by David P. Greisman
You wouldn’t think that a Manny Pacquiao fight would need any help building buzz. Nor would you think that a Pacquiao fight against an undefeated, highly talented top titleholder in Timothy Bradley would be in such need.
Yet here we are, less than three weeks out from that bout, and only now is the conversation beginning to turn to Pacquiao-Bradley.
That’s because the talk for the past few weeks first has been Floyd Mayweather’s fight with Miguel Cotto, which has now come and gone; then turned to Lamont Peterson’s positive test for synthetic testosterone and the cancellation of his rematch with Amir Khan; and now Andre Berto’s positive test for nandrolone and the potential consequences on his June rematch with Victor Ortiz.
You’ll forgive the presently pressing news for taking precedent over the consequently coming.
Nevertheless, the conversation about Pacquiao-Bradley has begun, even if it started just with spare words around a round table May 12 for HBO’s “Face Off” segment, and now with the May 19 premiere episode of “24/7: Road to Pacquiao-Bradley.”
Let’s talk about that episode, then. With a nod to syndicated columnist Norman Chad, I took notes:
10:15 p.m. Eastern Time: We kick off with dramatic music — but not the sort of slow, scene-setting score we’ve heard in the past. The camera cuts quickly from clip to clip — not like the drawn out opening shots we’ve seen in the past.
This is visually and acoustically interesting.
And within the opening minute we start to be introduced to our protagonists. Manny Pacquiao is “one of the most famous people in the world, an icon who has used his sport to transform himself to a statesman and ambassador, becoming a symbol of possibility to millions,” but also “a 33-year-old man who’s found himself searching for stability amid overwhelming fame” and has turned to religion while doing so.
Timothy Bradley, meanwhile, lives what appears to be a remarkably normal life, our narrator says, but while “he may be a family man in a sleepy California paradise, he’s also a boxer who’s never lost a professional fight, passing every successive ring test he’s taken in continually steady fashion. Now he’s earned by far the biggest opportunity of his life against one of boxing’s pound-for-pound kings.”
We’ve already jumped into the story, into the characters, into the conflict, hearing not just from the narrator and the audio technicians, but from the boxers themselves.
This is “24/7”? Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.
10:16 p.m.: Pacquiao’s assistant trainer, Buboy Fernandez, has mitts that have “Buboy” printed on them. You just don’t see that kind of pride in your job in every line of work — and definitely not from the person in charge of the bedpans at the hospital.
10:17 p.m.: We see highlights of Bradley’s fight with Joel Casamayor last November. Ah, remember the good old days when boxers were merely testing positive for marijuana…
And remember the days when Bradley was being roasted for ducking a fight with Amir Khan, passing up a career-high payday that also would’ve decided who the true 140-pound champion was, instead sitting on the sidelines to finish out of his contract with Gary Shaw? Remember how Bradley was aiming for a shot at either Pacquiao or Mayweather and that didn’t seem too likely?
Turned out to be a smart decision on Bradley’s part. That shouldn’t surprise us. If there’s one thing we can give Bradley credit for in his career, it’s that he knows how to use his head.
10:18 p.m.: There’s different theme music, and a different title, too — “24/7: Road to Pacquiao-Bradley.”
Nope. Definitely not Kansas.
Note that they waited until after “Mayweather-Cotto 24/7” — which, interestingly wasn’t “24/7 Cotto-Mayweather” — to make these changes.
10:19 p.m.: We start, of all places, not in the Philippines or in the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles, but at a press conference announcing the fight.
“This fight is going to be a good fight, because of Bradley’s style,” Pacquiao says. “He loves to fight toe to toe. He keeps coming.”
Says Bradley: “I just want to let everybody know I’m not just here for a paycheck. I’m here to win this fight.”
It’s Pacquiao who sells the pay-per-view — it’s his name recognition, his stardom, his accomplishments — but it’s Bradley who’s doing the selling of the fight itself. Look no further than how little Pacquiao said the other week during “Face Off.” Now listen to Bradley talk up this bout, and when he talks he sounds like he means it, unlike much of what you often hear from fighters and promoters:
“I like being the underdog. I’ve been the underdog my whole life, so I don’t really care what anybody says. Pacquiao, he’s a great fighter, but once we get in that ring on June 9 … we’re in there to seek and destroy. That’s it. That’s the only thing on my mind is getting that ‘W’, getting that win that night.’ ”
This guy is a star waiting to be born. If only he carried around giant bags of money, was best friends with a rapper, and didn’t get along with his father. Instead, his entourage is his wife and kids.
