(Is HBO really counting Bradley’s head-butting ability as one of his advantages against Pacquiao? Good grief. / Props: HBOsports)
By Steve Silverman
Timothy Bradley will get the chance of a lifetime on Saturday night when he faces Manny Pacquiao for the WBO welterweight title at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.. Which begs the obvious question…who the hell is Timothy Bradley?
To casual boxing fans, it may seem like the 28-year-old California native came out of nowhere. But Bradley — the reigning WBO and WBC light-welterweight champ — has been competing professionally since 2004, racking up an unblemished 28-0 record (with one no-contest) along the way. While that may be impressive enough on paper to make Bradley worthy of a title shot in the next weight class, a look at his boxing resume reveals that he has only knocked out 12 of his opponents. You can’t say Bradley doesn’t hit hard, but he hasn’t shown the ability to string punches together that lead to impressive KO performances.
Four years ago, Bradley was nearly out of the boxing business altogether. He and his then-girlfriend Monica were down to their last $11 when he flew to England in May 2008 for his first light-welterweight world title fight against Junior Witter — a situation made more desperate by the fact that he and Monica were caring for her two children. Things got pretty grim during those lean years:
“As we were literally in the middle of that struggle to survive, I had the craziest thoughts about what I should do [to make money] to feed the kids,” he said. “I can understand how for a lot of people who are really down on their luck, the whole criminal thing becomes appealing.”
Luckily, it didn’t come to that. Bradley earned $65,000 for his split-deicison win over Witter, which gave him the opportunity to keep going in boxing without having to take on a “civilian” job in order to make ends meet. More lucrative fights followed, and it wasn’t long before Bradley turned his life around. He eventually married Monica and the lifestyle issues and the bills that dogged him are no longer an issue. He will earn $5 million for getting into the ring with Pacquiao. (By the way, Pacquiao will earn a reported $26 million for the fight.)
Bradley may not be a household name as he goes into the ring against a legend like Pacquiao, and he is a significant 4-1 underdog in the fight. But he has faced a slew of lefthanders throughout his career so he won’t be thrown off by that aspect of Pacquiao’s game. The real problem for Bradley will come from Pacquiao’s rapid-fire delivery and swarming style. When Pacquiao finds an opening, he does not deliver one or two punches. He throws the proverbial “punches in bunches,” which allows him to stun his opponents and put his imprint on a fight.
To be fair to Bradley, his performance level has gone up since beating Witter, and he has notched victories over highly-rated opponents like Kendall Holt, Lamont Peterson, Devon Alexander, and Joel Casamayor. The victory over Casamayor came via TKO in eight rounds, but again, that’s not how his fights usually end. Bradley is one of the most highly conditioned boxers that Pacquiao has ever faced and Bradley is depending on that asset to allow him to keep pushing hard in the late rounds. While there is some logic to that, Bradley’s conditioning won’t exactly be a key factor if he gets busted up early. If Pacquiao is able to swarm the challenger with combinations throughout the first five rounds, he won’t be around in the later rounds for his conditioning to work in his favor.
Bradley knows he is moving up to the big time and fighting an opponent who is dramatically better than anyone he has ever faced. He has the kind of bravado that is often associated with top boxers, but that doesn’t mean he truly believes he will beat Pacquiao when the two get into the ring together. It’s clear that Bradley is a hard worker with a solid left jab and a good overhand right. But how will he react to a fighter with Pacquiao’s speed and quickness?
It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for Bradley, but that chance could turn out to be a pipe dream a few minutes after he steps into the ring. Not only is he going up against a fighter with more athletic ability, punching accuracy, and finishing talent than anyone he has ever faced. He is also moving to a higher weight class, where his questionable punching-power might look even more underwhelming.
Could Bradley come through with the best performance of his career, frustrate Pacquiao, and somehow go the distance and win the fight? Perhaps. But it seems much more likely that Pacquiao will assert his will, sting Bradley with his unorthodox combinations, and hand this hard-working challenger the first defeat of his career.