Photos by Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
As he arrived at his Manhattan Beach hotel on Tuesday night, before he’d even had a chance to check in or unpack his bags, Timothy Bradley Jr. was approached by somebody who wanted to know if he had heard that Erik Morales, future Hall-of-Fame fighter and trainer of Bradley’s Saturday opponent Jessie Vargas, had supposedly been belittling Bradley’s chances in Saturday’sHBO-televised welterweight contest.
In the hotel lobby, Bradley looked into a camera and verbally ripped both men in a spontaneous rant that was worthy of a WWE promo.
“Jessie Vargas, I’m gonna whup his ass on Saturday and if Morales got a problem and he want some he can get some at the end of the year too, ‘cause I got two fights this year,” Bradley said. “This is my first fight. I’m gonna beat his boy, then I’ll come back and beat his behind. He can come out of retirement. We can fight at a catchweight. It don’t really matter, 154, whatever. You want to fight at 200? We could fight there and I’m gonna whup your ass next.”
The outburst was catnip to Top Rank’s publicists, more than happy to leap on any hint of conflict that they could use to hype the contest. When Vargas held a media workout on Wednesday, the Mexican press was out in force, inspired by the presence of the legendary Morales and even more so by the prospect, however remote, that the trainer might end up in the ring with his fighter’s opponent. By Thursday morning, however, the heat had been turned down to a simmer: Vargas – an easy-going type with a ready smile – seemed mildly bemused by the outburst.Morales emphasized that he was well and truly retired, and by the time of the press conference, Bradley was walking back his earlier remarks.
“I have nothing against this team,” he said at the podium. “I have nothing against you, Erik Morales … You were a tremendous fighter, a Hall of Fame fighter. So there’s no bad blood. I’m just letting you know that. I just had to clear that up.”
But an absence of animosity didn’t mean a lack of intensity. At the post-press conference staredown, Bradley, a study in tightly coiled fight week fury, glowered, deep and unblinking, at Vargas. Vargas, who despite being a professional pugilist appears not to contain an angry bone in his body, began to smile, as if the level of Bradley’s ferocity could only be intentionally humorous. But Bradley maintained his stare, seemingly trying to use his vision to bore into his opponent’s skull, and Vargas recalibrated, returning his facial expression to a scowl, albeit a less convincing one, of his own.
It was much the same at Friday’s weigh in, after both men, despite their differing physiques – Vargas tall and lean, Bradley shorter and muscular – weighed in at 146.4 pounds. Top Rank publicist Fred Sternburg asked the boxers to pose for and look at the media before facing off, but Bradley wasn’t having any of it, instead turning immediately to Vargas, placing his face as closeto his foe’s as he could until his forehead met the barrier formed by the brim of Vargas’ baseball cap, locking his gaze and jawing at him. Vargas talked right back, although once again he couldn’t stop himself from breaking into a smile. Afterward, the undefeated youngster asserted that Mexican boxers invariably were stronger than their foes and that it would again prove thus on Saturday. Bradley, now more even-tempered assassin than hyperbolic wrestler, suggested that those assembled compare his ripped physique to his skinnier rival’s, and ask themselves which of the two was more likely to have more strength.
The last time Bradley fought at the StubHub Center, he came out just on the winning side of a brutal battle with RuslanProvodnikov in 2013. Nobody dares expect Bradley and Vargas to replicate that ferocity, nor would anyone with a hint of humanity necessarily want them to. But if the past few days are any indication, Bradley is dialed in for twelve rounds of sustained aggression. And for as much as Vargas has been happy for Bradley to carry the verbal load, he’ll be more than ready to let his fists do the talking when the time comes in the ring.