Corona is a small town that once was home to one of the greatest bantamweights who ever lived back in the 1940s. But one sweltering hot summer day another boxer stepped foot in a boxing ring there to make his pro debut.
Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley entered the prize ring on Aug. 20, 2004 and embarked on a sizzling pro career that saw him grab numerous world titles and after 37 pro bouts including several million dollar purses, he announced his retirement last Saturday.
Only one man ever defeated him.
Bradley, 33, won world titles in the junior welterweight and welterweight division with a style that can be best described as part human tornado mixed with lightning. He also possessed one of the greatest “no quit” attitudes I’ve seen in a prizefighter.
The summer afternoon that Bradley made his pro debut he exhibited athleticism that stood out. That small fight card featured several fighters that would go on to challenge for world titles including Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola, Josesito Lopez and Juan Carlos Rubio.
When Bradley traded blows that night against his opponent Francisco Martinez, little did anyone know, including Martinez, that fans were witnessing the first steps of greatness.
That kind of talent had not been seen in Corona since Manuel Ortiz dominated the bantamweight division from 1942 to 1950 when he finally lost the world title to Vic Toweel in South Africa.
From that day in 2004 until April 2014 the boxer from Palm Springs did not lose a professional fight. Among those unable to have their hands raised against Bradley were Juan Manuel Marquez, Joel Casamayor, Ruslan Provodnikov and Brandon Rios. That’s some murderer’s row.
In Bradley’s second pro bout, he completely dominated and befuddled a kid named Ray Nunez. The fight was so easy for Bradley that he began to do Ali shuffles and fire dazzling combinations. It was too easy for Bradley and Thompson Boxing Promotions signed Bradley who had been overlooked by the bigger promotion companies.
That first year in 2004 Bradley and his team – that included trainer Joel Diaz – blitzed through opponents like a knife through butter. Next year, 2005, turned out to be the year of discovery.
A boxing card held in downtown Los Angeles took place at the L.A. Athletic Club. On this summer night in July, the opponent picked for Bradley was some Brazilian named Marcos Andre Rocha Costa (0-1) who was supposed to be about Bradley’s size. Not only was the opponent five inches taller, but he also was a southpaw and later he revealed he had 10 wins. It was too late to back out.
When the two stood toe to toe during the introductions Costa towered over Bradley. And when he took a southpaw stance I looked over at the trainer Diaz and I could see a slight bit of panic. Then I looked at Bradley and there he was composed but with a sheen of seriousness that he never displayed before as a pro. It was as if he told himself “well, now it’s really on.”
This Brazilian could crack and he had speed. Bradley did his best to make adjustments and used his own speed wisely. It was a back and forth battle in front of a small crowd in the gentleman’s athletic club. People running around the indoor track a floor above stopped their jogging to take a look at the action. The two boxers were trading serious leather.
It may have been the fourth round when Bradley ran into a left cross and wobbled a bit. The Brazilian saw it and immediately went for the kill. Bradley suddenly realized what was happening and set all his guns blazing. The taller Brazilian was taken aback and his assault stalled. In the next round, Bradley suddenly realized that his only chance for victory was to let loose and he did. The Brazilian fighter looked helpless as Bradley rained blows on him until the fight was stopped at 2:15 of the fifth round.
After the fight, several people asked me what I thought and it was obvious that Bradley would be a world champion. At least to me it was.
A couple of fights later Bradley would win the WBC Youth title. His prize for winning the title was a trip to Spain along with Josesito Lopez where he met dignitaries and other boxing people. When both Bradley and Lopez returned they were treated to a Los Angeles Laker game at Staples Center.
Thompson Boxing Promotions had season tickets in one of those private boxes. About a dozen people were sitting with the Thompson group when one of them recognized the people in the next box were celebrities. Apparently, the ticketholder for the box next to Thompson’s were rapper Ice Cube’s box seats.
One of the Thompson group started a conversation with Ice Cube and he agreed to walk over during intermission to meet Bradley and company. One of Bradley’s team yelled “hey Ice Tea” causing someone to laughingly correct him. Ice Cube walked over despite the slight and shook hands with everyone and asked about Bradley.
“He will be a world champion,” I said without hesitation to the now famous actor, director and writer. “I can guarantee it.”
I should have bet money on that prediction.
From 2004 to 2008 the desert prizefighter wreaked havoc on all opponents with his speed and willpower. He wasn’t the hardest-hitting junior welterweight but he wasn’t the weakest. And when he unleased that speed and athleticism on foes there was a look of surprise on each of them.
The moment of truth arrived for Bradley when he was offered a fight against England’s Junior Witter, the WBC junior welterweight titlist. It was a big step for Bradley whose best opponent till that time was some guy named Miguel Vazquez. Nobody could have guessed at the time that Mexico’s Vazquez would later rule the lightweight division for more than four years as a world champion. Many felt Bradley was not ready for the super-fast and extremely awkward Witter who learned from the school of Prince NaseemHamed.
Fighting overseas for a world title is the ultimate test for any prizefighter. Not only are you participating in an extremely hostile environment, but the judges and referees are not looking to favor you.
