By Thomas Hauser
On October 12th, Tim Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez will meet in the ring at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. The fight (which is being promoted by Top Rank and televised by HBO-PPV) falls midway between two more heavily hyped pay-per-view match-ups involving Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. That said; if Bradley wins, it will force the boxing establishment and boxing fans to give him his due. That would be good for Bradley and good for boxing.
Bradley comes across as a man you’d let babysit for your children.
“I try to be the best person I can be,” Tim says. “I focus on my family and my job, which is boxing. I stay out of trouble. I always try to do the right thing. I don’t like a lot of drama in my personal life.”
In nine years as a pro, Bradley has fashioned a 30-and-0 record and beaten opponents like Junior Witter, Nate Campbell, Lamont Peterson, Luis Abregu, and Devon Alexander. On June 9, 2012, he won a twelve-round split-decision over Manny Pacquiao.
“First round of the Pacquiao fight, “Tim recalls, “I was like, ‘Wow; this is it?’ This is the best fighter in the world? I can deal with him.’ Second round, something in my foot popped. I’m like, ‘Damn! I think I broke my foot. I can’t believe this is happening.’ I’d spent years trying to get to that place. It was the biggest fight of my life. So I told myself, ‘Forget about the pain. Do what you gotta do.’”
“Over the years, I’ve learned how to block out pain,” Bradley continues. “So I bit down hard on my mouthpiece and kept fighting. Then, trying to protect my left foot, I sprained my right ankle. So now I had pain wherever I put my weight. But I fought every minute of every round. It was a close fight. I thought I’d done enough to win, and the judges agreed with me. They announced the decision. I was on top of the world. And then the roof caved in.”
HBO’s commentating team thought that Pacquiao won and had called the fight accordingly. Most on-site members of the media agreed with them. Brian Kenny (who handled the blow-by-blow commentary for Top Rank’s international feed) scored the bout for Bradley. But his voice was drowned out in the tumult that followed.
In the media center immediately after the fight, Bob Arum (who promoted both fighters) declared, “I have never been as ashamed to be associated with the sport of boxing as I am tonight. To hear scores like we heard tonight; it’s unfathomable. This isn’t arguing about a close decision. This is an absurdity.”
Much of the dialogue in the days that followed focused on round seven, which was labeled “the smoking gun.” The CompuBox “punch-stats” had Pacquiao outlanding Bradley in round seven by a 27-to-11 margin. Yet all three judges scored the round for Bradley.
A smoking gun?
This writer watched a video of round seven in its entirety from multiple camera angles . . . Several times . . . In slow motion . . . I think that Bradley outlanded Pacquiao 16-to-12 in round seven. I won’t quarrel with those who say that Pacquiao deserved the decision. But it was a close fight, and I’ve been at ringside for many decisions that were worse.
I also think that Bradley deserved better treatment than he got from fans and the boxing establishment after Pacquiao-Bradley.
“This should have been the biggest moment of my life,” Tim says. “And it was ruined. They dragged my name through the mud and everybody piled on. People were saying, ‘You’re a fake champion. Give the belt back.’ I got hate mail like you wouldn’t believe. The ridicule got so bad that there were times when I didn’t know if I wanted to fight anymore.”
“I watched the tape of the fight again and again,” Bradley continues. “I can be obsessive. I watched the tape maybe fifty times. It was a close fight, but I think I won. Part of the problem, I believe, was that the HBO announcers had Pacquiao on a pedestal. It was like they were calling The Manny Pacquiao Show. Don’t get me wrong. I like HBO. But their call was way off that night. A lot of the punches the announcers said were landing didn’t land. And everything they said was going into viewers’ minds. I was shattered. It was a dark time for me. I was walking around angry, bitter. Finally, my wife asked me, ‘Aren’t you tired of this?’ I said, ‘You’re right. Enough is enough. This isn’t me. I’m not going to let these people change who I am. The fight is over. It’s in the past.”
“God sure kept me humble after that fight,” Bradley adds.
There are times when it seems that, outside the ring, Bradley can’t win. He dominates Devon Alexander, and the media focuses on the abysmal nature of the co-promotion by Don King and Gary Shaw. He decisions Manny Pacquiao, and the decision is trashed.
In his one fight after beating Pacquiao, Bradley was rendered semi-conscious by Ruslan Provodnikov in round one and fought the next eleven rounds with a concussion. He was knocked down twice, dug as deep as a fighter possibly can, and went places inside himself that few people ever go en route to winning a razor-thin twelve-round decision. It was, Bart Barry later wrote, “as valorous a display as an athlete can make.”
