Timothy Bradley shocked the boxing world when he won a stunning, controversial split decision against Manny Pacquiao. Learn how Bradley, who injured his foot in the second round, turned in a courageous and inspiring performance on June 9 to take the title.
The man in the black hood on the big screen is bobbing his head to a song blasting through a pulsating, hazy arena criss-crossed by white beams of light. It would be easy to get lost in the visual spectacle, to meet the gaze of some of the 14,206 sets of eyes in the building, to visualize the millions of people gathered around television sets across the world.
Timothy Bradley stares straight ahead, eyes narrowed by fiery focus. From under his hood he sees only what is in front of him. Manny Pacquiao. Twelve rounds. The fight of his life for the WBO welterweight title.
Bradley’s been waiting for Pacquiao since the fight was announced in February, focusing on the eight-division champion. At the weigh-in, a day earlier, the two were nose to nose, locked in a glare, until Pacquiao smiled and turned to the thousands in attendance — most of them there to see him step on the scale. Bradley didn’t flinch, keeping his eyes locked on the future Hall of Famer.
Tonight he’s been waiting for Pacquiao and working to stay warm. The fight is delayed at least 20 minutes for the Filipino superstar and congressman to stretch his calves on the treadmill. Now both fighters are in the ring surrounded by their people. Bradley is flanked by his father and trainer; an American flag waves from behind. All that’s left in front of him now is Pacquiao and a dream and possibilities.
Anything can happen at any given moment, Bradley said back in May. You always have a chance.
“Here at the MGM Grand, we go to the scorecards…”
Bradley remembers his first fistfight. He remembers all the kids on the playground gathering around.
“It’s funny, man, because everybody always surrounds you when the fight breaks out,” the WBO junior welterweight champion said in a makeshift training room in Indio, California. “Everybody wanna see who’s gonna win the fight. I remember, man, like it was yesterday.” Impressive for a man who has been in so many fights to remember his first. The man they call Desert Storm is 29 fights into an undefeated pro career. Before that there were 140 amateur fights. And before that, countless bouts in schoolyards and on the rough streets of Palm Springs, California.
“I got in a fight with a kid on the monkey bars, and I did a number on him, man,” Bradley said of his playground debut. “The kid knew some karate, and I didn’t know anything at the time. He did some kind of kick and I stepped back and caught him with a right, and that was all she wrote.”
Bradley knows a few things now. He’s a skillful, seasoned fighter. But the adrenaline coursing through his veins is the same today as it was then. And the winning hasn’t changed. Maybe that’s because the game hasn’t either.
“115–113 for Pacquiao…”
The first punches of the fight are Bradley’s. Probing left jabs back Pacquiao up. Desert Storm gives chase. A chant starts — “Bradley, Bradley, Bradley.” Or maybe it’s, “Manny, Manny, Manny.” The two choruses quickly tie each other up, with no referee to separate them.
In the ring the boxers trade punches for cheers from the crowd. Right, left from Pacquiao. Left, right from Bradley. Both men are quick and willing. Pacman lands a few lefts at the end that most likely win him the first round. Bradley heads back to his corner with hunger still burning in his eyes.
“Ever since I was a kid, I just wanted to be the best at whatever it is — spit the farthest, tetherball, handball—I wanted to be the best at it,” Bradley said. “I have a heart like a lion, and that’s what keeps me going — to be the best. That guy’s not better than me. That’s just plain and simple.”
Bradley tries to prove it in the second. He’s punching with Pacquiao. They’re chasing each other and throwing combinations in bunches. Pacquiao pops Bradley with a few shots, but the 4-1 underdog isn’t rattled.
“In the ring, I’m just a beast, man,” Bradley said. “It just clicks, and it’s either him or me. And, you know, the majority of the time, it’s not going to be me. Boxing is kill or be killed—that’s just the way it is. You can enter that ring and not exit that ring. That’s how serious it is.”
Bradley does enough to score the win from two of the judges in the second. What nobody will know until later is the cost. Bradley felt a pop of pain on the top of his left foot during the action. His corner asks if he wants to quit. That is never an option.
“I’ve always said, If I’m going to lose, I’m going to go out on a stretcher,” Bradley said.
“115–113 for Bradley…”
This is where it starts getting tense. The nine minutes of the third, fourth, and fifth rounds melt like a hard metal, slowly and with tremendous heat. Pacquiao’s left hand is the sledgehammer trying to crumble Bradley’s steely desire.
Bradley gets caught flatfooted from time to time, backed into the corner or the ropes. He escapes a flurry of Pacquiao power punches in the third with a nice counter to end the round. He wobbles under the firepower in the fourth. He gets hit square on the chin in the fifth. In the same round, he staggers when he severely sprains his right foot escaping combinations from one of the best pound-for-pound fighters of all time.
