to prove he could mix it with Pacquiao following their controversial first encounter where the Californian won a close, but unpopular decision. “I surprised Manny when I went at him early. I set the pace very high,” said Bradley. “I tore the calf in the second round and that’s when everything started changing. I did what I could in spurts, but had no choice but to back up. If I could have moved a bit more I feel I could have turned that fight around. I think going into the sixth, I was up or even on the scorecards, but my ability to move and box normally comes later on. I didn’t have the movement I needed because of the injury, but Manny is a very determined fighter. I went off the gas pedal and he felt it and turned it up.

“There are many champions and legends who have suffered losses over the years,” he continued. “But how you bounce back from a loss is what makes you a stronger fighter. It builds character. In order to win, you’ve got to learn how to lose, too. The last six months I’ve been dedicating to getting healthy. It’s taken a lot of therapy, a lot of pain from working it too much, but the calf is no longer a problem. I can move around the ring like I never left. Diego Chaves is in a lot of trouble. My boxing is definitely back, man!”

The only times where Bradley has struggled as a pro is when he has neglected his pure boxing skillset to prove something to his detractors, most notably in the second bout against Pacquiao and that brutal war with Russian buzzsaw Ruslan Provodnikov. When Bradley fights his fight, he generally wins. “I can make it easy on myself or make it hard. I like to fight and I think that’s the biggest problem with me, that I’ve battled myself,” admitted Bradley. ‘I lost the second Pacquiao fight because of me. How I approached the fight. I should have fought just like the first match. Do what made me successful in this game - use my high IQ in boxing, workrate and athleticism. I don’t know why I decided to become some big knockout puncher. That’s just not me, man, so I was definitely out of character.”

The Bradley-Provodnikov barnburner was undoubtedly the fight of 2013 where the Californian stood firm and chose to mix it with one of the most heavy-handed and unrelenting fighters in the sport before prevailing on points. Now the pain of that brutal bout has faded into memory, Bradley looks back on that crazy night as a badge of honour. “It was right after the first Pacquiao decision that everybody hated,” recalled Bradley. “I read all these negative things. I was in a very bad mental place. I wanted to prove that I’m a true fighter, stand there with a dangerous guy and go blow for blow. In the first round, I got hit with a huge shot. It could have taken my head off – I’m glad it didn’t! I did what ever it took, man. I almost died in that ring. I pissed blood after that fight. That’s how brutal it was. A lot of people had a new found respect for me and became a fan afterwards because I put everything on the line.”

The kudos Bradley received for that insanely game performance brought the cerebral Californian a measure of calm and allowed him to return to his fluid boxing for arguably his greatest night. His punch perfect win over Juan Manuel Marquez was a masterclass of pure boxing and a fight Bradley reflects upon with justifiable pride. “It was one of those situations where the plan worked all the way through,” he said. “The gameplan was to outbox this guy, to outthink the best counter-puncher in the game and I was able to do that because I’m a very intelligent fighter and have a high IQ for boxing. I’m a lot quicker than Marquez so I knew I would be able to do things in there that made him uncomfortable.”

Bradley’s wife Monica doubles as his manager as well as the mother to their children. She loved and supported Tim before the fame and glory through the financial hard times that break lesser relationships. Bradley made ends meet as a dishwasher and waiter – a world away from the man he was to eventually become. But a dream propelled him. “Even when I was washing dishes I was committed to boxing. I was 16 when I had my first job as a dishwasher, but I was training and always said I’m going to be world champion one day,” said Bradley. “Some people believed me and some didn’t. I often run into people I used to work with who say, “I believed you because you were so focused.””

