The newest run of HBO's 24/7 series, this time dedicated to the June 9 fight between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley, began with a special "Road to Pacquiao-Bradley" show last night, not an official episode of the program, but more a meet-and-greet.
We found ourselves with old pal Manny Pacquiao, a changed man since our last time in his company. Now thumping his Bible and giving his wife some camera time, it was a bit odd to see him in a new light. And we met Timothy Bradley, more or less, an experienced fighter whose name we know, but whose personality has never been on display as it is here.
It was a mixed bag, but at worst, one side of this tale is fresh.
I am a sucker for the Liev Schreiber-voiced intros, and this was a good one:
"Long before anyone steps in a ring, before any bell sounds, before any punches are thrown, the road begins. At a point of origin where the roots of a boxing match can be found -- alongside the peculiar factors that drive a man to fight for a living. Manny Pacquiao is one of the most famous people in the world, an icon who has used his sport to transform himself into a statesman and ambassador, becoming a symbol of possibility to millions.
"But beneath the likeness of a giant is a 33-year-old man who has found himself searching for stability amid overwhelming fame, a balance he says he's now found in unconditional devotion. (Pacquiao: "I'm setting an example to the people that even in my prime, I need God in my life. Because without God, we're nothing.")
"More than seven thousand miles away, at first glance the life of Timothy Bradley looks remarkably normal, at least until you step into his office. Bradley may be a family man in a sleepy California paradise, but he's also a boxer who has never lost a professional fight, passing every successive ring test he's taken in continually steady fashion.
"Now, he's earned by far the biggest opportunity of his life, against one of boxing's pound-for-pound kings. (Bradley: "I know what I'm capable of, man, and I know when I can beat a fighter. I just know it. I think they might be underestimating me. I don't really think that they know what they got themselves into.")
"Their clash presents itself as a classic tale of supremacy against hope, even as their stories reveal so much more about what drives them. How they live informs why they fight. Who they are defines what they do in the ring. And long before they come together, the road to Pacquiao-Bradley begins."
Since this isn't officially 24/7, we don't get the now famous intro theme. This is a precursor, really, a special edition called "Road to Pacquiao-Bradley," not a true part of the series. But for all intents and purposes, it is. And we know this. SO GIVE US THE SONG!!!! GOD!!!!
Pacquiao vs Bradley Coverage
Pacquiao Blog: 1 / 2 | Bradley Blog: 1 / 2
HBO Face Off / Pacquiao's Greatest Hits / Undercard Lineup
We start with the press conference to announce the fight. Quick clips of Manny ("This fight is going to be a good fight!") and Bradley ("I'm here to win this fight"), and the narration notes the "amiable" nature of the two fighters. Their press conferences were incredibly nice -- they seem to truly, really, genuinely like and respect one another. And there's something about that I'm finding more and more appealing as it goes on.
In part, I find it appealing because it isn't just friendly. Bradley has said repeatedly -- including on the Face Off interview with Max Kellerman -- that he likes and respects Manny Pacquiao. But he has also made it abundantly clear that he's not coming into this fight to be Pacquiao's friend or just to say he fought one of the greats. He's intensely serious about winning, and doesn't care that he's being counted out by many.
"I like being the underdog. I've been the underdog my whole life," he says. "I don't really care what anybody say, you know? Pacquiao, he's a great fighter, but once we get in that ring on June 9th, regardless of all the smiles and all the joys, we in there to seek and destroy.
"That's it. That's the only thing on my mind, is to get that W. Gettin' that win that night."
We see Bradley's home in Indio, Calif., which has a sweet pool. Bradley says his kids are Pacquiao fans, but they are, of course, rooting for their dad, and Bradley says they know what he brings to the table in this fight. "Pacquiao better be ready," Bradley's son says.
"I just pretty much hang out all day with my family, my kids. That's my life. Family and gym. I'm a family man," says Bradley.
Bradley grew up in Palm Springs, but notes that it wasn't the resort area most are familiar with. "You hear a lot of people talk bad about this area. Nothing but scumbags that come out of this area. Nothin' but losers, drug dealers, you know. Nothin' good's ever gonna come out of this place. Well I'm here to prove them all wrong."
We meet Bradley's dad, Tim Sr, better known as "Big Ray," who kept the family together on the north end of Palm Springs. Tim Jr says when he was young, he had a thug mentality.
