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Undefeated and unheralded Bradley seeks Pacquiao's throne

By Steve Almasy, CNN
June 8, 2012 -- Updated 1725 GMT (0125 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Timothy Bradley has 29 professional fights and no losses
  • Saturday he takes on one of the best fighters in the world, Manny Pacquiao
  • Bradley's celebrity has recently taken off, but many don't know his story
  • He grew up in the bad part of Palm Springs, California, trained by his dad

(CNN) -- America, meet Timothy Bradley.

Apparently you aren't very familiar with his work.

He's a professional boxer, pretty good one, too. He's won three world championships.

But he's not particularly loud and boastful. Nor does he carry a big punch. Nor is he an imposing physical presence, standing just 5-foot-6.

He just wins.

Saturday night, at the MGM Grand, in front of a pay-per-view audience, he gets to show Americans what they have been missing. A career that started when a rambunctious 10-year-old found his way to the gym in Palm Springs, California, culminates in a 12-round test against one of the two best fighters in the world.

Bradley, with 28 wins and no losses (one no contest), gets his chance of a lifetime against Manny Pacquiao, whom we're pretty sure you have heard of. Casual fans, on the whole, think Bradley has no chance. Boxing analysts will say he can win -- if -- but you get a sense they don't think he has much of a chance either. Sports Illiustrated's Bryan Armen Graham predicts a knockout.

Pacquiao on boxing and politics

"There's a lot of pressure riding on this," Bradley said by phone while on his team bus a week ago. "By winning this fight, this changes our lives forever. We'll be able to put some money in our pockets, and by winning a huge fight like this we can secure our futures."

Bradley will get at least $5 million (plus money from the pay-per-view sales), by far the biggest payday of his career. He promises he will put the money away, so when he retires, he, his wife and three children will have plenty and he won't ever have to come back to the fight game.

If you ask anyone outside the Bradley camp why he could win, they don't necessarily point to one thing he does particularly well in the ring. It's his will.

"Tim Bradley, in almost every respect is a B-plus fighter but he has A-plus determination that makes him special," said Max Kellerman, a CNN contributor and an analyst for HBO, which like CNN is owned by Time Warner.

Portrait of a fighter: Timothy Bradley
Pacquiao on life outside the ring

Bradley said he cannot be outworked. He means in the ring -- and out. On Kellerman's show "Face-Off," Bradley's trainer and Pacquiao's sparred over who works harder in the gym.

"I don't think there's anybody that trains harder than this guy," Joel Diaz said.

Manny Pacquiao on boxing and politics

"Manny will train harder than him and that's why we'll win," Freddie Roach retorted.

"I don't think so," Diaz answered, a bemused smile crossing his face.

"They don't know, they don't know," Bradley added. "They don't know where I come from. They don't know my background."

Bradley said his determination comes from life in the tough neighborhood of the North End in Palm Springs. Let's just say there aren't any manicured lawns in that section of town. There was plenty of trouble to be found.

Bradley got suspended in second grade for fighting. He got suspended in fourth grade for fighting. He once punched another kid a couple of times for nudging him -- with his wheelchair.

When he was 10, the story goes, a friend told him to take his butt to the Palm Springs Boxing Club. Bradley told his dad he wanted to give boxing a shot. Big Ray, as Timothy Bradley Sr. is known, said sure, as long as you listen to your coach -- me -- which sometimes required a good dose of understanding.

Once during a workout at the family home, Big Ray, a security officer, wanted to use a medicine ball, but there was none around.

"He goes out into the desert and gets a rock," the younger Bradley told HBO, which followed both Bradley and Pacquiao (54-3-2, 38 KOs) as they prepared for the fight. "He gets a rock! ... He's trying to hit me with a rock on my stomach."

Bradley said his dad pushed him until he would cry, then would tell him "You think this is hard, wait until you get in that ring."

Kellerman said he talked to the elder Bradley about the difficult training, and Big Ray said his influences were hard-assed football coaches and that was the way he trained his son.