10:20 p.m.: Selling a fight isn’t just about showing Bradley to be a threat to Pacquiao, but also about making people care about him, too. This is how, pessimistically speaking, you hedge your bets in case Bradley defeats Pacquiao. This is how, optimistically speaking, you create two stars despite the fact that you could get away with just having one. Bradley doesn’t bring in the built-in fan base that Miguel Cotto did for his pay-per-view with Floyd Mayweather, but this can only help create more fans for Bradley no matter what the outcome is against Pacquiao.
And so we humanize Bradley, hearing him say that his life is his family and the gym, listening as he tells us about his poor upbringing in the wrong side of town, where there was thought to be nothing but scumbags, losers and drug dealers, but now he’s proven them wrong. We meet Bradley’s father, Tim Bradley Sr., or “Big Ray” as he’s known, and who seems set for a star turn of his own.
But first we find out that our new hero wasn’t always so heroic. Bradley was a bully as a kid, a wannabe thug, a young elementary-schooler who slugged a child who was in a wheelchair.
“I’m not happy about that,” he said. “It bothers me still today. That’s how bad it was. That’s how short-tempered I was.”
As we hear about so often, boxing brought a troubled kid the discipline he needed. Eighteen years later, and Bradley is where he is now.
10:24 p.m.: We go now to Pacquiao. Narrator Liev Schreiber calls the fighter “The National Fist of the Philippines.”
In some dark store somewhere is a VHS tape with that very same title…
10:25 p.m.: …but not in this building where Pacquiao is training, because that’s now transitioning from a gym to a room for Bible study. Pacquiao still has a microphone, but now it’s not for singing but for sermons. He still has words on a screen, but now it’s PowerPoint instead of karaoke power ballads.
For so long we’ve seen and heard of Pacquiao’s many distractions, be it his extracurricular activities such as acting, singing, shooting pool, playing basketball, gambling, drinking or just general carousing. Typically that’s a sign of a rebellious soul, one that wants to find different interests after a lifetime of dedication to a singular pursuit. Nevertheless, Floyd Mayweather has been able to succeed despite his own hobbies and distractions.
However Pacquiao, in his time of spiritual need, is apparently turning to the same thing he often turned to in his fights — his cross.
10:27 p.m.: Jinkee Pacquiao, Manny’s wife, is either shooting video of the sermon on her iPhone or watching “Wapakman.”
10:28 p.m.: A lot of attention given so far to Manny and Jinkee’s relationship. A recent report from Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times said there was tremendous discord in their marriage prior to Pacquiao’s fight last year with Juan Manuel Marquez. It’s no surprise that Manny’s making major changes, then — many people saw Marquez beating Pacquiao in that bout.
10:29 p.m.: Back to Bradley and his training, and then to his background, introducing a fighter than many casual boxing fans might not be familiar with. We start with Bradley’s title win four years ago over Junior Witter, and follow his ascent with highlights of his fights against several foes since.
Bradley mentions both “hard work” and “dedication” in the same sentence. Some think Floyd Mayweather just got a little richer because, you know, nobody ever put those words together before.
10:30 p.m.: Tim Bradley’s father once helped his son with training by finding an unusual substitute for their lack of a medicine ball — a rock from the desert to hit the son’s stomach.
Lamont Peterson had synthetic testosterone. Andre Berto had nandrolone. Tim Bradley had a rock to the stomach.
10:31 p.m.: “Big Ray” Bradley recalls a time when he was sniffing the air to try to motivate Tim.
“You smell shit, pops?” Tim said.
“No,” Ray replied. “I smell p*ssy. I smell p*ssy. You wimping out? You want to be a little b*tch? A p*ssy? Huh? Let’s pick it up!”
