By Chris Robinson
The next opponent for Manny Pacquiao looks to be set, as WBO junior welterweight champion Timothy Bradley finds himself with his biggest opportunity to date as a professional.
The two men actually shared a ring this past November at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas when Pacquiao edged out Juan Manuel Marquez over twelve spirited rounds while Bradley scored a lopsided and uneventful 8th round TKO over faded champion Joel Casamayor in the evening’s chief support bout.
The fight is set to go down June 9th at the same venue but it’s worth noting that while Bradley has signed on for the contest, Pacquiao has yet to his ink his contract to make the fight official.
Giving his take on that little piece of news, Bradley’s trainer Joel Diaz feels the Filipino icon has his reasons for such reluctance, bringing his debatable decision over Marquez three months back into the equation.
“I don’t blame him,” Diaz said during our conversation. “A lot of people underestimate Tim. But Timothy is a lot faster than Marquez. He has faster feet and faster hands. He might not have the punching power, but he has faster movement. To me, Marquez won that fight. If Pacquiao has not signed, it’s because he has a little bit of doubt.”
An essential reason for tracking Diaz down was to get his take not just on Pacquiao, but also of some noise coming from his corner, specifically his trainer Freddie Roach and his strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza, as it appears the pre-fight gauntlet is already thrown around.
I crossed paths with Roach earlier this month in San Antonio, Texas at the final press conference for the February 4th HBO twin bill headlined by his fighter Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. successfully defending his belt against Marco Antonio Rubio.
Roach was asked about a possible Bradley fight at the time and offered up the following on the Palm Springs, California charge.
“He’s a dirty fighter, well, he’s a physical fighter,” Roach would say. “He uses his head, elbows, so forth. Manny does have some trouble with that because Manny can’t retaliate. I tell Manny that if a guy hits you low, hit him back low, but he won’t do that. So, the thing is, it could pose a bit of a problem.”
Asked whether he took offense to Roach’s remarks, Diaz admitted that it dug him a little deep.
“Oh, definitely,” said Diaz. “I think that’s very offensive, because I was a fighter myself [and] when I train a fighter, I train him to fight clean. Never, from day one, has our intention been to be dirty, because that’s just not me. That’s not my nature. That’s very offensive for me. If I ever see my fighter or my fighter ever has any intentions of using dirty tactics, believe me, I’ll bring it up to his attention because that’s not me.
“I don’t like to have that reputation as a trainer, to have a fighter who uses intentional head butts,” Diaz continued. “It’s just bad luck. It’s just [Bradley’s] style, maybe the way he steps in. But never in my years that I have trained Timothy, has he ever mentioned using his head intentionally. Unfortunately Timothy had a few incidents that ended up a head-butt but it’s not because he does it on purpose. That’s just his style.”
Ariza took things further yesterday during a conversation with Ben Thompson of FightHype.com, showing disinterest in the Bradley fight, claiming that Pacquiao's sparring partners at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles were even better than him.
Yet again, Diaz would stand up for his fighter.
“Alex Ariza can say whatever he wants,” Diaz said firmly. “He doesn’t even know Tim Bradley. He’s never been in camp with Tim Bradley. He hasn’t even stepped in the gym to see Tim Bradley train. I mean, I can say the same thing. I can open my mouth to the world and say ‘In my gym I have better fighters than Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. I have better fighters than Manny Pacquiao’. But who’s going to believe me?”
Diaz then asked a few simple questions of his own.
“I give every fighter his respect,” Diaz explained. “I cannot compare any fighter to Tim Bradley. Let me just tell you, if he has better fighters in his gym, better fighters than Tim Bradley, how comes nobody knows them? How come they’re not world champions?”
Last topic to touch on with Diaz was of the recent ‘early’ retirement talk coming from Pacquiao, as he recently mentioned that he could be walking away from boxing as early as next year. A congressman in the province of Sarangani in the Philippines, Pacquiao has been spreading himself a bit thin with his obligations in recent years and some question whether his heart is still in the sport.
Hearing such talk coming from one of the world’s finest athletes causes definite suspicion for Diaz.
“When your mind and your plans are in retirement mode, it’s because somewhere inside your heart, you don’t feel the hunger anymore,” Diaz claimed. “Let me tell you something, Manny Pacquiao’s been in this business plenty of time already. He’s been at the top of his game for many years. After a while, his mind and his body gets tired.
"If he’s thinking about retiring after this fight or the next, it’s because somewhere in his mind, he just doesn’t feel that passion for the sport anymore." Diaz added. "Because if he really felt the passion for the sport, he’d look ahead.”