When Bradley’s team arrived there were problems from the time they arrived until he stepped inside the ropes. No rooms, no luggage, no bed, no food, and the fighter’s wife had plane arrival problems too. It was a comedy of horrors that seemed to spell doom for the challenger from the desert community of Palm Springs.
Once the fight started Bradley zeroed in on Witter and that was bad for Witter. The British fighter was accustomed to dazzling opponents with his awkwardness but he never got an opportunity. The Southern Californian stormed out and grabbed the momentum and never let up. An overhand right connected and dropped Witter with a thud in the sixth round. Once again Bradley willed himself to victory and shocked the pro-Witter crowd in Nottingham. Bradley returned home with the WBC junior welterweight belt. And he never looked back.
Wins over Edner Cherry, Kendall Holt, Nate Campbell and Lamont Peterson followed. The next great challenge was expected to be Devon Alexander in a battle of undefeated junior welterweights. Bradley was the underdog according to experts who all cited Alexander’s speed superiority.
I remember reading about the supposed speed superiority cited by East Coast writers and it made me chuckle.
Speed superiority? Had they ever seen Bradley fight? Did they watch him out-speed the supposedly faster Witter?
When Bradley met Alexander you would have thought the St. Louis prizefighter saw a ghost. As soon as Bradley unleashed his combinations Alexander was overwhelmed and out of his element. The fight was stopped in the 10th round due to a cut over Alexander’s eye but it was clear as a sunny day in the Palm Springs desert that Bradley was the winner.
Despite success in the boxing ring Bradley decided to change promoters. While many of his rivals were making strides he wanted an opportunity to fight the elite. That wasn’t going to happen unless he signed with the elite promoters.
Ironically, years earlier Top Rank showed no interest in signing Bradley though he was considered a very good amateur fighter.
As an amateur Bradley fought in the welterweight division which is 152 pounds. Despite always facing much bigger guys with extremely long reach advantages, he always battled and left an impression.
Andre Ward, the current undefeated light heavyweight world champion, actually fought Bradley as an amateur and swears it was one of his most difficult fights.
“It was hard to keep him off of me,” said Ward chuckling when we spoke several years ago on Bradley. “He was small and hard to hit.”
Others like retired world champion Paul Malignaggi remember watching Bradley perform in amateur tournaments and giving fits against the competition despite his size disadvantage as a welterweight.
“It was amazing,” recounted Malignaggi.
Speed and determination became his trademark and “Desert Storm” became his fight moniker. It fit quite nicely.
After Bradley’s continued success in the junior welterweight division Top Rank announced a press conference that took place at the Beverly Hills Hotel in September 2011. Bradley and his wife Monica Bradley met the media in the plush hotel and described the reasons they signed with Top Rank – a date with Manny Pacquiao.
Bradley fought Joel Casamayor on October 2011 on the same card that Pacquiao fought Juan Manuel Marquez. Both Bradley and Pacquiao won and it set up a date for their clash on June 2012 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
As in many of his previous title fights Bradley was again the underdog against the Filipino superstar who had not lost a fight since losing to Erik Morales in 2005. That night Bradley’s speed and agility allowed him to match blows against Pacquiao and emerge the winner by split decision.
I saw Bradley as the winner and I still say he won the fight despite others saying to the contrary. It was a case of Pacquiao overlooking the Southern Californian and not being at 100 percent. He tried stealing the fight by waiting until the last 30 seconds of each round to fire combinations. Bradley fought three minutes of every round while Pacquiao only fought 30 seconds. It didn’t fool the judges but it fooled the fans and most of the media.
Fan reaction, from Pacquiao’s fans in particular, was vicious. It led to his unnecessary encounter with a Russian juggernaut that nobody wanted to face.
Fight of the Year
Pacman and Bradley would fight two more times with Pacquiao winning. But after that first encounter, Bradley next defended the WBO welterweight title he wrested from Pacman against Russian slugger Ruslan Provodnikov.
The battle between Bradley and Provodnikov was so brutal and mesmerizing that it was voted Fight of the Year by most boxing publications. But it also left damage to Bradley that took months to recover despite winning.
“You don’t want to be in a Fight of the Year,” said Bradley. “That usually means you took a lot of punishment.”
But over the years Bradley was usually the one giving more punishment than he absorbed. Only one fighter in the world can say he defeated Bradley and that’s Pacquiao. No other man can claim he defeated the Palm Springs prizefighter who was almost always the shorter opponent whenever he entered the ring.
Size never mattered with Bradley except for the size of his heart.
Outside of the boxing arena Bradley was one of the classiest and well-liked professional boxers you could ever meet.
“Boxing gave me roots, it kept me off the streets, it gave me confidence, it taught me how to be a man and face every challenge head on and take the good with the bad,” said Bradley in his retirement farewell statement.
If the desert fighter had lived in Los Angeles or any large metropolis the media would have garishly praised the boxer from Southern California.
“Man, it’s been one heck of a ride,” said Bradley. “Thank you for cheering me on when I didn’t deserve it, loving me most when I needed it and for being my heartbeat to keep going day after day. I am the man I am today because of you all.”
It all started in the sleepy town of Corona, the home of another boxing great, Manuel Ortiz, who fought and won with little praise. It’s left for boxing writers like me to tell the tale of one of the best…Tim Bradley.
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