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Behind the Scenes at Pacquiao-Bradley 2: Part Two

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Tim Bradley arrived in dressing room #1 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena at 6:00 pm on the night of Saturday, April 12. He was wearing a black Nike track suit with a white Team Bradley logo and black Nike shoes with white trim. Tim’s father (known as “Big Ray”), Joel Diaz, assistant trainer Samuel Jackson, conditioning coach James Rougely, and attorney Gaby Penagaricano were with him.

Bradley sat on a cushioned metal chair and rested his feet on another chair in front of him. HBO production coordinator Tami Cotel entered the room and asked if Tim would weigh-in on HBO’s fight-night scale. Bradley complied. One day earlier, he’d tipped the official scale at 145-1/2 pounds. Now he weighed 152. Minutes earlier, Pacquiao (who’d weighed in officially at 145) had registered 151 pounds.

Brief dressing room interviews with Max Kellerman and Bernardo Osuna followed. Then Tim sat back on the chair and closed his eyes, envisioning the battle ahead. His family’s financial future, his physical well-being, and his legacy as a fighter were all at risk. He was as well-prepared as he could be. But in all likelihood, so was Pacquiao.

At 6:25, Freddie Roach came into the room to watch Bradley’s hands being wrapped. Tim took off his wedding ring and handed it to his father for safekeeping. Joel Diaz began taping. Roach’s own hands were shaking visibly, a symptom of his Parkinson’s condition. Big Ray offered him a chair. Roach gestured “no thank you.”

No one spoke. At 6:40, the taping was done. Tim took off his jacket and shadow-boxed for ten minutes, stopping twice to sip water from a bottle that his father was holding. Then he sat down again.

Bradley gets his game face on earlier than most fighters. The next few hours would be about fighting, not charm school. The look on his face said, “Don’t f— with me.” He was summoning up an attitude.

Joel Diaz went next door to watch Roach wrap Pacquiao’s hands.

Tim stayed on the chair — sometimes with his eyes closed, sometimes open; sometimes with his head up, sometimes down — playing different fight sequences through in his mind.

If I do this, Pacquiao will do that. If Pacquiao does that, what do I do next?

The mood in the dressing room was intense. There were no attempts at levity, no smiles, no upbeat conversation. Few words were spoken.

At 7:10, Big Ray spread two towels side-by-side on the floor. Tim lay down and began a series of stretching exercises; first on his own, then with his father’s assistance. The exercises grew progressively more rigorous. At 7:40, Big Ray picked up the towels and Tim shadow-boxed again.

Referee Kenny Bayless entered and gave the fighter his pre-fight instructions.

After Bayless left, Tim resumed shadow-boxing.

Big Ray stepped in front of his son with a folded-up towel in each hand, assumed a southpaw stance to emulate Pacquiao, and aimed punches at his son. “Don’t let him get lower than you,” he cautioned.

“Put it together any way you want,” Diaz counseled. “You’re not a one-dimensional fighter.”

At eight o’clock, Tim sat, once again staring silently ahead.

Big Ray, Diaz, and Samuel Jackson took on the role of a Greek chorus, voicing thoughts one at a time.

“Fast like lightning.”

“Stay loose.”

“Control the pace. Make him do things he doesn’t want to do, and he’ll get tired.”

“Don’t be a gentleman. Rip his ass up on the inside.”

The voices were complementing, not competing with, each other.

“It ain’t about strength. It’s about knowledge.”

“That right hand will get him every time.”

“Fight like a cat.”

“Fight smart.”

Big Ray slammed the palm of his hand down hard on the table beside him.

“Do not be on the ropes,” he said. “Do not be on the ropes. You’re in deep shit if you’re on the ropes.”

Diaz gloved Tim up.

More shadow-boxing.

Again, the Greek chorus.

“That’s the way. Snap those punches.”

“On the inside, keep both hands up by your head.”

“Watch for his right hook on the inside.”

“It’s your night, baby. It’s your night.”

Tim sat.

“I’m excited,” he said.

Then he fell silent, his face registering a range of emotions.

The Greek chorus continued to sound in his ears.

“Right hand to the body. Hook to the body. Tear that body up.”

“If he gets under you, come up with the uppercut.”

“The conditioning is there. He won’t be able to deal with the pace.”

“Control him. Don’t let him control you.”

“Patience is a virtue. Take your time. If it goes twelve, amen.”

More shadow-boxing.

“We’re happy, man; we’re happy. Have fun.”

“Fight smart.”

“You’re the real deal, babe.”

Bradley began hitting the pads with Joel Diaz.

“Right over the top,” Diaz instructed. “Beautiful. You got twelve rounds, twelve f—–’ rounds to time that punch. You’re the champion. You’re the boss. You’re the big dog. You’re the man.”

