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Tim Bradley looks back on controversial Manny Pacquiao triumph 10 years later

Photo courtesy of HBO
09
Jun

Today marks the 10th anniversary of Tim Bradley’s controversial 12-round split decision victory over Manny Pacquiao, dubbed “The Perfect Storm,” at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Bradley had made a name for himself by winning the WBC and WBO junior welterweight titles, while Pacquiao had become a living legend by winning a slew of world titles in multiple weight classes.

A California native, Bradley knew that he needed to face one of the biggest names in boxing to secure his legacy in the sport. However, his promoters, Gary Shaw and Thompson Boxing, wanted their man to face IBF and WBA beltholder Amir Khan for the undisputed 140-pound title in the second half of 2011.

“I either wanted to fight Manny or Floyd Mayweather because those are two of the top names in the sport of boxing,” Bradley told The Ring. “Even though Amir Khan was a really good fighter, I wasn’t going to get paid life-changing money.



“If I can put myself in position to fight Manny Pacquiao, who is one of the cash-cows in boxing and fulfil my dream at the same time, it makes sense. Not fighting Amir Khan was a business move. It wasn’t the fact I was scared of him, I wanted to kick his ass.”

Bradley listened to his manager, Cameron Dunkin, and was able to move in the direction he wanted to.

“I remember I had one more fight left on my contract, but the day they wanted to do the fight [with Khan] was outside the contract,” explained Bradley. “I knew it was an opportunity to fight Pacquiao, if I get in the right position to do so. Cameron Dunkin was a great manager, he told me and my wife to hold out.

“The hold out worked perfectly. I had to pay some money out to the promoter. My contract was released and I ended up signing with Top Rank. Negotiations with Pacquiao started immediately. They told me the minimum Pacquiao would pay me was $5 million. I thought that was astronomical because the most I had made at that time in my career was $750,000, when I faced Carlos Abregu. That was the first fight I had with Cameron Dunkin as my manager. My money doubled when I hired Cameron Dunkin. Before Cameron, my highest paycheck was $350,000.

“My wife and I cried just to hear $5 million. Coming from nothing, the struggles my wife and I had, raising two kids and wanting to have more kids and get married and move forward in our life. This was the perfect opportunity to do so.”

Final press conference.

Having agreed to the fight, now Bradley, who was moving up to 147 pounds to face Pacquiao for the WBO welterweight title, had to prepare himself for the biggest fight of his life.

“It was about becoming a legend in the sport, becoming a Hall of Fame fighter, and in order to do so you have to beat a legend,” said Bradley. “I set out on one of the hardest training camps I’ve ever been in. I ran eight to 10 miles every day. I sparred more. I probably left a quarter or half of the fight in the gym.

“Joel Diaz, my dad and wife would try to stop me and I continued to do more in training camp because one the fear of losing and of being embarrassed by this monster – that’s how everyone perceived him.”

While Bradley had prepared his body, he wasn’t accustomed to the whirlwind of obligations a fight of this magnitude brought with it.

“It was the most promotion that I had to do. We did commercials, advertising and previews, that was stressful,” Bradley recalled. “It was pay-per-view, this is the pinnacle of boxing. We’re fighting at MGM, Las Vegas. My face was on the side of the building. I almost felt like I was in a dream. Interview after interview, it was mentally draining. It was physically draining because when the mind goes, the body goes. I was expending so much energy across the board.

“This was nothing new for Manny Pacquiao, he’s already been through this. It was all new to me. I’d never fought at this level before.”

As the fight grew closer, the California native started to doubt himself. The shear gravity of the moment threatened to engulf him and take over the day before the fight.

“A lot of fighters don’t talk about being in the hotel room and how you get anxiety, thinking about the fight,” said Bradley, who was a 5-1 underdog. “Negative thoughts creep into your mind. You’re constantly telling yourself you’re ready for this moment. You trained your whole life for this moment; you know why you’re here. Now you’ve got to show the world who Timothy Bradley is. You’ve got all these doubters around you that are constantly inflicting negativity your way. It’s a ton of pressure.”

Bradley vividly recollects a phone conversation with his friend, Elvis Grant, who helped settle him down.

Grant: “Hey how you doing?”

Bradley: “I’m breaking down mentally.”

Grant: “Why champ?”

Bradley: ‘I’m worried. I’m fighting Manny Pacquiao. This is new territory for me.’

Grant: “I’ve been in a lot of past and present world champions company. Just relax, the more relaxed you are the better it’ll be. Go take a walk outside, clear your head. Just stay relaxed, don’t think of anything.”

Bradley: “OK.”

Grant: “You know how to fight champ. You’re going to get in the ring and your body is naturally going to take over. You have the game plan in your mind. All you have to do is follow it.”

Bradley: “You’re right.”

The weigh in.

The inspiring words helped. Bradley tipped the scales at 146 pounds, while Pacquiao was bang on the 147-pound division limit.

On the day of the fight, Bradley headed to the locker room, which was full of people. He then changed, gloved up and went through his paces with head-trainer Joel Diaz.

“The commissioners come in and say you’ve got 30 minutes; that turns into 15 minutes; that turns into 10 minutes; five minutes; one minute; it’s time to walk,” said Bradley, who entered the fight with an unbeaten mark of 28-0 (12 knockouts).

“It’s real, there’s no turning back, you can’t say you don’t want to go out there (laughs). It doesn’t matter how scared you are. You’ve got to show what you’re made of.”

The ring walk was no less intense.

“Walking out, I can barely feel my legs,” Bradley remembered. “I stomp my foot on the ground to be alive. I’m telling myself, ‘you’re ready for this.’

“I get into the ring and through the whole week Pacquiao had been extremely nice. He looked small at the weigh in, but they took the robe off him and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! This is not the same dude!’ (laughs) He was twice the size. I knew right away this guy meant business.

