By Ivan G. Goldman
When Timothy Bradley looks for an edge against Manny Pacquiao in their Las Vegas showdown on June 9, the forecast will be cloudy with an 80 percent chance of head butts.
Bradley is well-known for using his head in a literal, not figurative sense. That is, he smashes his cranium into vulnerable spots on his opponent. And time after time, fight after fight, the referee rules the resulting carnage to be the result of an “accidental” clash of heads or he never even spots the collision. Two things you never see? Bradley injured from the crash or penalized for it. “Watch your heads” is the usual official response.
When a fighter comes out ahead from these head-wrecks virtually every time, it’s a safe bet we’re not observing a random consequence. It’s like a hunter who, while cleaning his rifle, keeps shooting his companions in the heart. Hmm.
But how come the referee never seems to catch Bradley? Of course there are some who theorize some dirty deal is afoot, but the truth is, Bradley is very, very good at what he does. He seamlessly integrates his swinging shaved dome into his barrage of pain. Jab, jab, uppercut, butt, right cross. You think you saw something in there, but you’re not completely sure. The opponent knows, but maybe he’s reeling more from the right cross than the butt that preceded it. And while the opponent is watching Bradley’s head, he might just get slammed with a fist.
Evander Holyfield turned into a truly committed head-butter after his boxing skills began eroding. Bradley, on the other hand, is at the top of his game, so his head-hunting is just one lethal maneuver among many. Used proficiently, the head is a big swinging rock, a terribly dangerous instrument. But employing it properly is a also a maneuver that, if executed incorrectly, can get the assailant caught or injure him instead of the intended victim. Bradley’s freewheeling head helped him, for example, win a 10th round technical decision Against Devon Alexander in January 2011. Alexander had cuts close to both eyes, one so deep that the ring physician feared an optic nerve was damaged.
Bradley, when he’s asked about his skull-first strategy, denies there’s a purpose to his billy-goat bashes. But during the course of a lengthy March 2010 Ring interview (before the Golden Boy barbarians climbed over the gate and seized editorial controls), intelligent, articulate Bradley let down his guard. Describing his contest against Kendall Holt, he told interviewer Joe Santoloquito, “I had to be in his face. When I got inside, I got dirty with him.” Also in the course of that telling interview Bradley recounted getting jobbed when he tried out for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, and the intense pain that it inflicted on his psyche. I very much got the feeling that Bradley vowed then that if cheating was the way to win, he’d learn to out-cheat everybody else.
The late Diego Corrales told me that after fighting Joel Casamayor, one of the dirtiest world-class fighters of the last couple of decades, the back of his head was swollen from illegal punches. “I felt like I’d been fighting with my back turned,” Corrales said. But last November, Cuban Casamayor met his match against Bradley. You don’t kid a kidder, hook with a hooker, or fight dirty with a foul-master.
Years ago I wrote a series of articles for The Washington Post about bill collectors. One thing I learned is that not all debtors are helpless victims. A certain percentage — a minority to be sure — are professional deadbeats. They never intended to pay in the first place, and they use a very deliberate strategy to avoid doing so. These committed, tenacious freeloaders usually prevail. That’s because they’re very, very good at what they do. They manipulate their knowledge of the rules with the soft areas in the opposition and will probably walk away with the money. You’re fighting on their turf.
But what about Pacquiao? Will he be helpless against the Bradley skullduggery? Stay tuned for another chapter.
Goldman’s next novel, Isaac: A Modern Fable, will be out next month from The Permanent Press. It can be pre-ordered at Amazon HERE.