LAS VEGAS -- Let's talk about Tim Bradley's head. You know, that mass of flesh and bone that sits atop his neck and has become the most talked about advantage Bradley has against Manny Pacquiao on Saturday night.
Pacquiao has power? Well Bradley has a big head.
Pacquiao has speed? Can't get out of the way of Bradley's big head.
Pacquiao has experience? Bradley's big head has been through wars, too.
Oh the stories they tell of Bradley's head.
Sitting at a table in a makeshift press tent at the MGM Grand on Thursday, I asked Bradley if his head is the most over covered body part in sports.
"I've had a ton of questions about it," he said. "Some people think I'm going to use it as a weapon. They think if I say I'm going to win with whatever means necessary, that I'm going to use my head like a battering ram. It doesn't bother me. I've been down that road already. I'm doing my part to eliminate head clashes. I don't want to put a disgusting taste in the fans mouth."
According to Bradley's trainer, Joel Diaz, talk of Bradley's head began in 2007, during training for a fight with Manuel Garnica. And it hasn't stopped since.
"He's just tired of people saying he uses his head intentionally," Diaz said. "It gets old. It bothers him. It bothers the whole team."
To be clear, no one has suggested Bradley is a dirty fighter. But the head is a variable. For most of his career, the 5-foot-6 Bradley has fought taller fighters. As such, he often lunges forward when he punches, which frequently leads to head-to-head contact.
In 2009, a TKO win over Nate Campbell was changed to a no-contest after the California commission ruled that it was Bradley's head, not a punch, that opened up the cut that stopped the fight. Last year, Devon Alexander complained that Bradley head butts opened up cuts on his face, too.
Pacquiao's camp is concerned about Bradley's butting. They have dubbed him "Billygoat Bradley" and have made avoiding his dome a very specific part of training. During mitt work, Freddie Roach chased Pacquiao around the ring, head extended like an ostrich. One of Roach's major strategic adjustments has been for Pacquiao (54-3-2) to slip the head butt and then crush Bradley over the top with that concussive left hand.
"If Manny does that effectively," Roach told me recently, "he's going to knock this guy out."
Bradley has taken great pains during this camp to take his head out of the equation. He says he has worked on staying on his back foot, shooting his jab and avoiding lunging in before blasting away. He says he expects to have more power and that -- surprise! -- head butts won't be a factor.
Here's the thing though: If Bradley is actively trying to avoid throwing head butts, well, it is already. Head clashes are inevitable when southpaws (like Pacquiao) and orthodox fighters (like Bradley) fight. Throw in the fact that Pacquiao comes in head first a lot too and you have a recipe for some skull smacking. But if Bradley (28-0) were going out of his way not to bump heads, wouldn't that take him out of a style that has kept him unbeaten in his career?
"It could," Bradley admitted. "I guess we will have to see."
Roach, for one, isn't buying Bradley's head-free style. He believes that once Bradley tastes Pacquiao's power, all thoughts of avoiding head clashes will be gone, and that thick skull will become a weapon once again. He thinks Bradley will come in head first and it will be Pacquiao's duty to club it right off.
Bradley hopes Pacquiao and Roach are preoccupied with his head, because it will draw attention away from his fists. Bradley doesn't have much power (12 knockouts) but he's one of the most active fighters in boxing. And Bradley insists he won't fight a cautious fight; he won't go into survival mode like Shane Mosley or Joshua Clottey before him. He may lose, but it won't be for lack of effort.
"I'm going to put it all on the line," Bradley said. "Every damn second of every round. My dignity is important to me. If I'm going out, I'm going out on a stretcher."
Head first, of course.