Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley’s ready for his entrance to the big show.
More than 10 years of boxing both amateur and professionally have led to this weekend when Bradley faces Mexico’s Jose Luis Castillo (56-8-1, 48 KOs) on Saturday March 8 in Cancun Mexico, for the number one spot in the WBC junior welterweight rankings.
So far there is little noise for this fight. No matter, Bradley is accustomed to struggling in desolate areas. He’s a desert fighter.
“In the desert you can remember your name cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain....” those were lyrics by the musical group America from 37 years ago, but they’re somewhat fitting for Bradley, the latest bloom from the hot sands.
“It’s finally here,” Bradley (21-0, 11 KOs) says. “It’s the big stage.
In four short years Bradley has ransacked the junior welterweight division in the western portion of the country. From sledgehammer lefties to slick-boxing cuties, the Palm Springs boxer has remained undefeated. He’s hungry for the attention though it will not be televised.
“I’ve been waiting for this my whole life,” said Bradley (21-0, 11 KOs), age 24. “When they told me about this fight I got sweaty hands and got a little nervous. But it’s exciting.”
Castillo is not an easy task. He has more knockouts than Bradley has fights.
“Castillo is a former champion and it won’t be easy,” said Alex Camponovo, the matchmaker for Thompson Boxing Promotions who has helped guided Bradley’s career. “He has a lot of experience.”
The Mexican fighter known as “El Temible”, has encountered and beaten a number of fighters considered the best in the lightweight division. Few can forget his first battle against the late Diego Corrales back in May 7, 2005. That fight is considered one of the greatest ever witnessed.
Two fights with Corrales, two with Floyd Mayweather and many other brutal encounters against boxers such as Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton have visibly encumbered the proud Mexican fighter from Mexicali.
“Jose Luis Castillo has been in so many wars,” said Roberto Diaz, a matchmaker for Golden Boy Promotions. “It will be interesting to see if he has anything left, but you can never tell.”
Experts wonder aloud if Bradley has the tools to offset Castillo’s overwhelming experience.
“Tim has made a lot of improvements,” said Camponovo.
Though Bradley’s talent as an amateur was evident his fighting style was not conducive to a big promotional contract especially without an Olympic medal to back him. Instead he was seen as another Black American fighter with super athleticism, but not a crowd pleaser.
Boy, were a lot of people wrong.
One day Bradley met fledgling boxing promoter Ken Thompson and his right-hand man Camponovo who handles matchmaking and boxing operations. They discussed boxing and the Palm Springs youngster was invited to participate in a boxing show in Corona, California.
In his first pro fight on Aug. 20, 2004, Bradley made his pro debut in Corona. That hot summer night Bradley stopped fellow fledgling Francisco Martinez in two rounds and displayed speed of hand and feet.
“Watch this guy,” said Freddie Barrera, a Riverside boxer. “I’ve fought him many times in amateurs and he’s very good.”
Next, Bradley fought in Ontario at the Doubletree Hotel on October 2004. It would be the first of 11 fights at that venue. In his first boxing match there he boxed and moved, showed off his quick feet and stuck out his tongue. The crowd booed.
Never again would a boxing crowd see Bradley fight in that manner.
Those boos seemed to change Bradley. Against Luis Medina at the Doubletree Hotel on November 2004, Bradley attacked like a man possessed and knocked out his opponent in 18 seconds.
A new fighter was born that day.
“Timmy can fight anyway he chooses,” said Joel Diaz, who has trained Bradley for all of his pro fights. “He can out-box you or he can out bang you.”
The next Shane Mosley
Since 2004 the Palm Springs fighter has refined his boxing style from “hit and run” to an aggressive but strategic “seek and destroy” method of fighting.
“He fights a lot like Shane Mosley,” said Robert Diaz, who also guides several Southern California boxers like Dominic Salcido. “He can box and he can punch.”
Like Mosley, Bradley is not a tall fighter for his 140-pound weight class at five feet six-inches. But he’s very muscular and likes to lift weights, much like Mosley.
“He doesn’t lift weights any more,” said Joel Diaz, who as trainer asked his fighter to refrain from building muscle. “Now he can get down to 135 pounds if he wants to.”
As an amateur boxer Bradley fought at the 152-pound weight division despite always being the shorter fighter. Now he competes solely at the 140-pound weight division where his natural strength gives him an edge.
“I remember seeing Tim Bradley at 152 pounds. He’s a really strong fighter,” said IBF junior welterweight titleholder Paul Malignaggi of Brooklyn, New York. “He has good hand speed and he’s really strong.”
As Bradley prepares for his encounter with Castillo a number of other pro fighters from the Palm Springs desert area arrived in the Indio boxing gym to lend a hand. Fighters like Steve “The Mongoose” Quinonez and Julio “The Kidd” Diaz both fought Castillo in the past. They’re here to help.
“It’s hard to say how Castillo is going to fight Bradley,” said Quinonez. “Castillo has had a lot of hard fights.”
All of the desert boxers stick together. Julio Diaz, a former IBF lightweight champion, provides sparring for Bradley. His older brother Antonio Diaz also puts on the gloves to imitate Castillo.
“Preparation has really been intense,” said trainer Joel Diaz. “Tim has a lot of speed but sometimes he wants to go in there and brawl.”
Bradley has shown a penchant for slugging it out with Mexican boxers in a show of machismo. But his trainers and father aren’t looking for that kind of fight.
“We literally have to calm him down,” said Tim Bradley Sr., the father. “This fight here is going to be a technical fight, not just punches.”
In Cancun, Bradley will be accompanied by a few of his desert cohorts all anxious to witness the future.
“He’s our baby,” said Camponovo. “We’ve seen him develop for four years now. It’s a huge step for Timothy.”
Bradley goes through his paces of hitting the bag, jumping rope and working on technique with his trainers and sparring partners. After a two-hour workout it’s less than a week before he enters the outdoor ring of the beach resort to face the former world champion Castillo.
“It feels like a dream come true to finally be stepping up in competition and be fighting a worthy opponent like Jose Luis Castillo,” Bradley says. “It’s a new stage for me fighting on a world class event, and Mexico, but I’m not sidetracked by any of that at all. I’m just ready.”
Once Bradley steps into the ring in Mexico against a Mexican fighter Castillo, the young desert fighter knows what to expect after fighting internationally as an amateur in places like Germany, Ireland, France, Puerto Rico and Mexico.
“I know there’s going to be a lot of boos coming my way but I’m used to it,” explains Bradley. “As a young Black American fighter I’ve faced a lot of Hispanic and Mexican fighters throughout my career. I’m just going to give my all.”
Who Should Floyd Mayweather fight next: