Published June 06, 2012
LAS VEGAS – He's a vegan in a sport where meat is king, a thinking man's fighter in a game that embraces brawlers. Timothy Bradley never wavered in his chase for boxing glory, even when his bank account was down to $11 and there was no guarantee he would ever be on the big stage.
He's finally got his big fight against Manny Pacquiao, and Bradley isn't about to let the chance of a lifetime go by. Not after he's gone through so much to get to where he's at.
"It's been a long journey but I knew someday I'd get here," Bradley said. "I just didn't know when or how."
Bradley fights Pacquiao on Saturday in a bout that will earn him millions and could get him the respect he still craves. He's a decided underdog, but some in boxing like his chances against a fighter who struggled his last time out and is suddenly regarded as vulnerable.
Count Bradley among them. He's believed in himself since he was working as a waiter to support his boxing career, and later when his bank account was depleted and he had to go to England for a $40,000 payday and his first title shot.
At Wednesday's final pre-fight press conference, he was so confident he held an oversized copy of a ticket for a Nov. 10 rematch with Pacquiao — a fight that would only happen if Bradley wins the first fight.
"It's all or nothing," Bradley said. "No rounds off. Round by round I have to win each one."
So far that hasn't been a problem in Bradley's career. He's won all 28 of his fights, though he's never fought anyone with the pedigree of Pacquiao. He got the fight not just because of his undefeated record, but the feeling in the Pacquiao camp that he is too slow and doesn't punch hard enough to make him a threat.
Bradley would like nothing better than to prove them wrong.
"He's going to respect me, believe it," Bradley said. "As soon as I tag him he's going to respect me."
Bradley fights for only the second time at 147 pounds, moving up to challenge Pacquiao for a piece of the welterweight title. He will make a minimum $5 million, but there will be even more lucrative fights in the future should he pull off an upset against the Filipino boxer/politician.
Oddsmakers make Pacquiao a 4-1 pick, and he's got some motivation of his own. He barely escaped with a decision in his last fight against Juan Manuel Marquez, and there are whispers that at the age of 33 he is slipping.
Trainer Freddie Roach said Pacquiao — who gave up drinking, gambling and basketball in favor of Bible reading sessions since the Marquez fight — must win or he will advise him to retire.
"I would like there to be a knockout," Roach said. "He wants to prove he's not all done like some people say. He has heard it, and I think he has something to prove in this fight."
Roach has downplayed Bradley as an opponent, saying his best weapon is leading with his head and that he doesn't have the speed or power to beat Pacquiao. He sees him more as the club fighter he once was in Southern California than a legitimate threat to one of the most exciting — and popular — names in boxing.
But Bradley has fought and won as an underdog before — most notably when he went to England and beat Junior Witter in 2008 to win a piece of the 140-pound title. He's been fighting professionally for eight years now, and hasn't lost, though he only has 12 knockouts in his 28 fights.
He understands, though, that this fight is different than all the rest. While it will make him rich, it will also largely determine his future in the sport. Simply put, it's the biggest fight of his life.
"I don't look pretty, I don't look special," Bradley said. "I don't have that spark where everyone says 'wow.' I know I'm going to have to do that in this fight. You could see some greatness Saturday night."
Pacquiao says he doesn't underestimate Bradley and has had one of his best training camps ever since giving up most of his vices after re-dedicating himself to his religion. He was distracted by marital troubles he brought into the ring with Marquez, Pacquiao's handlers said, but has since repaired his relationship with his wife.
Still, Bradley is nothing more than another fight for Pacquiao — who will make a guaranteed $26 million, though he may be among the oddest opponents he has faced.
Bradley looks more musclebound than most fighters — a no-no in a sport where agility is prized more than bulk — and is a strict vegan when he trains. And while he seems to have embraced the idea of promoting the fight, there is always a chance he will get caught up in the moment when the time to fight actually arrives.
Bradley doesn't seem concerned about being on the big stage for the first time.
"Maybe he didn't get up for the fight, maybe he's kind of complacent. That would work in my favor," Bradley said. "Yes, I've got muscles, but I know how to use my muscles."