Big Ray was also able to use boxing as an enticement to his son, a poor student. The grades and discipline improved when Bradley's parents threatened to hold him out of the ring.

Timothy Bradley Bio
Record: 28-0

Knockouts: 12

Age: 28

Height: 5-foot-6

Reach: 69 inches

Birthplace: Cathedral City, California

Past titles: WBC light welterweight, WBC Youth World Light Welterweight

Current titles: WBO light welterweight

Last five fights: d. Joel Casamayor, TKO, 8th; td. Devon Alexander, fight stopped in 10th (Bradley ahead on the scorecards); d. Luis Carlos Abregu, 12 (only other fight at 147); d. Lamont Peterson, 12; Nate Campbell, no contest (Bradley won all three rounds on each judge's scorecard)

Big Ray has been in his son's corner for every fight, through more than 140 amateur battles and his rise through the 140-pound division.

As he's fought bigger fights for bigger purses, Bradley has added a few people to his staff, but not many. He likes to keep his team small, preferring family and a few close friends.

It's a matter of trust, he said. He just doesn't let many outside people into his circle. It's not like he's an introvert. On the contrary, he's a sociable, friendly guy whom everyone likes. He's definitely not a thug like he was when he was a child.

It's a form of protection.

"It's a way to keep the leeches out," he said. "I'm making some money now, and lot of people change."

Lots of strangers come up to him, shove a card in his hand and offer something. Bradley wonders, "Where were you 10 years ago, eight years ago when I was struggling?"

Where were they before he left to fight Junior Witter in 2008, when he boarded the plane to England with just $11 in the bank, knowing he couldn't lose. If he did, he wouldn't be able to afford to be a full-time fighter.

Manny Pacquiao bio
Record: 54-3-2

Knockouts: 38

Age: 33

Height: 5-foot-6 1/2

Reach: 66 1/2 inches

Birthplace: Kibawe, Bukidnon Province, Philippines

Past titles: WBC Light Middleweight, WBC Lightweight, IBF Super Bantamweight, WBC Super Featherweight , IBF Super Bantamweight Champion, WBC Flyweight

Current titles: WBO welterweight (on the line)

Last five fights: d. Juan Manuel Marquez, majority decision; d. Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito, Joshua Clottey, unanimous decisions; d. Miguel Cotto, TKO, 12.

When you watch videos of the two boxers doing their running, the stark difference in the entourages hits you like a Pacquiao straight left. What seem like a dozens people or more follow the Filipino legend, while Bradley jogs alone or with a brother-in-law.

But unlike training runs of the past, Bradley spends a lot more time waving to folks in the neighborhood. His celebrity has taken off since he signed to fight Pacquiao. Everywhere he goes he stops for pictures, signs autographs, takes a little time to talk to his supporters.

The big-money fight has also afforded him the opportunity to add some specialists to his staff. Bradley, who commits to a vegan diet during training camp, has hired a chef from his favorite restaurant to come to Las Vegas so he won't have to eat in the hotel restaurants and fret that he might eat the wrong thing.

He has a new massage therapist, who is the wife of his strength coach. Gotta keep it in the "family," he reminded.

"You don't want just anybody laying hands on you," he said.

There is no doubt that Pacquiao will lay his hands on Bradley plenty on Saturday. Kellerman said Pacquiao's best chance for a knockout will come early. If it goes past five rounds, well, "That'll be a dogfight."

Finding the next Manny Pacquiao

Bradley hasn't seemed overwhelmed by increased media attention, the increased fan adoration, the increased pressure from getting in with the mighty Pacquiao.

"Once I set foot in that ring it doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter what you've done," he said.

He echoed earlier comments that his preparation for this fight, essentially the past 18 years, will ensure a legendary victory.

"I don't care if he climbed Mount Everest. I don't care if he's walking on water. This is about me," he told reporters last week. "Every morning I wake up and look at myself in the mirror. If I am at my very best, I will win the fight. I will be victorious. I put in the time, the dedication and the hard work."

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