The padwork ended.

Earlier in the week, Diaz had said, “In this sport, the most important thing is to be a professional at all times, in the ring and out of it.” Now he told the men around him, “We’re a team. Whatever happens in the ring tonight, we keep our composure.”

Pacquiao could be seen on a television monitor at the far end of the room leaving his dressing room and walking to the ring.

“It’s fun time, baby,” Bradley said.

Then the members of Team Bradley joined hands in a circle and Tim led them in prayer. He asked for the strength to prevail in the battle ahead. He asked that both he and Pacquiao emerge in good health. And he closed with a final thought for the Creator.

“Love you, man.”

The fight itself was heartbreak for Bradley. After a tactical first round, the combatants exchanged in the second stanza with Pacquiao getting the better of the action. In round three, Manny scored big early and maintained his edge with speed and angles. Then Bradley found a home for his right hand, buzzed Pacquiao with a hard right up top, and took rounds four and five.

At that point, Bradley was where he wanted to be in the fight. Two of the judges (Michael Pernick and Craig Metcalfe) had him leading three rounds to two, while Glenn Trowbridge’s card was the reverse. Tim’s strategy from day one had been premised on the idea that the second half of the fight would belong to him.

But the unthinkable was happening. After round three, Bradley had returned to his corner and told Joel Diaz, “I pulled a muscle in my calf.”

Now Tim’s gastrocnemius muscle was tearing apart.

“You’re losing your rhythm,” Diaz told his charge after round six. “What the f— is wrong?”

“I’m hurting,” Tim answered.

The rest of the fight belonged to Pacquiao. Except for a right hand to the body that hurt Manny visibly in round seven, Bradley couldn’t do much more than survive. He was now an impaired fighter. And round by round, the injury was getting worse.

Tim backed into corners, beckoned Manny in, and swung for the fences with wild right hands up top. The constant grinding aggression characteristic of his style was absent. It was an inexplicable strategy unless one knew the truth.

The final scoring of the judges was anti-climactic: 118-110, 116-112, 116-112 for Pacquiao.

Monica Bradley was waiting for her husband when Tim returned to the dressing room after the fight. Their 14-year-old son, Robert, and Tim’s mother were with her.

A large lump was visible on the back of Bradley’s right calf. He was limping badly.

“What’s up, baby?” Tim asked as he hugged Monica.

Then father and son embraced. “Some you lose; some you win,” Tim said. “A champion has to accept defeat when it comes. I tried my best.”

A kiss for Kathy Bradley was next. “I love you,” Tim told his mother.

Joel Diaz took out his cellphone and began snapping photos of the lump on Bradley’s calf.

A commission doctor came in and examined the injury.

“I don’t want to go to the emergency room,” Tim told the doctor. “And no wheelchair. I’m walking out on my own tonight.”

Two days later, the injury was fully diagnosed. Bradley will be wearing a moon boot for the next three months. The muscle tear was frustrating given its impact on the fight and the role of the fight in Tim’s life. But overall, fate has not been unkind to Bradley. In his three fights prior to this one (against Pacquiao, Provodnikov, and Marquez), he won decisions that could have gone the other way.

A fighter’s first loss is particularly hard to accept, but Tim took it in stride. “I lost to one of the best fighters in the world,” he told those gathered around him. “Pacquiao was on his game tonight. I did the best I could. I knew I was behind on points, so I went for the knockout with what I had. I’m a fighter. I’ll be back. I’d like to fight him again, but he probably won’t want to.”

Meanwhile, in the dressing room next door, Team Pacquiao was celebrating. But their joy was tempered by a deep cut over the left eye that Manny suffered after an accidental clash of heads in the final round. Thirty-five stitches would be needed to close the gash.

Pacquiao’s journey in boxing will continue.

So will Bradley’s.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His next book (Reflections: Conversations, Essays, and Other Writings) will be published by the University of Arkansas Press later this month.

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Terence Crawford Has Conquered the World, and Now He’s Won Over Nebraska

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It was a day of even more anguish for Nebraskans, making for a night of even more exultation in a state where boxing – or, at least a particular boxer – is emerging as a hero and much-needed source of pride for citizens left wondering about the sorry state of the once-mighty Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Hours after those Cornhuskers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, blowing a 10-point lead in the final 5 minutes, 21 seconds to fall 34-31 in overtime at Northwestern and begin a college football season 0-6 for the first time in program history, WBO welterweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford defended his title with panache and power, stopping previously undefeated challenger Jose Benavidez, Jr. in the 12th round to buttress his argument that he is the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. There are still pockets of resistance to his claim to that designation, of course, but none coming from the ESPN broadcast crew of Joe Tessitore, Timothy Bradley Jr. and Mark Kriegel, all of whom intermittently offered their opinion that the switch-hitting Omaha resident has now firmly established himself as best of the best.