This guy is a smiling drill sergeant. He’s like a male Ann Wolfe. Please, Laila Ali, no jokes about that description.
10:32 p.m.: We see Bradley rising off the canvas to come back and beat Kendall Holt in 2009. They fail to show what might have been the most amazing element of that knockdown — that Bradley rose, only to return to his knee to better clear his head while the referee counted.
“It’s all or nothing,” Bradley recalls of his approach after the knockdown. “Got a hold of my balls. Let’s go.”
This is Bradley’s vehicle to stardom. He’s taking the wheel. It’s refreshing, and particularly so when you realize that there’s nothing fake about this.
10:33 p.m.: Pacquiao has apparently traded in drinking and gambling for religion and guns. We see him at a shooting competition.
“Not bad for a beginner,” says the competition’s judge.
Not a bad choice of words when talking about a man with a gun who happens to be the most popular person in your country.
10:34 p.m.: Contrast the extended flashbacks from the first episode of “Mayweather-Cotto 24/7” with the quick exposition of this show. We go through brief clips of Pacquiao’s recent run, and impressively the producers have found the perfect audio to go with the video.
Jim Lampley: “Manny Pacquiao is annihilating Oscar De La Hoya.”
Lampley again, during the Miguel Cotto bout: “This is the brilliance of the Filipino slugger.”
Larry Merchant, during the Margarito bout: “We thought Manny Pacquiao was great. He’s better than we thought.”
But Jinkee brings up that while Manny had conquered her doubts about him fighting bigger men, she only ceases to worry “if he has 100 percent focus in training.”
She sounds annoyed.
10:35 p.m.: They show clips of Pacquiao-Marquez 3, almost all of the clips being Marquez highlights, which some believe reflects reality. Pacquiao says he underestimated Marquez.
This isn’t counterproductive selling. This is making the champion seem vulnerable and the challenger appear formidable.
Both of these happen to be true.
10:36 p.m.: Jinkee Pacquiao says relationship problems were to blame for Manny’s performance. It’s possible that this is Manny’s fault, and it’s a good thing that Pacquiao won, lest an entire country treat her as the boxing equivalent to the woman who broke up The Beatles.
Pacquiao, however, says he didn’t do his plyometric training in camp as he had before.
Every fighter, even the great ones — or perhaps particularly the great ones — has an excuse when things don’t go as well or as planned. For Pacquiao, it’s been his socks, his cramps, his distractions. If Pacquiao loses to Bradley, expect to hear that the planets were aligned in a certain way on June 9.
10:39 p.m.: More great details about Bradley, particularly the nature of his family, in which he married a woman who had two kids from a previous relationship. “Tim will never refer to them as my stepson or my stepdaughter. There’s no difference for him.”
They now have a daughter together — a child who was born the weekend he was to have fought Khan.
We had good reasons to second-guess Bradley at the time. In hindsight, however…
In hindsight, we need to look forward. While the Peterson and Berto stories aren’t going away, we’re also approaching a really big fight that could be quite competitive.
“A lot of people say I don’t hit hard enough. I wasn’t quick enough. I was too short. I was too small for the weight class,” Bradley says. “He’ll never become world champion. Three-time world champion. I’m the No. 1 fighter at 140 pounds, about to become No. 1 at 147 on June 9.”
Bradley is talking up this fight, and we should start doing the same now. And this was a hell of a way to start that conversation — with a very strong episode of “24/7,” a very different episode of “24/7.”
It was less of a fly on the wall film marveling at the scenery and the shtick, but rather a documentary examining the issues — Pacquiao’s distractions and supposed newfound focus, Bradley’s upbringing and the way that it is influencing him — and allowing the characters to speak for themselves. They are talking primarily about themselves and about the fight, reminiscent of the best elements of the “Countdown” shows that HBO used to do before “24/7” became the prominent marketing vehicle.
It doesn’t hurt that Bradley is a new face and voice after so many years of Pacquiao, Mayweather and Cotto. It doesn’t hurt that Bradley is real in front of the camera— and real good, too.
This first episode of “24/7” was real good as well. Let’s hope that it portends what is to come for the remainder of the series and, even more importantly, what is to come at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in less than three weeks.
The 10 Count will return next week.
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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