"I had no clue that he wanted to be a thug," says his father. "Because I told him: Ain't no thugs gonna live under my roof. If I gotta beat some sense into you, or I gotta half-strangle you, I gotta do what I gotta do. But you gonna be somebody."
Bradley recalls being young, in third grade, and such a bully that he once punched a child in a wheelchair. "I'm not happy about that. It bothers me still today. If I saw that kid, I would apologize. That's how bad I was. That's how short-tempered I was."
At 10, Bradley took up boxing on the advice of a friend. 18 years later, he still works out at the Palm Springs Boxing Club, and notes that he's more than earned this shot at Manny Pacquiao, a shot at greatness.
* * * * *
We head to the Philippines, where Manny Pacquiao works out and says he's excited to get back to training. "I haven't been in the gym since November, the last fight," he says.
Following a workout, the gym transforms into a Pacquiao Bible sermon for some of the locals. On this subject, Pacquiao's English is stronger, quicker than normal. Manny says God spoke to him in a dream: "Why are you away from me? Why do you keep away from me? When you hear the voice of God, it's like you're melting. It's like you're melting."
Pacquiao continues to talk about the Bible. Personally, I'm checking my watch here. I didn't sign up for Manny's Bible class. I do understand this is important, and ooh, here's Jinkee Pacquiao with some actual input for the first time ever.
"Our life is like a rollercoaster ride. Now it's a very big difference than before. Before, it's something like, half-half, 50-50, doubt and trust and doubt. But now it's full trust. We have a happy life together," Jinkee says.
Pacquiao owns some stores, including Jinkee's Fashion World and Pacquiao memorabilia stores. But he has closed a sports bar, for instance.
"Manny decided not to play pool anymore, 'cause if he goes to the place, there is drinking, smoking, or betting. And then girls. So we decided to stop that all, and then we focus on Jesus," says Jinkee.
"I'm changing what I'm doing before," Manny says. "Gambling, drinking, drunkenness. I really turned back. If you don't read the Bible, you don't know the manual of your life."
Honestly, I don't know how much of this I can take. Thank God (!) we're headed back to Tim Bradley in California.
(Is anyone else getting a Jackie Christie vibe here?)
* * * * *
Joel Diaz, Bradley's trainer, weighs in on his fighter in training camp. "That guy's insane when it comes down to training. He trains really, really hard. He makes my job easy."
"There's no one that can work harder than me," says Bradley. "I can outlast anybody. It hurts to be a champion. A lot of people say they want to be a champion, but they really don't want to put in the work, and put in the time."
Now we go back to 2008, when Bradley went to England as a 6-to-1 underdog and beat Junior Witter for the WBC junior welterweight title, his first world title. I do recall being shocked how effective Bradley was against Witter, who at the time was considered No. 2 in the world at 140.
His dad has been his strength and conditioning coach forever, he says. And now we get a great story from back in the day.
"I was his strength and conditioning coach since he came out his mom womb," says Tim Sr. "He says, 'Dad, folks don't train like this. You makin' up shit every day.'"
"We didn't have a medicine ball," says the fighter. "My dad goes into the desert and gets a rock. He gets a rock! 'Sit down. Lay down. This is your medicine ball.' He's trying to hit me with a rock on my stomach. I couldn't believe it."
Big Ray's method: Get his son mad, get him to "ignore and overcome pain."
"I tell him, 'Hey,' I'd start sniffin' my nose. 'Do I smell anything?' 'You smellin' shit, Pop?' 'No. I smell pussy. I smell pussy. That what you whippin' out? You gonna be a little bitch? A pussy? Let's pick it up!' He'd get madder than hell. He wanna take my head off. But guess what? I'm Pop. And I ain't meant to be fucked with."
Bradley now understands the motivational tool: As his father taught him, if he can't beat that stuff in training, he won't survive in the ring. He learned this with the Kendall Holt fight, where he was knocked down hard on a left hook. "My head was buzzing. My right leg was numb. I never felt that way before. I said to myself, 'I gotta survive.'"
And survive he did, beating Holt over 12 rounds in a very good fight. "I know if he goes down," says trainer Diaz, "he'll come up to win the fight."