The Bradleys had a meagre $11 in the bank and the family home was threatened with foreclosure before Tim’s WBC title shot against Junior Witter in Nottingham in 2008 changed their lives forever. “You would think that situation would have put a lot of strain on my wife and I, but we actually grew closer,” said Bradley, who plans to open his own gym in the ghetto to give aspiring kids a platform for a better life. “When we met, I didn’t have much. We built this together. We’ve been poor together. We’ve been through hell and back together. I said I would go back waiting tables and she said, ‘No, you focus on this fight and make sure you win this championship for our family.’ My wife was working every single day holding the fort down until I boxed Junior Witter. I spent my last savings getting over there for the fight. It made me fight so much harder because I didn’t have anything. I wanted my kids be able to eat. I wanted my wife to put gas in the car to take them to school. I wanted to hold onto our house!”

An unusual encounter from his visit to England stands out for Bradley. “True story, man, when I arrived the customs guy asked me why I was there. I said, “I’m boxing Junior Witter” and he said ‘Witter the hitter? You think you stand a chance?” I said, “Yeah, I’m going to beat him!” and he was like, “Huh? Good luck!” I looked at him with these piercing eyes and said, “When I come through here again I’ll have my title belt and I’m going to put it up in your face! You are going to pay for everything you just said.” It was funny, but I didn’t see the gentleman on the way back!”

Bradley, 31-1-0-1 (12 KOs), has rarely had things easy; 10 out of his 11 world title bouts have been against either present or past world champions. You might think he has earned a softer night’s work. “Never, man! I’m one of those throwback fighters. I’ll fight the best anywhere,” said Bradley. “There was only one time where I had the opportunity to fight a guy from England [Amir Khan] and didn’t, but I had another opportunity to fight a legend in boxing [Pacquiao]. I weighed my options and chose to go that route instead of fighting [Khan]. I got a whole lot of heck for it, but it worked out very well for me financially. But I want to tell (Khan) that I’m not afraid of him. Just talk to my people and we can make it happen. People saying I ducked him? No, I just made a business move that was more suitable for my family. I’ll fight that guy any place, any time, anywhere.”

Next up on 13 December is Argentine warrior Chaves, a former WBA interim champion at 147lbs who has engaged in wars with Keith Thurman and Brandon Rios. “Chaves is a tough, tough kid. He brings intensity in the ring. He is not a slouch,” Bradley told BM. “He has a really good right hand. He likes to throw a left hook and go to the body. He brings the pressure. I respect him. I’m expecting another tough night. He was having his way a little bit with Thurman until a body shot ended that fight.”

After Chaves, Bradley is looking to test himself in unfamiliar territory. “I’m thinking about trying the waters at junior middleweight. I know I’m 5ft 6ins, but I have a big frame. I’m a strong guy. I want to fight one of the champions, something to get my blood boiling,” laughed Bradley, who fought at 152lbs as an amateur. “I love to feel that tension, take my body to the limit. I want to see if I can handle those 154-pounders. I have the skill to maintain there, I know that.”

When Bradley returned home after the Pacquiao loss he was greeted by a welcome home party thrown by the residents of Palm Springs and, in early December, he will be honoured with a star downtown alongside the likes of Marilyn Monroe. “The support of the fans in Palm Springs has been unreal,” said Bradley, who goes vegan three months before a fight, but treats himself to sushi afterwards. “Winning world championships is great and I enjoy it and winning fights, but ultimately what makes me excited is being able to help others. I’m passing out 300 turkeys at Thanksgiving. Man, you should see these families who come up and get these turkeys. Their facial expressions and how thankful they are. There are some people who are less fortunate, who need a bit of help and for me to be able to do that for the last five years has been a fantastic experience.”

Bradley is a humble and congenial man outside the ropes as well as being proficient within them. It makes the wave of negativity and death threats he received after his contested win over Pacquiao seem more unpalatable. He used to be sensitive to these insults, but no more. “It took me a while!” laughed Bradley. “I used to pay attention to what people said and wanted everybody to like me, but now I don’t worry. I’ve been through hell and back. I’ve heard every dang comment. I had death threats to my house. Now I’m willing to go on with my life and be comfortable within my skin so I’m kind of glad it happened, that people railroaded and demonized me in 2012. It made me a stronger person and a better man. We never know when life ends. We never know when we are called. So enjoy your life, man.”