Determined Timothy Bradley to defend title Saturday in Vegas

When boxing champion Timothy Bradley makes his Las Vegas debut Saturday, fans from the desert will be rooting for the Cathedral City product — both for who he is and what he represents.

Those who knew Bradley as a youth through his days at Cathedral City High School remember a dedicated athlete who talked about his dreams of fighting in Las Vegas.

Then there are those who discovered Bradley after he became a world champion, and see a role model and example of what can happen through hard work.

One local youth, 13-year-old Dominic Serna, trains at the Indio Boys and Girls Club, sparring in the same ring and hitting the same heavy bags as Bradley.

“It makes me feel like I’m training with the top fighters,” said Serna, one of the top young fighters in the area and in the country. “To be here in the same gym is a privilege. I don’t know him on a personal level, but I know him as a hard worker and very supportive.

“He’s humble. He treats everyone like he would treat anyone else.”

For nearly two years, Bradley has been recognized as one of the 10 best fighters in the world regardless of weight class. On Saturday, Bradley will defend his WBO title against 1992 Olympian Joel Casamayor at the MGM Grand.

A victory by Bradley could mean a chance at a big-time fight against Manny Pacquiao, regarded as one of the top two stars in the sport. Pacquiao is fighting the main event Saturday against Mexican legend Juan Manuel Marquez.

“Timothy proves that anything is possible,” said Marcos Caballero a boxing trainer with Coachella Valley Boxing Club whose son Randy is a promising prospect. “We all come from the same neighborhoods and for the kids, it’s a motivation to make it as far as he did.

“It will open the door for the amateur fighters we have.”

While Bradley mostly works out in the east valley, he has deep roots in the west side. He was born and raised in Palm Springs and went to school at Cathedral City High School, where his father, Tim Sr., is a security guard.

Bradley still lives in Cathedral City and is president of the Cathedral City Lions Junior All American Football program. His wife, Monica, serves as commissioner and his stepson, Robert, plays.

For many of the teachers and coaches who remembered Bradley at Cathedral City High School, they have a rooting interest. They have organized viewing of Saturday’s fight at Buffalo Wild Wings at the Westfield Mall in Palm Desert. Proceeds from the food sales will go to the Cathedral City High School athletic program.

“It’s been very exciting. Everyone is on the edge of their seat,” said Lisa Johnson, a physical education teacher at Cathedral City High who taught Bradley and his wife. “We know how important these next fights are.

“He’s on the brink of being a household name.”

Many of the Cathedral City coaches had planned to attend the fight in Las Vegas until they saw the $500 price tag. A lot of the coaches had gone to Bradley’s fights when they were at The Show inside the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa.

“We were all spoiled. His wife Monica could get us tickets,” Johnson said. “Now we’re just trying to find that good spot to watch it together.”

Rob Hanmer, the former basketball coach at Cathedral City, said he still remembers teaching sixth-period PE, and Bradley was one of 10 athletes in the class who had the ability to earn a college scholarship.

But Bradley didn’t compete in the main sports of football or basketball despite the urging of the coaches. Because Bradley was working toward a shot on the Olympic boxing team, his father did not allow his son to play any sport where he could suffer an injury.

Hanmer, however, told Bradley he would make a spot for him on the basketball team if he could convince his father.

“He was excited about the opportunity,” Hanmer said. “He was in the gym, and then his dad came in and snatched him and put him back in the weight room. That ended his basketball career.”

Although Bradley stands at 5-foot-6, Hanmer said he had no doubt he could be successful on the basketball court.

“He has an unbelievable work ethic and really, really positive attitude,” Hanmer said. ”He was one of those kids trying to do the right things and work hard. Those are the kind of people you want to coach if you get the opportunity.”

But Hanmer and all the coaches knew Bradley was fully dedicated to becoming a boxer. It’s what they admired about him.

“Even when he was in high school, he had that drive and dedication,” said Johnson, a physical education teacher and former softball coach at Cathedral City High School. “You see something in a person, even at a young age. He had that drive. We see so many young people who have physical tools, but don’t have the heart. He had both at a very young age, that drive and heart.”

Cathedral City resident Brandon Revis, 29, went to school and church with Bradley and his family. Today, Revis’ 9-year-old son Adam plays in Bradley’s football program. But Revis said he can remember in high school how Bradley always talked about being a world champion and fighting in Las Vegas.

“This is great because he will do something he’s wanted to do his whole life,” said Revis. “I’m excited for him. He’s a disciplined, loyal and great guy.”

Bradley had to miss his 10-year high school reunion last weekend, but he is still visible at Cathedral City, training at the school and showing up at football games.

“He’s very humble, but he has a great personality,” Hanmer said. “He stops by school and says hello. He’s a part of our community. Even though he’s rich and famous, he’s still a person who comes to a football game and says hello to everyone. He’s a really good person.”

Bradley is also touching a younger generation of boxers, much like what his trainer Joel Diaz and his two brothers did before.

Bradley grew up idolizing the Diaz brothers, who were top prospects and all three fought for world titles, with youngest Julio becoming a two-time IBF lightweight champion.

Today, Bradley is setting an example like the Diaz brothers before him.

“I take my hat off to him; he’s proven a lot in the sport,” said Randy Caballero, a professional fighter with Golden Boy Promotions and top attraction at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino. “What he’s doing is good for the sport and he sets a good example. If you stick to it, you can do what you love.

“The impact to the valley, he sets the tone. Some people don’t know him and I wish his name was bigger. With what he’s accomplished, his name should be out there because what he’s done is not easy.”

Written by: Leighton Ginn (The Desert Sun)