Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley had just finished his quest for the U.S. Olympic boxing team. He didn’t make the cut.
He was walking through a parking lot at a Palm Springs golf course hotel headed to a party to try and forget about not making his dream when he spotted a guy walking out of a van.
“It had the Thompson’s boxing logo on it,” said Bradley, who at the time was an amateur boxer living in Indio. “I asked if they were a professional boxing promoters and asked if they had a business card.”
As simple as that, the connection between Bradley and fledgling Thompson Boxing Promotions was made.
The brand new promoters who only had one fighter signed – Riverside, California’s Josesito Lopez – put Bradley to the test with four pro bouts held in Ontario, California. He won all four contests convincingly.
“His first fight he danced and moved around,” said Joel Diaz, his trainer. “I told him you need to entertain the crowd too. From then on he became a brawler. He always does what I tell him.”
Thompson Boxing signed Bradley after the fourth fight.
Now, four years after that day in the golf course parking lot, Bradley, now 24, has a grip on the WBC junior welterweight title and is still part of Thompson Boxing Promotions, which with help from Gary Shaw Productions, has its first world champion.
From club fights in Ontario to a championship in London, England, the two accomplished a feat seldom seen today.
That just doesn’t happen much in pro boxing.
Pro boxing has more traps and dirty deeds than other sports. It seems whenever a trainer molds a fighter into championship status somebody else comes around with a fistful of dollars and promises of championship belts, TV and women, and lures the talented fighter away.
The sharks get their way.
Of course it’s really up to the fighter to decide whether to stay with the small-time trainer, promoter and manager or go with the multi-million dollar promotion company.
Bradley chose to stay with the small-time promoters and allow Gary Shaw Productions to do its magic as co-promoter.
“It’s enough to make you cry,” said Kenny Thompson, the president of Thompson Boxing Promotions, which is based in Orange County.
Bradley was not about to cut loose the promoters who believed in him when others cast him aside after failing to make the Olympic team.
“I thought boxing was different from what it is,” said Bradley (22-0, 11 KOs) during a victory celebration held at the Palm Restaurant in downtown Los Angeles last Wednesday. “I thought I was going to get a big promotional contract. But I knew after I didn’t get to the Olympics I wasn’t going to get that.”
The road to the championship
When Bradley was signed to fight England’s Junior Witter, the most feared junior welterweight on the planet, many experts around the world including the Showtime television announcers felt his number one ranking was not earned.
It was a bad assumption.
Today, most boxing writers only follow the elite fighters who perform on HBO fight cards or pay-per-view telecasts. Very few attend club shows that all talented boxers have to experience before reaching the mega-fights. If the doubting journalists had attended Bradley’s club shows they would have realized he had that something extra: a lot of heart.
For many, the fight that displayed his championship pedigree came on July 2005 when he faced an unknown Brazilian southpaw named Marcos Andre Rocha Costa, who was four inches taller, a southpaw, fast and had power. Plus, his record of no wins and one loss was inaccurate, he actually had eight wins and one loss. It was too late to back out that night in downtown Los Angeles.
“That was the day I knew Timothy had something extra,” said Diaz, whose brothers Julio and Antonio both won world titles. “He dug down deep and knocked the guy out. He was hurt in that fight but refused to quit. I knew then he would become a champion.”
It wasn’t the last test. He would face a murderer’s row of tough Mexican fighters whose chins could withstand any punch. He also faced a number of good young hungry fighters on the brink of stardom like Eli Addison and Nasser Athumani who may not be household names, but are very talented.
So when Bradley was penned to fight Witter in London, only those who had seen him fight in the club shows in Ontario or Corona, California knew he had that talent and speed to deal with the champion.
“They probably looked at his tapes and thought he was a brawler,” said Diaz. “He fought that way on the Showtime fights, but Timmy can box.”
Nobody is going to be nice
Coachella Valley is one of the hottest places on earth. Summer temperatures regularly reach 122 degrees and it’s even hotter inside the Indio boxing gym where Bradley regularly trains.
Bradley’s nickname, “Desert Storm,” comes from his residing in the Palm Springs area that has recently become home to numerous successful prizefighters. Desert towns like Indio, Coachella, Cathedral City and Palm Desert are all in the vicinity and all have boxing clubs.
“There’s nothing else to do so we fight,” Bradley says.
