LAS VEGAS -- Tim Bradley sat on a dais at the MGM Grand on Wednesday, black sunglasses covering his eyes, red and black headphones over his ears, a look of fierce determination on his chiseled face. Bradley stayed stoic for most of an hour-long press conference to promote his rematch with Manny Pacquiao, interrupting his stare to politely applaud members of his team when they were introduced, casting an occasional quick smile at his wife, Monica, sitting in the front row. When it was his turn to speak, Bradley declared he was not just going to beat Pacquiao, but beat him so badly that the outcome would leave little doubt.
It was an emboldened Bradley, a confident Bradley. It was a different Bradley than the broken man who needed to be pushed from this same building in a wheelchair nearly two years ago.
In the summer of 2012, Bradley bottomed out. The backlash from his controversial decision win over Pacquiao had been unrelenting. Columnists mocked the scoring, sniffed at the suggestion Bradley had won the fight. Fans bombarded his social media accounts with insults and death threats. His own promoter, Bob Arum, called for an investigation into the scoring.
Bradley couldn't believe it. Beating Pacquiao was supposed to catapult him into the mainstream, to give him the respect he had craved. Critics had chased Bradley for years. Despite wins over Kendall Holt, Lamont Peterson and Devon Alexander, Bradley was never accorded much respect. He was chided for using his head as a weapon, dismissed for his lack of knockout power.
Beating Pacquiao was supposed to change that. Beating Pacquiao was supposed to make him a star.
When it didn't, Bradley unraveled. Relegated to a wheelchair for weeks while his badly damaged feet healed, Bradley was inconsolable. Members of his team describe a man in the throes of a deep depression. After he recovered, Bradley showed little interest in going to the gym. He ballooned to 185 pounds, a staggering weight for a fighter who routinely keeps himself in top shape. He didn't return phone calls or text messages. When his trainer, Joel Diaz, showed up at his house, Bradley told him he had lost the love for the sport.
Ray Bradley hurt for his son. "I had never seen him like that," Ray said. But he worried for the rest of his family, too. The death threats didn't stop with Tim. A few weeks after the fight, Ray got a phone call. I'm sending you a gift, the voice on the other line said. Right to your front door. Ray called the police. He instructed his wife and daughter not to open any packages. For weeks he worried about what might be show up on his doorstep.
"It was terrible," Ray said. "The anger, I just couldn't understand it. And the reaction crushed Tim. It crushed his whole future."
At home, Monica Bradley watched in anguish as her husband fell deeper into the darkness. No one knew Tim better than Monica. They had been through so much. The two were middle school friends who reconnected in their early 20's. At that time, Monica was a divorced mother of two. She didn't think Tim would be interested in a relationship that included that type of added responsibility. He was. Years later, with the family perilously close to broke, Monica assumed the financial burden, allowing Tim to focus on training. When he did, he developed into a world champion.
Their relationship had survived a lot. But nothing like this.
"The way he was losing the love for what he was doing, it was hard to watch," Monica said. "He had so much love for boxing growing up. He loved being a world champion. And he was losing the love. We weren't sure if it was physical or mental. We couldn't figure out how to get him back."
Bradley returned to the ring nine months later against Ruslan Provodnikov, an unheralded Russian. Training camp was rough. Bradley spent most of it trying to shave the 35-plus pounds he had put on. On the day of the weigh-in, he spent part of it in the sauna, sweating off the last few pounds for the first time in his career. And a renewed round of criticism dogged him daily. In the weeks before the fight, Monica noticed Tim's public comments were tinged with an aggressive tone. The day before the Provodnikov fight, Bradley attended HBO's fighter meeting. During the meeting, he was asked if boxing will ever see a different Tim Bradley, a Bradley that will be involved in more fan friendly fights.
"That's when I knew that fight was going to be different," Monica said. "We talked about staying within his dimensions, about not fighting outside his element. We talked about doing what he does best. But I knew something was going to happen."
It did. For 12 rounds Bradley went to war with Provodnikov. They stood toe-to-toe, exchanging haymakers, refusing to back down. Bradley suffered a concussion in the first round. He kept fighting. He was dead on his feet in the 12th round. He took a knee and got back up. In between Bradley landed 347 punches, per CompuBox, outworking Provodnikov to earn a narrow unanimous decision.
The next few months were hard physically. Headaches and slurred speech dogged Bradley for months. But mentally, Monica saw Bradley turn a corner. The Provodnikov fight was lauded as a Fight of the Year candidate and Bradley was credited with delivering his most entertaining performance. Seven months later, Bradley returned to outpoint Juan Manuel Marquez. That win thrust Bradley into the Fighter of the Year discussion.
On Saturday, Bradley will defend his WBO welterweight title against Pacquiao (9 p.m., HBO PPV) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The pain from 2012 has long since dissipated. The success of 2013 has emboldened him. Nearly two years after the first Pacquiao fight, Monica is now sure of one thing: What happened was the best thing for him.
"He believes in himself so much more because of what he went through," Monica said. "He has grown so much. He's going to be a really smart fighter, a great fighter. He is going to shine."