Reasonable Questions

Jul 15, 2010

Timothy Bradley, the WBO junior welterweight champion, exits the 110 degree heat of the California desert and enters his gym through the back entrance. Perhaps one day he will do this to avoid adulating fans, but today he is merely complying with the rules: the Indio Boxing Club is attached to a Boys and Girls Club of America, and adults are prohibited access through the front. Bradley's entourage is modest, comprised of his wife and his father, who is dressed in an army camouflage shirt as if to take his son's nickname "Desert Storm" as earnestly as possible. Strutting past the raised ring, Bradley flashes a smile at his trainer Joel Diaz, who reaches a hand out from the ropes signaling an inaudible hello. As Tupac's 'Thugz Mansion' blasts on the stereo, Diaz intones with empathy, "Timothy has a lot of anger in him."

In the early 1990s, just beyond the windmills staked into the landscape of the Coachella Valley, before Timothy Bradley had discovered boxing, he discovered fighting. "Anytime anybody looked at me crazy or wrong," he says, "I'd go upside the head...I had over a hundred fights in the second grade." For his prolific fistic work on the playground, Bradley was kicked out of school.

Growing up in north Palm Springs, Bradley, now 26, was witness to the gang violence of the Gateway Posse Crips: "You see guys selling drugs that got a lot of money, girls, respect, and I'd say, 'That's what I want to be. I want people to respect me. I want all the girls. I want all the money.'" Bradley has chosen against gang life, but he earned respect as a student outside the classroom, where he'd teach his peers blunt lessons in political correctness by connecting his fists to their faces, as he explains, "The school [my sisters and I attended] was predominantly Latino and Caucasian...They used to call us 'monkeys,' 'niggers,' and all kinds of stuff ... I had to protect myself, and I had to protect my sisters."

In the fifth grade, Bradley's friend took him to a boxing gym. He fought and won his first amateur bout on April 4, 1994. Suddenly, the fistfights stopped. "I loved boxing so much that my parents started using it as leverage," Bradley says, adding, "If I got in trouble or got bad grades, they wouldn't let me go to the boxing club, and I wasn't going to let that happen."

About the same time, Joel Diaz banged on a man's door, hoping to ask a reasonable question: "Why are you telling people you are going to kill me?" No one opened the door. Diaz recalls snapping, "I got my gun from my car...I had a fully automatic AK-47...I had thirty raw magazines. It was a MAK 90. I completely destroyed his house." No charges were pressed. Later, Diaz's mom sat him down, saying, "You're the oldest. You're supposed to be an example for your brothers. I can't believe you're doing this."

Bradley assesses the game plan in three broad strokes: "I take my time. I let them make mistakes. I make them pay."

Diaz was himself a professional fighter, ending his career at 17-3 after a detached retina prevented him from fighting for the WBC lightweight title on an undercard of Oscar De La Hoya (whom he previously helped as a sparring partner). Diaz began drinking - "I love tequila," he says - and fell into a depression. "I'd take my gun in the middle of the night and go up in the mountains and cry and shoot into the mountains," he recalls. It became his release.

To make money, Diaz worked as a bodyguard for a childhood friend who was a drug dealer, affording him moments to take out his aggression: "My boss would say, 'That guy right there needs to be taken out.' He didn't need to tell me twice." One day, though, his boss had to flee the country, causing Diaz to reevaluate his path, thinking to himself, "What am I doing? Am I going to ruin my life? Am I going to end up in jail? Am I going to end up dead?" Diaz returned to boxing, this time dedicating himself to becoming a trainer and achieving success with his younger brother Julio, eventually seeing him to two world titles. Diaz says of reforming his ways, "I'd rather be here in the gym, creating some positive things for kids than be out on the street creating trouble."

In 2004, after a decorated amateur career, Timothy Bradley needed a new trainer. The first man he approached asked for a percentage before they had even begun the conversation. Discouraged, Bradley left, then turned to Joel Diaz with a reasonable question:

"You think you can help me out?"

"Yeah," said Diaz, "But on one condition."

"What's that?"

"You gotta start all over from scratch," the cornerman said, "You gotta learn how to throw your jab correctly now, a professional jab - you gotta learn all your punches all over again." Bradley complied.

Twenty-five fights later, he is undefeated and has won two titles. Now, Bradley is moving up seven pounds to face welterweight Carlos Luis Abregu, an undefeated Argentine puncher with 23 knockouts in 29 fights.

Though rippling with muscle, Bradley only has one knockout in his last 10 fights, Diaz notes, "You know when he hits harder? When he's tired. He's so muscular and compacted. He uses so much muscle and force that at the end he's pushing, not cracking." Bradley's father, who was an amateur bodybuilder, got his son hooked on weightlifting from an early age. Diaz remarks that the excess of muscle may look impressive, but restricts flexibility. After Bradley failed to knock out Donald Camarena landing punch after punch, Bradley agreed to curb the weightlifting. 

For Bradley, Abregu will be a test of size and endurance. The move to welterweight led to speculation that Bradley has since confirmed to the press: he would like to fight either of boxing's pound-for-pound kings, Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao. His promoter Gary Shaw made a claim that Bradley could knock out Miguel Cotto at junior middleweight. Bradley seemed less enthusiastic about that idea.

The move up is Bradley's attempt to do in the pros what he could not achieve in the amateurs: beat the best bigger guys. He lost twice in the amateurs to current WBA welterweight titlist Andre Berto and once to junior middleweight contender Vanes Martirosyan. Interestingly, Bradley defeated Vaughn Alexander, the older brother of Devon (20-0), who is the current WBC and IBF junior welterweight champion (and is facing Andriy Kotelnik on August 7). A fight between Bradley and Alexander is widely considered the bout to determine who is the best 140-pound fighter in the world.

For now, Abregu is the focus, and the strategy is to box the early rounds and apply pressure after the fourth, which is the generally accepted point at which the Argentine implodes. Bradley assesses the game plan in three broad strokes: "I take my time. I let them make mistakes. I make them pay." On a normal day of sparring, Bradley pushes his stamina, going eight four-minute rounds with 30-second rests with two different sparring partners, a 154-lb and 160-lb contender. "I have to try really hard to get tired," Bradley says.

As for the anger, there are still moments of it. Before the twelfth round against Kendall Holt, Diaz told his trainee in the corner, "Timmy, you're winning the fight. Don't rush him. Box him." Bradley, however, wanted to brawl, rushed in, and got caught with a right uppercut that momentarily caused his glove to touch the canvas. "It's the only time he didn't listen to me," sighs Diaz, "but I have a feeling it won't happen again."

Watch 2010-07-17 Timothy Bradley vs Luis Carlos Abregu

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