Now the boxing world is readying for Bradley-Marquez; a confrontation between the two fighters who beat Manny Pacquiao in the Filipino icon’s last two fights.
Bradley, irrespective of his aggravation over Arum’s comments regarding Pacquiao-Bradley, has made good money with Top Rank. He received a $5,000,000 purse to fight Manny and seven-figure paydays for outings against Joel Casamayor and Provodnikov. A $4,000,000 guarantee to Team Bradley is in place for the Marquez fight.
Bradley is ten years younger than Marquez; thirty versus forty. But Juan Manuel has a style that will be difficult for Tim. He’s an excellent counterpuncher and fights well going backward, which could blunt Tim’s natural aggression. Also, Marquez has a good uppercut, which Bradley is open to when he leans in. And Tim might not have the power (only twelve knockouts in thirty fights) to make Juan Manuel pay for his mistakes.
“I work with what I have,” Bradley says. “This isn’t my first fight. I’m not undefeated because everything went right in all of my fights. I’m undefeated because I did what I had to do to win every time.”
Then Tim offers the reminder, “People talk about how I was out on my feet in the Provodnikov fight. They talk about the heart I showed and how exciting it was. They forget how beat up the other guy was when it was over.”
But the Provodnikov fight is cause for concern to Bradley partisans on several levels.
“After the first round,” Tim recalls, “I lost track of what round it was. I was just fighting from one round to the next. I had trouble following my corner’s instructions. I felt buzzed and unbalanced the whole fight. It was like I was falling down but I didn’t fall down. The lights were going on and off and then I’d reboot. My condition and training got me through the fight. I was in great shape. And I’d done things again and again in the gym so many times that I did them without thinking during the fight.”
But there were problems afterward.
“After the fight,” Bradley acknowledges, “for two-and-a-half months, I had symptoms. My speech was slurred. I felt like I was leaning to one side. I felt weak. I flew to New York and saw some specialists for evaluation and therapy. Then I saw another neuro-specialist in California. My health comes before anything. That’s the most important thing. It’s not about the money all the time. I want to grow old with my children and grandchildren and be healthy enough that we all have a good time together. Eventually, my condition got better. Some of that was from therapy and some of it was healing through time. My balance and speech got back to where they were. My strength came back. But I still wasn’t sure how I’d react when I got hit. You see guys who get knocked out once and, all of a sudden, they’re getting knocked out all the time. So I decided to spar with Lucas Matthysse [in late-August]. He can punch. I didn’t let him hit me on purpose. But if you spar, you know you’re gonna get hit. He hit me solid a few times, and I was fine. I’m back to normal now.”
But what’s normal?
Bradley appeared to have been concussed in the ring at least twice prior to fighting Provodnikov. In 2009, he was knocked down and hurt badly in the first round by Kendall Holt. He survived and won a twelve-round decision. Three years before that, he suffered a concussion against Eli Addison.
“In the second round [of the Addison fight],” Tim remembers, “we both threw right hands and missed and our heads collided. I got whacked on the right side of my temple and didn’t know where I was at. I lost control of my body. I thought I was walking fine, but I was staggering around like Zab Judah did against Kostya Tszyu. People were laughing. They thought I was kidding around. Then the referee said ’box’ and Addison came at me. I was on autopilot. The next thing I remember, it was the seventh round.”
Bradley’s extraordinary will enables him to fight through pain. Fighting through a brain disconnect is another matter. Unlike Addison and Provodnikov, Marquez is skilled enough to finish off a fighter who’s concussed and in front of him.
Here, the thoughts of neurologist Margaret Goodman (former chief ringside physician for the Nevada State Athletic Commission and a foremost proponent of fighter safety) are instructive.
“There’s so much we don’t know about the brain,” Dr. Goodman states. “A concussion can clear up within a few days or it can take eighteen months. Sometimes the brain never fully heals. A fighter can be more susceptible to further damage after a concussion or not. We do know that he won’t be less susceptible. Someone who has suffered a concussion should not place himself at risk of another concussion until those post-concussive symptoms have completely resolved. Seven months have passed since Tim’s last fight, which has given him a chance to recuperate. That’s a good start. All that can be done now is to ensure that he gets the best pre-fight testing possible.”
Because of the concussions that he has suffered in the past, Bradley will go into the ring against Marquez with an aura of vulnerability about him. And there’s another factor that might put him at further risk.