“Still, I can’t feel my legs. I walk to the center of the ring, hear the instructions, and at that point touch gloves. I go back to the corner and at that point I’m all alone.”

The fight…

The sound of the opening bell signals the start of the action, it was a cathartic moment.

“As soon as I hear the ding-ding, my nerves went by the wayside,” said Bradley. “I was sharp, I felt great, everything was going according to plan in the first round. I felt like I belonged.

“I felt his speed, I felt his power. He missed a couple of shots; it felt like something was flying past me at 100 miles an hour. I could hear his punches hit the air, the snap on his punches. I’m saying to myself, ‘This guy is a serious puncher.’ There’s going to be times I’m going to take the risk, bite down on my mouthpiece.

“The game plan with Pacquiao was to fight fire with fire. Never let him gather momentum. I’ve always got to make it seem like I’m in the fight as well. If you go back and watch the fight, any time Pacquiao struck, I come right back – I had to.”

Happy with his start, Bradley comes out for the second round.

“The next thing you know, ouch my right foot, I can’t feel it,” Bradley said. “I did one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done in my career – I didn’t wear any socks. You would read about Mike Tyson not wearing socks; just wearing his black shoes so he could feel his toes dig inside the canvas to generate punching power. I wanted to inflict pain on this man. I thought, ‘If Mike Tyson did it, I’m going to do it.’ because obviously it helped Mike Tyson. So, there was a lot of room in my boxing shoe, my feet weren’t secure. One time when I reacted, I felt the pop in my right foot.”

The challenger returned to his corner at the end of Round 2 and told his trainer about his injury. Diaz responded: “You have two options: you can quit and go home or fight.” I said, “I’m going to fight.”

Bradley wasn’t as mobile, but continued to fight back before suffering more adversity.

“He caught me in the fourth round,” said Bradley. “I injured my left foot when I stepped back. I went to correct it with the other foot and made it even worse. Pacquiao rocked me with a shot. He obviously won that round.

“From that point on, it was me battling between wanting to quit, and battling with Manny Pacquiao. It was one of the toughest fights of my career. Having to dig deep in those moments. I really don’t know how I was able to do it. A lot of it had to do with pride, a lot of it had to do with the sacrifice through my whole life, the embarrassment of my fans and team. I thought about everybody connected to me and how it would look if I was to quit on my stool. That’s what pushed me.

“Towards the back end of the fight, I had made Pacquiao miss enough. People don’t realize when you make a fighter miss it’s draining. Not only are you trying to hit the guy – so you’re expanding energy – when you miss, that energy doesn’t go into the fighter; it leaves your body and goes into thin air. When you’re hitting something, it goes into that person, you’re burning energy but at the same time you’re getting the adrenaline that’s pumping in your blood, you’re having success. Pacquiao missed a ton of punches.

At the conclusion of 12 rounds, both men had to wait to hear their fate.

“Joel told one of my trainers to get in there and pick me up because we won the fight,” recalled Bradley. “Joel Diaz has been honest with me my whole career, so when he said it, I said, ‘Hell yeah.’ I battled against Pacquaio and myself quitting. I was in there on autopilot, not thinking, just going for it.

“I hear the first scorecard, 113-115 [Pacquiao], I knew the fight was close. Then I hear the other way for me. I knew I had won the fight. Then boom, third card came in. Hallelujah. That was a changing point in my life. It was the biggest accomplishment in my career.”

The winner… at a price.

However, the joy was short-lived.

“Life turned completely upside down,” he explained. “I just embarked on one of the greatest victories of my career and it was slowly just diminishing by the second.

“From the [HBO post-fight] interview, hearing the boos in the crowd, going into the press conference and hearing this was the worst decision of all-time.”

Bradley refers to what he calls ‘the herd effect,” where people fall in line with their peers and stick with popular opinion rather than voice their own opinion.

“With social media, it spread like wild-fire, everyone was commenting,” Bradley remembered. “It felt like it was me against the world and I had no control over the decision. I fought my fight, that was it, and the judges thought I’d done well enough to win the fight.”

The week after the fight, Bradley visited the doctor to check on his sprained ankle and ligament damage in the opposite foot. During this time, Bradley became a social pariah and it threatened his very existence.

“Me and my wife got the looks out in public,” he said. “The media constantly talking about it. We got death threats, just hatred from the world. Manny Pacquiao was an icon, he was the people’s champion, he had transcended the sport. This was a man who hadn’t lost in seven years and he was defeated.

“It was hard for my kids, having to deal with their peers talking about me. It was tough on the whole family.

“I felt ashamed walking around. There was a point when I thought this isn’t worth it, I should quit boxing’ Everybody is against me. There was one point when I was considering suicide.”

After hitting rock bottom, Bradley was able to rebuild his psyche and reposition himself in life and in his career.

“I look back at this and say, ‘God, why did you do this?'” said Bradley, who now serves as a commentator for ESPN. “And I say to myself, the way I am now as a person, this was a blessing. Yes, it was a curse, but it was also a blessing because it allowed me to grow wings. Nothing bothers me anymore. I know who I am, I found out who I was after fighting Manny Pacquiao.

“I know what type of fighter I am; what type of competitor I am; what type of man I am. I know what type of heart I have. I knew I was a bad son of a gun inside the ring. Someday I’ll be in the Hall of Fame, without a doubt – I captured five-world titles. I’m happy with that. I’m a decent person, I respect people and I speak my mind.”

Pacquiao vs. Bradley received 890,000 HBO Pay-Per-View buys, totaling $50,600,000 in revenue.

The two met twice more. Pacquiao won a pair of 12-round unanimous decisions in April 2014 and April 2016.

 

Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @AnsonWainwright

 

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