LAS VEGAS – The last time Timothy Bradley faced a career-defining bout, he got a bit of unexpected assistance from a boxing legend.
The great Thomas Hearns, who Sunday will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, jumped into the ring one day in late January 2011 as Bradley was going through the motions in a workout for the media prior to a fight with Devon Alexander.
Dressed in a tan suit, Hearns tried to share the secret of his punching power with Bradley, a guy who at that point hadn't scored a stoppage in nearly four years.
It was like Hank Aaron standing around a batting cage telling a slap hitter how to become a slugger, but Hearns was diligent.
More than a year and two Bradley wins later – including a knockout – he's now facing what is for sure the fight of his life. He'll meet Manny Pacquiao, the No. 2 fighter in the Yahoo! Sports rankings, for the World Boxing Organization welterweight title in an HBO Pay-Per-View bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday night.
And though no one would dare compare Bradley to Hearns in terms of punching power and just plain fearsomeness, the man himself approves of what he's seen.
"It takes a lot of practice to make it perfect," Hearns said of the proper punching technique. "He looks like he's doing better to me. Bradley was a really good listener. I didn't have a lot of time to work with him, but I was impressed with him."
It was an odd sight, watching one of the sport's all-time greats climb into the ring with a suit on to conduct an impromptu training session with one of the modern day's best. Not many who saw it will ever forget it, least of all Bradley.
"Tommy Hearns is a legend and it was awesome getting tips from him," Bradley said. "What a great right hand that guy had and he was sharing with me how he did it."
One of the questions Bradley must answer is whether he has the pop in his punch to force Pacquiao to respect him. Bradley is 28-0, but with only 12 knockouts, and has a reputation for being more dangerous with his head than with his fists.
He stopped Joel Casamayor in November in his last outing, but the great Cuban was 40 at the time and well past his prime. Prior to that, Bradley's last knockout was April 13, 2007, when he stopped Nasser Athumani in five rounds.
Pacquiao is a fast-handed, sharp puncher who will swarm an opponent if he senses he can wade in without fret.
If Bradley can make Pacquiao respect his power, it would go a long way toward an upset. Hearns wasn't about to predict the outcome, but he said Bradley hits harder than many believe.
"He has a good jab and he needs to use it more," Hearns said. "When he uses it, he makes things much easier for him. When I was working with him that day, after I showed him a few things, he got in there with that right hand behind the jab and, believe me, it was a good punch.
"This guy is in great shape – great, great shape – and you can see he's the kind of guy who wants to get better. He works at it and I'm sure he's hitting harder now than he was before."
Hearns, whose three-round knockout loss to "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler in a 1985 middleweight title fight is arguably the greatest fight in boxing history, insisted Bradley shouldn't be overlooked.
Pacquiao is better than a 4-1 favorite, and Hearns said "I give Pacquiao a very good rating. He's a good fighter."
But he likes what he sees of Bradley. And while Bradley is no Hearns, he's a talented, highly trained athlete as dedicated to improving as anyone else in the sport.
"People who think Pacquiao is just going to [walk right through Bradley] are in for a surprise," Hearns said. "He has what it takes to beat Pacquiao. And Pacquiao has what it takes to beat him, which is how you get a good fight. Bradley has worked really hard to get where he is and he wants to be the best. He's a strong-minded guy and he does a lot of good things in there."
[TopRank.TV: Watch Manny Pacquiao fight Timothy Bradley live on PPV]
Whether those good things are enough to beat Pacquiao will be determined Saturday. Hearns, though, said Bradley isn't going into the fight without weapons of his own.
"He's not a slapper," Hearns said. "No way. I don't think [Pacquiao] is going to want to be hit by one of those right hands of his."
He won't, especially not if Bradley manages to channel Hearns and throw one like boxing's legendary "Hitman."
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