As he's done countless times in his life, Timothy Bradley Jr. was running down the streets of his hometown preparing for a boxing match. It's normally a lonely routine done in solitude – a lonely figure determined to make himself better.
This time, though, things were different. A young boy and his father spotted Bradley hiking down the opposite side of the road. Both became excited and the father all but shoved his son in Bradley's direction.
The boy approached Bradley with a pen and a scrap of paper, begging for an autograph.
"I was crossing a major intersection and this guy just had his kid run right out through the thing to try to get me to sign," Bradley said.
Bradley is nothing if not pragmatic and he laughs nervously.
"What kind of parent would send their kid out in that kind of traffic just to get someone to sign their name to a sheet of paper?" he asks, sounding more than a bit incredulous.
It's because boxing fever has gripped the tiny Riverside County town of Palm Springs, Calif., as Bradley, one of its most high-profile residents, prepares to fight Manny Pacquiao on June 9 in Las Vegas for the World Boxing Organization welterweight title.
Boxing doesn't get much bigger than a Pacquiao fight, and Palm Springs has gotten squarely behind Bradley.
Even as he built up an undefeated record as a pro and won world titles, Bradley remained fairly anonymous, even in his home town. But as his fight with Pacquiao, arguably the world's most popular boxer, approaches in about a month, the locals have gathered solidly behind their man.
"For me, it's a crazy difference," Bradley said. "Everybody in my hometown has been ecstatic about what's going on and they've been great in the way they've supported me.
"A lot of people are getting more accustomed to seeing me, and they know that I have a great love for this community. I'm a down-to-earth homebody family guy. A lot of them appreciate not only what I've done in boxing, but the manners I have, how I carry myself, that I'm not all blinged out wearing a ton of jewelry and trash-talking all of the time. I'm just me, another citizen, and I am doing my work."
It wasn't always that way, of course. Bradley had a stellar amateur career, fighting mostly at 152 pounds, but he didn't get the recognition that many other amateurs with lesser records did.
He was, trainer Joel Diaz said, as good as it got, but he was a well-kept secret in the Coachella Valley and in the sport at large.
That, Diaz said, contributed to the kind of fighter he is today. Bradley is as physically fit as anyone and is more prepared than an Eagle Scout. Asked about Pacquiao's tendencies and how he'd handle them, Bradley rattled off several of the Filipino superstar's favorite moves in a rapid-fire manner.
Bradley and Diaz have pored over Pacquiao tape and are convinced they'll know what he plans to do before he does it.
"This is the big one and you have to be ready for anything," Diaz said. "I came up with a plan. My plan is a good one, but it has its strong points and it has its weak points. The thing about how Tim and I work together, we know each other so well and so we have very open and honest discussions. His dad throws in his suggestions and Tim adds his points and then we put it all together. There are a lot of people out there who think Tim doesn't have a chance because this is Manny Pacquiao he's fighting, but trust me, they're going to be very surprised when we win this thing."
Just pushing himself to the brink in a sweaty gym is no longer enough for Bradley, though. Fighting at the highest level of the sport also means the promotional demands have increased a thousand-fold.
As he's finishing an interview, he has a photographer waiting to do a shoot and he's itching to move on to it. The camera crew from HBO will return on the weekend to begin filming his every move for its "24/7: Pacquiao-Bradley" series. There are interviews and appearances and a never-ending sea of responsibilities beyond those involved with just preparing to fight.
The bout is a month away and, perhaps, the walls will begin to close in on Bradley as the enormity of what he's gotten himself into becomes more clear. He's an everyday guy who owns an auto repair shop in town and is the president of the youth football league who has all of a sudden found himself in the white-hot spotlight a major fight brings.
It's been years in the making, but Bradley sometimes feels like an overnight success.
"It wasn't that long ago I was totally anonymous," he says. "But since I've signed with Top Rank [in 2011], even before I got the Pacquiao fight, things changed. Before, it was always like I came through the back door and I didn't get a push and there was no plan to market me.
"What's happened in that short period of time since I've signed with Top Rank has been incredible. My name has been everywhere. My exposure tripled in the first month alone. When I fought [Joel] Casamayor, there were tons and tons of articles about me and people were learning who I am and what I'm about."
Bradley's voice is filled with excitement. He recounts the events of the past nine months with the wonderment of a guy who never expected this to happen to him.
It's like he was struggling to pay his bills and found a winning lottery ticket on the sidewalk.
"This is what I've dreamed about my whole life," he says. "It's not going to overwhelm me. It's going to make me better. Winning this fight will do so many great things for me and I'm just eager to see what each day brings."
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