By Kieran Mulvaney
The last time Timothy Bradley was a big underdog in a title fight was four years ago. He was undefeated, as he is still, and largely unknown – which, to the broader public at least, he remains. And, before he received his $65,000 purse for fighting England’s WBC super lightweight champion Junior Witter, he was broke.
“I had just a little change in the bank, you know,” he told a small group of reporters on Wednesday, just prior to the final pre-fight press conference for Saturday’s clash with Manny Pacquiao. “We spent the majority of our cash and savings preparing for the fight, you know sparring partners and things like that, and paying our bills. It was a hard time. But I couldn’t be denied, because I had to take care of my family. I had to provide. I was sick of my wife working hard, and me having this opportunity, I didn’t want to let it go. I fought as hard as I could that fight and got the victory, thank God.”
Defeating Witter made him a champion, but it didn’t make him a star, didn’t catapult him on to the big stage. Seven fights and 49 months later, he is guaranteed $5 million and a chance to banish the memory of those monetary woes forever. More importantly, he has the opportunity for recognition, and the shot at greatness he has long sought, when he challenges Pacquiao at the MGM Grand on Saturday.
It is an opportunity he insists he will not let slip through his fingers.
“I’m going to put it all on the line,” he promised. “It’s my biggest fight. It’s all or nothing.”
As he speaks, he is confident but not cockily so, and he smiles as he breaks down his game plan and acknowledges that, for all his talk of wanting to knock Pacquiao out, he would be ill-advised to stand directly in front of the hard-hitting southpaw. An hour later, the relaxed demeanor has vanished; he sits on the dais in the Hollywood Theatre and, as others on the stage say their pieces during the press conference, he stares ahead, focused and expressionless.
Then the time comes for him to speak, and the smile returns to leaven the tension.
“Training camp was hell,” he stated, and then chuckled before repeating himself. “Training camp was hell. I have never worked as hard in my whole life. I’m ready. I’m ready to shock the world. I’m going to do whatever it takes in there to win the fight.”
He starts to walk away and then realizes he has forgotten something: A giant mock-up poster and ticket for “the next fight” – the rematch to which Pacquiao is contractually obligated should Bradley emerge victorious on Saturday. The poster advertises Bradley-Pacquiao 2 (the name of the new champion first, as is customary), and the date it proposes is November 10, at this same venue. Then he calls for his wife, the same wife he praises for supporting the family while he labored to achieve in-ring success.
“Come and get your ticket baby; this is your seat right here.”
The audience laughs, but Bradley is only half-joking. It has been 18 years since he first pulled on a pair of boxing gloves, and he has waited a long time for this chance. He does not intend to take a bow and then be shuffled off the stage.
Pacquiao takes it all in stride. He has been here before, seen it and done it a dozen times; Saturday will mark his thirteenth occasion in a Las Vegas main event. His preternatural good humor is these days accentuated by an apparent serenity, and he joins in the smiles at Bradley’s presentation. He even allows himself a good-natured joke at the expense of Bradley’s intensity.
“Training is good,” he said. “Training is amazing. It’s … heaven.”
There’s a brief pause as the joke sinks in, and then more laughter ripples around the theatre. One man not laughing is Bradley, not because he is offended but because it seems as if he doesn’t even hear it, is no longer even aware of his surroundings, as he once more stares straight ahead, contemplating the moment he has long dreamed of and that now lies just three days away.