The 31-year-old Crawford’s latest bravura performance was met with shouted hosannas of approval from the sellout crowd of 13,323 in Omaha’s CHI Health Center, a record for a boxing event in Nebraska, and a stark contrast to the burgeoning sense of panic among Cornhusker partisans, who have to be wondering who these impostors in the red-and-white uniforms are.

Crawford grew up in a poor section of Omaha as an avid Nebraska fan, and after his latest demonstration of nimble footwork, fast, accurate hands and surprising power you could hardly blame his fellow home-state citizens from wondering if he might be persuaded to enroll at NU and play quarterback for his floundering favorite team. The ability to finish strong, taking the fight even harder to Benavidez in the final round when the more prudent move might have been to simply run out the clock, stamps Crawford as the pugilistic equivalent of Tommie Frazier, the option master who led the Huskers to back-to-back national championships in 1994 and ’95. But even the legendary Frazier wasn’t perfect; he was 43-3 as a starter during his four-year college career. Crawford, now 34-0 with 25 wins inside the distance, has a vision of someday retiring undefeated, a goal that at this stage seems entirely reasonable.

Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum, Crawford’s promoter, cited the fighter’s 12th-round mugging of Benavidez, the key blow being a ripping right uppercut that he had hidden up his figurative sleeve like a card sharp’s ace, as proof that the three-division world champion is indeed separate and above the madding crowd.

“Most fighters today, in that position, having clearly won the fight, would back off in the 12th round, not take any chances and run out the clock,” Arum said. “Not him. He’s a performer. He wanted to close the show, and that’s what he did. That’s what makes him special. That is not the mindset most (other fighters) have. But Terence is a showman. He wants to make a statement.”

He especially wanted to make it, and as loudly as possible, against the mouthy Benavidez (27-1, 18 KOs), who has been talking smack about Crawford for months and gave him a hard shove at Friday’s weigh-in, which precipitated a retaliatory right hook from the champion. It missed, thankfully, but no matter. Crawford landed plenty of shots that did when it mattered, smoothly alternating, as always, from an orthodox stance to southpaw and back again.

“We just took our time today,” Crawford said, referring to himself in the plural rather than the singular, a nod toward his support team, most notably manager-trainer Brian McIntyre. “Everything that went on this week, he was trying to get in my head, wanting me to have a firefight with him. I knew if we got in a rhythm we could do whatever we wanted, and that’s what we did.

“He made me work in the early rounds. He was trying to counter me, working on my distance. I couldn’t figure it out at first. But once I got my distance, it was a rout from there.”

Maybe the rout evolved methodically and in a controlled fashion because that’s what Crawford, who had vowed to “punish” Benavidez for his impertinence, had in mind all along. He is a man of his word, and, also as he had vowed, he declined to touch gloves with Benavidez or to offer even a halfhearted hug after the final bell. No surprise there; like fellow Omaha native Bob Gibson, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Hall of Fame pitcher, he regards all opponents as the enemy and thus off-limits to fraternization of any kind.

What about that kept-in-reserve uppercut, which sent Benavidez tumbling awkwardly to the canvas and in obvious distress?

“I’d been seeing it rounds and rounds ahead of time,” said Crawford, who is now 5-0 in Omaha and 6-0 in  Nebraska, counting a sole appearance in Lincoln. “I seen him pulling back,but then he stopped pulling back so I started leaning more and more because I was touching him to the body. Then I threw the shot, and it landed.”

For those with a need to crunch numbers, official scorecards through 11 completed rounds all had the overwhelming wagering choice – Crawford went off at minus-3,000, or a 1-to-30 favorite – winning big on the scorecards tallied by judges Levi Martinez (110-99), Robert Hecko (108-101) and Glenn Feldman (107-102). Punch statistics furnished by CompuBox also were conclusive if not necessarily off-the-charts, with Crawford landing 186 of 579, a decent but not overly so 32.1 percent, to 92 of 501 (18.4 percent) for the outclassed but game Benavidez. But boxing is basically  an art form, not math, and like all artists Crawford is more about aesthetic impression than raw data.

For his part, Benavidez, who had promised to “shock the world” by “exposing” Crawford, figured he had done as well, if not better, than most of Bud’s previous victims.

“I gave him a hell of a fight,” Benavidez reasoned. “But I got tired. Boxing, you know. I was pretty impressive. I wanted to give the fans a fight that they paid to come watch. I know he didn’t think I would be that good.

“I take nothing from him. He’s the best of the best for a reason. He’s a good fighter, you know? But I’m a good fighter, too. I had that fight close.”