* * * * *
Back in the Philippines, Manny's in a shooting competition. That's a good hobby to take up. Much safer than cocktails and basketball. Here's more Jinkee! On boxing!
"During the fight with De La Hoya, I said, 'He is much bigger than you. So I don't want you to fight with him.' He's just laughing. So I realized that I should believe my husband. I should believe in his capabilities."
Now, Jinkee says, it's easy for her to see him fight -- if he has 100% focus in training. That was not the case last November, which was rumored at the time and now is the official Team Pacquiao story.
"When I saw Marquez, he was bigger than me," says Manny. "I was surprised by his body. ... I'm just underestimating him. That's a good lesson to me."
Highlights from the fight focus on Marquez's best moments. "I have to accept that Marquez is a good counter-puncher. If I don't create the action, the fight will be boring."
Jinkee blames their relationship to some degree.
"We'd been going through a lot in our relationship, ups and downs, rumors and everything. Small problems with the family. I admit that. Yeah," she says.
Pacquiao, however, feels that he took shortcuts in training and underestimated Marquez. "It's not going to happen again."
More about faith. Jogging. "The Marquez fight, that's a very good lesson to me: Don't underestimate your opponent."
* * * * *
Back to California, where Bradley helps coach his son's football team.
"I spend a lot of time out here with the kids. They enjoy it. I enjoy it. I love this. They motivate me," he says.
Bradley's wife Monica says the kids push him. "He can be a walking zombie. Tired as tired can be. But if you go out to the football field, he'll have the same energy that he had at 10 o'clock in the morning. He never wants to miss anything. Anything to do with the kids."
Tim doesn't understand fighters who train apart from their families. "When I'm here, I'm not distracted whatsoever. How does your family distract you? I don't really understand that. Those are your loved ones. If anything, they'll embrace you, they'll help you, they'll motivate you."
Monica says Bradley refuses to call Monica's two children from a previous marriage his step-children. "You tell me how many 23-year-old young men will be in a relationship with somebody that has kids, and recognize them as his own. You know? You won't find that in a lot of men."
Last summer, Timothy and Monica had their first child together, a daughter. "I almost passed out!" he says. "I wanted to scream out, like, 'Holy shit!' 'Cause it was like, this is freakin' amazing. When I saw Jada I was just like, 'Wow. Little bundle of joy right there.' She's beautiful."
Bradley says their happiness is his happiness. "I want them to have an easy, easy life."
On to the fight as we wrap up the episode.
Timothy Bradley: "A lot of people say I don't hit hard enough. I wasn't quick enough. I was too short, I was too small for the weight class. He'll never become world champion. Three-time world champion. I'm the number one fighter at 140 pounds. About to be the number one fighter at 147 on June 9th. He's next to learn. It's not about the money. It's not about the money. It's about that spot. I want his spot. I want the throne."
The show returns next Saturday, with the official premiere episode.
* * * * *
This format was pretty solid -- it's just 24/7 with a little less narrative intrusion, a little less hype, and may serve as a way to fit in the background stories, the general feeling around the fighters, before focusing on the fight and the training camps with the rest of the series to come. They set out to give this more of an introductory feel, and I think they nailed it.
I really enjoyed the Bradley segments here, and feel like I not only learned a lot about him, about his background and his mindset, but I came out of this liking Timothy Bradley more than I ever have before. I've never disliked Bradley, but he's never had this sort of outlet. He's supposed to be boring, uncharismatic. Thus far, it appears that is a myth. Bradley is well-spoken, honest, very intelligent, and comes off like a truly nice person. It would be hard to watch this episode and say, "Eh, I don't care for him." The admission of attacking a child in a wheelchair was brutally honest, and must have been hard to admit to a large audience. It makes him sound like a terrible kid. But it's supposed to. He wants everyone to know that no, he was not always the person he is today. But now he is that person.
The Pacquiao segments... well, you can probably gauge my reaction from the text above. I am fully understanding of the fact that what we're focusing on -- Pacquiao's newfound dedication to religion -- is the story right now. Like it or not, that's the story. I personally couldn't really care less. It's not that I'm against his faith, I just don't really have interest in examining it. If this is what makes him a "better," happier person, then that's great for him. But it's not of interest to me. Hopefully we get more boxing, less Bible, as we go forward.