But Bradley is still on his feet, just like he has been his whole career. He’s only really been knocked down once in his professional career — sent spinning to the canvas by a vicious left from Kendall Holt in 2009. His glove touched the ground later in the fight, but Bradley wasn’t hurt.
“I was just very surprised,” Bradley said. “I couldn’t believe it. I had a conversation with God for those eight seconds. I got up and my leg was numb and my head was buzzin’, because my brain was goin’ back and forth. The guy came after me and I just said, ‘I gotta survive the round.’” Bradley did, then went back to fighting in the trenches, outworking Holt in the middle rounds, landing shots to the body that slowed his opponent. “I bit down on my mouthpiece and went at him and I ended up winning the fight.”
“I get knocked down, I get up. It’s just like life. I’m not going to stay down there. I’m going to get up and I’m going to fight.”
Something changes in the seventh. Team Bradley decides to take a different tactic. Desert Storm is sticking and moving, gutting out the pain in both feet. He’s putting his head down and going inside. Bradley is boxing, and it’s saving him, just like it has his whole life.
Boxing gave Bradley a lot of hope. It gave him an outlet for his competitive fire. The gym was also an escape from the rough neighborhood that shaped him. And there’s something else about the sport — the mechanics of a fight, really — that work in Bradley’s favor. Something that makes it possible for a kid from a poor neighborhood with a big heart and incredible work ethic to start punching his way back against a man who hasn’t lost in seven years.
Nobody should’ve expected anything less than a fight from Bradley. Think about his history. After being knocked down against Holt, he came back to grab the decision. And in 2008, he boarded a flight to London with $11 in the bank — down, but not knocked out. All he did was upset Junior Witter and take his WBC 140-pound belt.
Pacman seems to be slowing a bit — despite catching Bradley with an uppercut — but Desert Storm brings the fight to the pound-for-pound king for the rest of the ninth. Headed back to the corner Bradley grimaces, pain floating on top of the determination in his eyes.
The back quarter of the fight won’t be easy. But Bradley wasn’t raised to take the easy way out. Selling drugs is a much quicker way to make money than spending hours working the bags, running miles in the sweltering desert, and taking punishment in sparring sessions, but Bradley chose the work.
“My dad always taught me as a young kid, he said, ‘All those drugs that those guys sell and all that money that they have only lasts for a little bit, son, until they get caught up,’” Bradley remembered. “But if you work hard at somethin’ and you earn it, he was like, ‘It’ll be with you forever and you’ll take care of it and you’ll appreciate it, and no one will be able to take that from you.’”
In the ring, in the biggest fight of his life, with two injured feet, Bradley is battling. He’s outworking Pacquiao and looking stronger as the fight wears on. Before the 12th and final round, Diaz, his trainer, tells him he has to win the round to win the fight. Bradley takes it to heart and starts the round by going forward, chasing Pacquiao, trying his best to earn it.
Each second of these last three minutes elapses as if it has to trudge through the tension that’s nearly turned the arena air into a viscous mass. Still and hushed, the crowd watches Bradley land a few headshots before the halfway mark. At 50 seconds things open up with both fighters trading punches. The crowd catches up and starts chanting with 20 seconds left. 10. Punches. 5. More punches. 0. Over.
Bradley raises his gloves to the sky and walks around the ring. Now the man with the watery, red eyes—the kind caused by pain and clenched teeth — waits yet again.
“The winner by split decision, and…”
The ring announcer hits the word “new,” and there’s no more waiting.
WBO welterweight champion of the world.
The crowd erupts in screams of shock. Nobody hears the name Timothy Bradley. Nobody needs to.
Soon the arena is taken over by boos from an overwhelmingly pro-Pacquiao crowd who just saw their champion lose for the first time in 15 matches. Most everyone else is sending texts, tweets, or standing in slack-jawed disbelief. In the ring, the man with the injured feet and unflinching determination is wearing a new belt and a big smile. He’s a survivor. He’s the winner.
Listen to the murmurs from the masses shuffling in a wobbling procession that spills slowly onto the casino floor of the MGM Grand. Check the trending topics for outsized outcries from the social media world. Watch the hard-hitting questions from the boxing media directed at Bradley, who does the post-fight press conference from a wheelchair — the oversized fake “Pacquiao-Bradley 2” promotional ticket from days before being held over his head. Not everybody thinks he won, but the only two people who matter did. These verbal jabs and the wild haymakers from Internet comment sections won’t faze the champ. Those punches will glance off him, and besides, he has a good chin.
Knowing Timothy Bradley — the man who gutted out 12 rounds with a legend and came out the other side with his belt — he’ll get through it the way he always does. Putting his head down, fighting tough, outworking his opponents, because he’s only looking at what’s in front of him, looking straight ahead with eyes narrowed by sharp focus and an unbreakable will. What’s in front of him? Most likely Manny Pacquiao. Twelve rounds. November 10. For Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley’s WBO welterweight title. And, as Bradley says, anything can happen. You always have a chance.