In the co-featured bout, 21-year-old featherweight Shakur Stevenson (9-0, 5 KOs), a silver medalist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, was much more dynamic than he had been in scoring a relatively pedestrian eight-round unanimous decision over Carlos Ruiz on Aug. 18 in Atlantic City, blasting out Romanian veteran Viorel Simion (21-3, 9 KOs) in one round. The southpaw Stevenson’s weapon of choice was the right hook, which he used to telling effect to floor Simion three times, prompting referee Curtis Thrasher to wave the bout off after an elapsed time of three minutes.

Simion, a 36-year-old Romanian whose previous losses were to former world champions Lee Selby and Scott Quigg, was penciled last in as a replacement for the injured Duarn Vuc, had never been stopped in his 12-year pro career and he looked askance at Thrasher, as if disbelieving that he would not be given the opportunity to fight his way out of trouble in the scheduled  10-rounder.  But, his legs still wobbly, he was not pleading a winnable case.

“My power was here tonight, and my speed,” said Stevenson, who claimed the vacant WBC Continental Americas 126-pound title. “Ain’t too much more that I can work on, but I’m going to keep staying sharp and get right back in the gym.”

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Close Early, Then All Crawford

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Terence “Bud” Crawford stopped Jose Benavidez, Jr at 2:42 of the 12th round. Benavidez came in with an unblemished record of 27-0. That run of success came to a screeching halt tonight. For the first half of the bout, Benavidez didn’t fight like the 20/1 underdog that the odds reflected in gaming shops across the globe. He made a good accounting for himself during the first six rounds, however the same can’t be said for the remainder of the fight, as Crawford dominated from the midway point on. It was the beginning of the end with Crawford landing a picture perfect uppercut that found it’s mark late in the final stanza. While Benavidez deserves credit for getting back to his feet, he only managed to prolong the inevitable for a handful of seconds more. Crawford goes to 34-0, with 25 by KO.

Story to follow.

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Kerobyan and Hovannisyan Score KO Wins in L.A.

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LOS ANGELES-Super welterweight prospect Ferdinand Kerobyan didn’t waste time and drilled Mexico’s Rolando Mendivil in less than a minute to win by knockout on Friday.

Kerobyan doesn’t get paid by the minute.

The North Hollywood fighter Kerobyan (11-0, 6 KOs) brought a large crowd to the Belasco Theater and didn’t give them much time to cheer as he blasted out Mendivil (10-6, 3 KOs) with an all-out attack.

Mendival never had a chance.

Kerobyan immediately connected with a three-punch combination capped with a left hook that dropped Mendivil in the first 15 seconds of the opening frame. The Mexican fighter got up and when the fight resumed Kerobyan clobbered Mendivil with a right cross and down he went on a knee. Referee Lou Moret had seen enough and stopped the fight at 49 seconds of the first round.

“I felt great. I never like to say that a fight is easy. I just make it look easy,” said Kerobyan. “I’m proud of my performance. I showed that I’m a warrior. I’m looking for bigger and better names. I want eight and 10 round fights only.”

In the co-main event, Azat Hovannisyan (15-3, 12 KOs) blitzed Colombia’s Jesus Martinez from the opening bell with an offensive attack void of any defense. He didn’t need any for the Colombian who was in full retreat until the fight was stopped. Hovannisyan unloaded a three-punch combination that included a left hook chaser and down went Martinez at 30 seconds into the fourth round of their super bantamweight clash.

“I feel stronger than ever before,” said Hovhannisyan. “Whatever has happened in the past is past. I’m ready for a world title fight. I know I still have a lot left in the tank.”

Other bouts

Richard “The Kansas Kid” Acevedo (4-0, 4 KOs) battered Mexico’s Javier Olvera (2-2, 1 KO) and ended the fight with three straight rights to the gut and head. Olvera flailed a few punches but other than that, it was all Acevedo as the fight ended at 2:30 of the first round of the super welterweight match.

Rudy “El Tiburon” Garcia (9-0, 1 KO) couldn’t miss with the left hook through all six rounds against Houston’s David Perez (10-5, 5 KOs) in their super bantamweight clash. Garcia fights out of L.A. but there was no hometown bias in this fight. He simply connected more with flush shots in every round. Perez showed a good chin and was never stunned or hurt. One judge scored it 59-56, the other two 60-54 all for Garcia.

David Mijares (6-0,3 KOs) won a hard fought split decision over Michael Meyers (2-1, 2 KOs) after four rounds in a super lightweight match. It had been over a year since Mijares had last fought, but the Pasadena fighter survived a last round knockdown and found a way past the strong Myers in winning the split decision 37-38, 38-37 twice.

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