By Chris Robinson
The only man on Tim Bradley’s mind these days in Manny Pacquiao, who he challenges on June 9th in Las Vegas in a welterweight title bout on HBO pay-per-view. Deep into training in his camp in Indio, California, Bradley has a fixation with Pacquiao, one of the sport’s top two fighters, these days because he realizes exactly what an upset victory over the dangerous southpaw would mean to his career and his family.
But Bradley hadn’t always looked at the Filipino icon as a possible foe, however. When Bradley made his professional debut at 143 pounds in August of 2004, Pacquiao was a few months removed from a scintillating featherweight war with Juan Manuel Marquez, the first of their three battles, and at that time Tim seemed to only have admiration for him.
"You know what, I was always a big fan of Pacquiao,” Bradley stated to me following a recent training session. “I’m a fighter but I am a fan of certain fighters and I like what they’re doing and Pacquiao’s one of those dudes. When he started steamrolling through the lower weight classes, that’s when I started really paying attention to him.”
It was only after his stirring upset over then-WBC junior welterweight champion Junior Witter in May of 2008, a fight that saw Bradley travel to his opponent’s home turf in the United Kingdom, that he really started pondering a matchup with Pacquiao in his future.
Less than two months after Bradley bested Witter, Pacquiao would move up to 135 pounds to carve up David Diaz over nine brutally one-sided rounds, a victory that netted him the WBC lightweight belt. Pacquiao finished off 2008 by moving up two more divisions and shocking the masses with a thorough trouncing over heavily-favored Oscar De La Hoya, forcing him to remain on his stool after eight heats of action.
With the two fighters then fighting in or at the same weight class, Bradley began following Pacquiao's every move with a vested interest.
“I thought Pacquiao would win the fight, I just thought De La Hoya was definitely past his prime, even though he was a bigger guy,” Bradley reflected. “I still felt Pacquiao was a lot quicker and he would be able to out-speed De La Hoya pretty much.”
Few could have imagined that Pacquiao, who made his professional debut at 106 pounds in January of 1995, would make such a smooth transition by moving up in weight later in his career. The sheer savagery that was displayed during his bouts with Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, and others is testament to just how potent his offense is and Bradley recognizes such danger.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Bradley said. “I think he fought a lot of guys who were on their way out, but I think he’s still dominated them in good fashion. I think that’s what definitely impressed me about Pacquiao, is that he dominated these guys. It wasn’t just a win; it was domination.”
2011 wasn’t a banner year for Pacquiao, who plodded forward for a points victory over Shane Mosley in May while struggling mightily during his majority-decision victory over Marquez that many felt he should have lost. Bradley doesn’t believe the 33-year old Pacquiao is slowing down, yet he feels his heart may not be in it the way it used to be.
“I just think that’s probably based on motivation,” Bradley said of Pacquiao, who also serves as a Congressman in the province of Sarangani in his native Philippines. “I think that there’s a lot on his plate, what he does for his country, and balancing boxing, the whole celebrity status. It’s a lot of people pulling at his coattails, so it can be draining at times.
“I think it’s probably lack of motivation,” Bradley continued. “I’m not sure, it could be wear and tear, but I’m expecting the best Manny Pacquiao ever on June 9th.”
Ultimately, Bradley’s belief comes from his abilities as a fighter and what he is going to bring to the table in six weeks when he takes center stage at the MGM Grand. Bradley was also asked what he possesses as a fighter that makes him unique when compared to any of Pacquiao’s previous opponents and he was sharp with his response.
“My whole style. He’s never faced anyone with my skill, with my determination, with my strengths in his whole career,” Bradley claimed. “He never fought anybody like me. He just fought against Margarito, who was very strong but he’s slow. He fought Shane Mosley, but if he would have fought him at 135 when Shane was in his prime, it would have been a different story. People know that I bring a lot to the table. That’s the reason why I’m not a 10-1 underdog going into this fight”
Throughout his workouts the past few days, Bradley could be heard chanting ‘Easy work’ uproariously, an obvious dig at how well he is going to be able to handle Pacquiao. And with his demeanor slightly more subdued following one of his recent sessions, Bradley didn’t shy away from his stance.
“I truly believe it’s going to be an easy fight,” Bradley stated with conviction. “I’m not saying that Pacquiao is going to lay down or whatever, but I just think that what I bring to the ring, I think it’s going to make it extremely hard for him. I know what Pacquiao likes to do. I think everybody all knows what he likes to do. But I think with my style alone and my ability and my way to be able to adjust in the ring, I think that’s going to be a handful in itself.
“And then, on top of that, you’ve got my speed, you got my power, you got my determination on top of that,” Bradley explained. “It’s going to be easy work for me. I’m younger, I have less miles on my body, I’m very smart, I’ve captured three world championships. Manny Pacquiao is human just like I am; he bleeds just like I do. I’m not going into the ring and I’m not going to brother-in-law this guy just because he’s Manny Pacquiao and he’s one of the hottest names in boxing. That doesn’t scare me at all.”