If any sport should test thoroughly for PEDs, it’s boxing. The sweet science isn’t about running faster or hitting a baseball further. Fighters are getting hit in the head hard by men trained in the art of hurting.
For years, Juan Manuel Marquez has honored the craft of prizefighting. But there’s now a cloud hanging over him in the suspicion that, sometime before his fourth fight against Manny Pacquiao, Marquez stopped drinking his own urine in preparing for fights and began using performance-enhancing drugs under the supervision of conditioning coach Angel “Memo” Heredia.
That suspicion was echoed by Jim Lampley in a December 15, 2012, telecast of The Fight Game in which Lampley referenced “the presence in Juan Manuel Marquez's training camp of a man who once admitted under oath to being a world-renowned purveyor of performance enhancing drugs” and “Marquez's stunning appearance on the scale [prior to Pacquiao-Marquez IV] followed by his stunning power in the fight.”
Whatever the cause, Marquez (who several years ago looked old in the ring), appears with the assistance of Heredia to have found the fountain of youth that Ponce De Leon sought. With that in mind, Bradley wanted the most comprehensive drug-testing possible for Bradley-Marquez.
“Before I ever talked money with Top Rank,” Tim says, “we talked drug testing. It’s in my contract. I don’t know what Marquez’s contract says, but my contract says that VADA testing was supposed to be done on both fighters starting July 13th. And someone reneged.”
Marquez refused to be tested by VADA, which is widely regarded as having the most comprehensive PED testing program currently available in boxing.
Initially, Bradley threatened to pull out of the fight.
“I’m not going to fight someone at this level and risk everything if they cheated,” Tim told Boxing Scene Radio. "My contract says VADA [and USADA as a second tester if Marquez so chooses] is going to be involved, so that's what I'm going with. If they are not going to be involved, there is not going to be a fight.”
Then Top Rank announced that it had resolved the issue by agreeing to underwrite the cost of a special PED-testing program for Bradley-Marquez to be overseen by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
“The whole State of Nevada is getting involved and doing their drug testing,” Bradley responded. “That's fine. But in my contract, it still says VADA-USADA is going to be involved. At the end of the day, if that doesn't happen, it’s a breach of my contract.”
Eventually, Bradley backed down on the issue. He has submitted to VADA testing for himself at his own expense as a demonstration of his integrity. Both Marquez and Bradley will be tested by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. But Marquez will not be tested by VADA or USADA.
It’s unclear what tests will be conducted by the NSAC, which drugs will be tested for, how a positive test will be reported, when, and to whom.
Moreover, the NSAC tests began so late (August 6th) that a fighter, hypothetically, would have been able to use PEDs and then, after benefiting from their use, stop “juicing” in time to get the illegal drugs out of his system before testing began.
One might also note that the NSAC is using a collection agency whose first-stated mission is paternity testing (see www.jagexam.com ). One assumes that neither Marquez nor Bradley is pregnant.
“Let’s put it this way,” Bradley says. “Marquez and I are two of the guys at the top in boxing. When you’re at the top, you want the best of everything. But Marquez isn’t willing to do the best drug-testing in the world, which is VADA. No offense to the Nevada commission; but their drug-testing is like an old cell phone. VADA is like the iPhone5. I said, ‘If you don’t trust VADA, we’ll do VADA and USADA and Nevada. I’ll test with anyone you want as long as VADA is included. Even Pacquiao and Rios are doing VADA now. But it didn’t happen. Even the timing on what they’re doing is wrong. I wanted testing three months out. As soon as we got into July, testing should have started. But Marquez kept stalling, stalling, buying time until we got into August.”
“If you’re clean,” Bradley continues, “why not do the best testing out there? It doesn’t add up unless you’re playing games. Marquez is getting his way on testing, but I don’t think it’s the right way. It looks shady to me. PEDs are a real problem now in boxing. More fighters have to step up and insist that testing be done right or we’re all going to pay a price.”
Meanwhile, let it be noted that Bradley is (1) articulate, (2) good-looking, (3) inherently likable, (4) charismatic, and (5) a good family man. He (6) treats people with respect, (7) is undefeated, (8) is willing to go in tough, and (9) gives everything he has in training and during each fight. He’s also (10) an American. He has never been criminally convicted for beating up a woman. Nor has he been seen on YouTube giving oral sex to a stripper or sitting on a toilet in Popeye’s.
Bradley-Marquez matters because Bradley matters.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His most recent book (Straight Writes and Jabs: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) has just been published by the University of Arkansas Press.