LAS VEGAS – On Tuesday, the day that the explosive Frontline report about the severity of the NFL's concussion problem first was broadcast on PBS, champion boxer Timothy Bradley sat with a small group of reporters, passionately sounding a warning to his peers.
Bradley is finalizing preparations for a dangerous match Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center against Juan Manuel Marquez, but he's talking about concussions as much as he is talking about the very real threat to his WBO welterweight title in the HBO Pay-Per-View match.
For weeks, Bradley's spoken openly of the after-effects of his last bout, a Fight of the Year-type brawl in March with Ruslan Provodnikov in which he suffered a concussion. He's admitted to failing memory, slurred speech and poor gait, and that it took him four months with total inactivity to fully recover.
He's made light of his issues frequently. He's conceded that after he was clocked in the first round, he remembers little of most of the rest of the fight.
It seemed an odd way to promote one of the epic bouts of his career, but Bradley had a plan.
"The point is that a lot of fighters probably go through the same things I went through after certain fights," Bradley said. "I'm here to tell them that there is basically help out there. You can get help. I got the help out there, and I'm here to speak out.
"A lot of people feel that I shouldn't speak out about it and that I should keep it a secret. But for some reason, I want to talk about it. I went through it and I want to share it with the world. I want to let them know, 'Hey, it is true what they talk about boxing. It is a dangerous sport.' When you come in for a fight, you might not leave the ring the same way."
That last phrase – "you might not leave the ring the same way" – is, almost simultaneously, the great lure of boxing as well as its greatest nightmare.
[Also: Boxer Orlando Cruz buoyed by support since announcing he's gay]
There is nothing like watching two highly skilled, well-trained fighters battle in a breath-taking slugfest, where fists are flying and every shot could be the one that brings an early end to the night.
Yet, who among us hasn't cringed when, sitting at ringside, we've watched as a fighter has been blasted in the head with a hard, clean undefended punch?
Bradley is Exhibit A in this regard. In a 2009 fight against Kendall Holt in Montreal, Bradley was hit so hard by a single punch in the first round that the force of it caused him to somersault backward. Yet, Bradley not only continued to fight, he won virtually every round the rest of the way.
His fight in March with Provodnikov, who just may be the hardest-hitting welterweight in the sport, provided even more damage.
"Oh, man," Bradley said, his face cringing as he recalled Provodnikov's power. "I was in a lot more trouble in the Ruslan fight."
Bradley was hit so hard in the first round by Provodnikov that he's said it felt as if his chin was pushed to the back of his neck. After that first hard punch, Bradley admits to being dizzy much of the rest of the fight. He said he can't remember much of what happened after he absorbed that blow and said that after the bout, he was having difficulty with his speech.
He was slurring his words for months after the bout. Part of his problem, he said, is not only does Provodnikov hit extremely hard, but that Bradley himself was dehydrated going into the fight.
He took the fight later than normal and was way above his normal weight when he started to train. He weighed 185 pounds and had to cut to get down to the welterweight limit of 147.
"There are a lot of factors in that fight that made me fight that way and one of them is dehydration," Bradley said. "A lot of fighters got to realize that the more dehydrated you are, the more susceptible you are to getting concussed, or, also, getting rocked in the fight.
"There's less water on the brain and you can get rocked. You don't have a chin when you're dehydrated. … I came into that Ruslan fight dehydrated, very dehydrated, and it's why I couldn't take a punch."
[Also: Boxer Wladimir Klitschko engaged to actress Hayden Panettiere]
Admitting they're hurt, conceding weakness, is generally not in a fighter's makeup. Fighters are trained to suck it up, to not complain when they're hurt or not feeling well. The show must always go on.
There is enormous pressure on boxers to be tough, to scoff at the threat, to ignore the danger.
There is danger, of course, and plenty of it, if things aren't done properly. Trainers need to be vigilant in the gym, making certain they don't push their fighters back into sparring after taking a lot of head trauma the previous round, the previous day or even the previous week.
Regulators need to carefully examine fighters before a bout to make certain there is no lingering signs of brain damage.
Butch Gottlieb, a Las Vegas-based fighter manager, posted on Facebook on Monday, lamenting the fact that a boxer who in 2012 had suffered a subdural hematoma – a bleed on the brain – and spent a week in the hospital being treated for it is now being allowed to fight in Australia.
Boxers don't have to suffer brain damage, but too many do by not seeking treatment. Dr. Margaret Goodman, a Las Vegas neurologist who was the long-time chairwoman of the Nevada Athletic Commission's medical advisory board, said the fighters themselves frequently aren't honest about their symptoms.
They don't want to lose the next fight, or the payday that comes with it, and they play by what they perceive as the warrior's code.
"In my opinion, fighters suffer concussions all the time," Goodman said. "The difficult part is that they either don't recognize it or hide it. Sadly, it's like 'The Emperor [Wears] No Clothes,' where those around the athlete may know it, but there is this silent contract to pretend it doesn't exist. They may rationalize the fighter lost, or if he won, he's tired, etc.
"The post-fight exams often don't pick it up. They're done in a hurry and with all the post-fight excitement, the fighter may not mention the signs and symptoms. It's the main reason for automatic suspensions following a fight: Someone who fought a 12-round fight can't have another for so many days. The other problem is fighters travel from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so there is no continuity of care."
Bradley, though, may be one of the lucky ones. His wife, Monica, and his mother, Kathy, were alarmed by what they saw in the days following his bout with Provodnikov.
They had him checked by three of the most renowned doctors in the country. He was not allowed to do anything physical, not even go for a run to increase his heart rate, for four months.
It seems to have worked. All the doctors cleared him to resume training, with no greater risk than normal. Doctors for the Nevada Athletic Commission carefully examined him and cleared him, as well.
"I just want to let these fighters know there is help out there and that I received help," Bradley said. "I'm 100 percent better than I was in the Ruslan fight. Mentally, my mental clarity is there. I'm very focused, very determined, plus, on top of that, my training went very well for this fight. It went very well."
So Bradley prepares to go in with another tough guy. Marquez isn't as hard of a puncher as Provodnikov, but he's far more accurate and he's far better at setting up his shots.
This is a guy who knocked Manny Pacquiao stone cold with a single right hand in his last outing.
Bradley, though, isn't worried. He plans to box, but if he needs to brawl in order to win, he says he'll do so.
He can do it, he says, because he sought out assistance and was given the proper care. But he stills watches bouts, on television and in person, in which he sees a fighter who failed to take the same steps he did.
"They just don't know that there is help out there," Bradley said. "There are football players who get concussions every single day, but they have specialists there to analyze and look at them. They're doing these things to get them back on the field. The huge difference [between boxers and NFL players] is that they have a short period of time and a short window to get back on that field. That's how they make a living and they've got to perform.
"The difference is, I had a longer length of time to actually get help and get therapy done and do it on a consistent basis, as opposed to them, doing it for a few weeks and having to bounce back sooner rather than taking a longer time and letting the brain heal up."