Before leaving the safe haven of California to fight Witter, Diaz told his pupil to expect bad treatment.
“Listen Timmy, I told him, nobody is going to be nice to you. So just smile when things go wrong,” Diaz said to Bradley during the flight over to England. “Laugh at everything they do. Just keep your mind focused on the plan we got.”
At the British airport, one of the custom agents asked Bradley to state his business. When the likeable boxer told him he was a professional boxer challenging Witter for the WBC title, the agent asked Bradley did he believe he had a chance?
“I told him I hoped he would be around when I return with the belt,” said Bradley.
Later, at the hotel where the team was placed, Bradley was told his room was unmade and worse, the air conditioning was not working. “I guess they don’t know I’m used to the heat.” Though Diaz offered to exchange rooms, Bradley kindly refused.
“He took a five hour nap on the floor,” said Diaz.
The problems didn’t stop there.
A few days before the fight the British boxing officials demanded that Bradley be weighed on the scale. It was determined he should weigh no more than 143 a few days before needing to make 140. The supposed calibrated scale showed Bradley weighed 144.7.
Diaz ran to the room to get their own scale and found yet another scale to determine the accuracy. When weighing two dumbbells on the non-calibrated scales the weights were perfect. It was the alleged calibrated scale that was not accurate.
The British officials had to agree.
Few outside Southern California expected Bradley to pose a true challenge to the fighter most considered superior to that other English fighter, Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton. After all, Witter demolished former champion Vivian Harris and was being avoided by Hatton.
But the fans who had watched Bradley perform in front of sold out cards in Southern California knew he was lightning fast, durable and able to fight in different styles.
“I told Timmy to listen to me and follow the plan and he will win,” said Diaz.
In front of more than 10,000 pro-Witter fans, the Coachella Valley prizefighter entered the ring to a symphony of boos and remarks.
“I remember one guy yelling the Hitter is going to knock you out Bradley,” mused Bradley.
Diaz’s plan was to thwart Witter from setting up the left hand and frustrating the southpaw.
“He expected Timmy to brawl,” said Diaz of Witter. “I had him moving around always on his toes. That’s why Junior Witter was missing so many punches.”
The plan was to shift into another gear in the sixth round. That’s exactly what Bradley did including dumping Witter with an overhand right from hell, or Coachella Valley.
Bradley would win the WBC world title and recently was flown to Rhode Island to be a guest on ESPN. He was also honored in Palm Springs where he now lives. It could have been a much different scenario, but he stuck to his team when he could have moved to a bigger promotion company.
“Honestly, most guys would give up and go for the big money, but you don’t find promoters and people like this,” said Bradley. “They’re not only my promoters, they’re like my best friends.”
Bradley remembers going to Los Angeles Laker games with the Thompson team, meeting Ice Cube who has a slew of box seats next to Thompson Boxing Promotions, and he remembers going to Spain for the WBC convention with the promotion company and being honored there by the committee. He also remembers his talks with Thompson and with the matchmaker and general manager Alex Camponovo.
“We could talk about anything,” Bradley says.
As the matchmaker, Camponovo guided Bradley’s career to the world title. It’s quite an achievement for a man who has only been in the business for eight years and basically grew with Bradley and the promotion company.
“When I first met Alex I was president of the World Boxing Hall of Fame. Within a short time he knew more about boxing than anybody in the World Boxing Hall of Fame,” says Thompson, who signed Camponovo to guide his boxing group. “He has this talent to spot quality fighters and not only that, but quality people as well.”
During the celebration held at the Palm Restaurant last week, two blocks away from the location where the next American Idol was going to be announced, Camponovo, Thompson and Bradley sat in front of the media to watch the tape of the fight one more time. When the ring announcer called out the winner, dozens inside the plush eatery broke out into applause.
Camponovo smiles broadly because he knows that the victory was not just for the fighter, but for the little guys everywhere trying to make it big.
“A lot of fighters walk away and get big-headed, but Timmy stuck with us,” Camponovo says of Bradley. “And now we have a champion among us.”
Thompson, who owns a building material manufacturing company, has accumulated many achievements in his life, but seeing Bradley win the world title goes to the top of his list.
“We will never forget that night as long as we live. I’ll never forget that feeling,” said Thompson.
Sometimes good things come in small packages.