Walking the halls of the same junior high and high school, Tim Bradley and Monica Manzo paid little attention to each other. If love was in the air, their senses were clogged.
“He was two years younger,” Monica says, “and we never really had a conversation.”
They lived in a Coachella Valley overflowing with haves. Comparatively, they were have-nots. There were no trust funds, there was no old Hollywood money, no corporate family trickle-downs.
Nor was there a lack of dreams, the kind that make people marvel at this country and its opportunities. They pursued theirs, endured their heartaches, and today, the Bradleys of Rancho Mirage — Tim 33, and Monica, 35 — are a power couple. If their story were a book, you could call it From $11 to $10 Million.
Although he ran track in high school, Tim dreamt of being a championship boxer, with big fights for big money in colorful places such as Las Vegas. The reality would take a decade.
He was 5 feet 6 inches tall and seemed to have about 100 of his 150 pounds packed into his biceps. He was compact, quick of hands and feet. Also driven and determined. But none of that mattered in the boxing world until you had won at least 20 bouts without a loss, with people around you to sell your talents. After graduating high school, he scratched and scrambled just to eat. He washed dishes at Coco’s in La Quinta, and then became a waiter at Mimi’s in Palm Desert.
As he says now, “I worked my way from the back of the room to the front.”
At 18, Monica was married to Erik Smoot, a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s detective. They had two children, Robert and Alaysia, and a house in Cathedral City. But after a half-dozen years, the marriage broke up.
“I got married way too young,” Monica says.
She was determined to provide security for her children, which was a challenge in 2006-07, when mortgage companies were profiting off of loans that would drive people — and almost the entire country — into bankruptcy. The 1,300-square-foot Smoot home was Monica’s security, and her bank; she borrowed $90,000 against it to buy out her ex-husband’s share, and to buy a car.
“The appraiser did quite a job,” Monica says now, with a wry smile.
She got a job as a secretary at Cathedral City High School, and took a second job at night to make the $1,200 house payment.
“We lived a couple of blocks from my parents,” she says, “and we went to dinner just about every night there. We had to.”
By then, Tim had had about a dozen pro fights. He won them all. But he was hardly making headlines.
Mostly, he fought in hotel ballrooms, such as the Doubletree in Ontario. Nice enough, but not big enough to attract large crowds, or produce big purses. If Tim were pocketing four figures, it was a big night. And like most fighters in the early stages of their careers, the percentage of the purse owed to promoters and managers and trainers was a mystery. Tim wasn’t stupid, just not interested in anything other than what he had to do in the ring.
He still isn’t. But as the crowds and purses got bigger, so did the business of Tim Bradley, a reality that eventually thrust Monica into a whole new world.
MIMI THE MATCHMAKER
It was just another day at Mimi’s, when the waiter spotted the divorcee. The familiar face was in a booth near the back. Tim walked over and told Monica to scoot over. “It was one of those, oh-my-god, long-time-no-see conversations,” Tim says. “It was actually pretty short, and then she said, ‘Well, Tim, when are you going to leave your girlfriend for me?’ I remember thinking how funny that was that she said that because, if I had been single, I would have married that girl tomorrow.”
Bradley’s father was, and still is, a security guard at Cathedral City High. He knew Monica well, and when he heard that his son had renewed acquaintances, he raved about her, how pretty she was, what a hard worker.
“I started to remember what a good soccer player she was,” Tim says. “And tough. She was always the one getting the yellow cards and red cards. I liked that. I also remembered what beautiful legs she had.”
A short time later, Tim showed up at the high school. He asked for her phone number. Monica said no. She asked for his. He said yes.
“Then she never called,” he says.
But, as he is in the boxing ring, Bradley was relentless.
“I kept running into him,” Monica says. “I never saw other people from school, but somehow, everywhere I went, he would be around. Then one day, he just showed up and said, ‘I’m single now, and you should really give me your phone number.”
The romance began. But Monica was wary.
“My kids, they had a dad,” she says. “Tim was 23. I was 25. I kept telling him, ‘You party. I’ve been a mom since I was 18. You don’t know that responsibility.’ ”
Then she needed knee surgery.
“I really couldn’t do much,” she says. “Tim took over. He fed the kids, cleaned the house, did the laundry. My father is Hispanic. You will never see him do laundry.”
Tim moved into the house in Cathedral City soon after that. Around then, the variable interest mortgage payment ballooned to $2,200. One day, Tim and Monica got home to see a foreclosure notice on the front door.
“We cried in bed that night,” Tim says.
Tim Bradley has two more years under contract with Top Rank. That could be as many as four or even five fights, but that’s not likely. His next fight is expected to take place in early 2017.
Monica the dealmaker somehow got another mortgage, with more reasonable terms, and the struggle to make ends meet forged her ability to see how business works. Long before they got married in 2010, Monica had begun to appreciate how the fight game was shortchanging Tim.
In early 2008, with Tim’s record at 20-0, his manager and promoter had landed him a fight against Jose Luis Castillo. The Mexican hero was well past his prime, but was the kind of big-name opponent Bradley needed in order to take the next step in his career. Castillo once had given Floyd Mayweather, the unbeaten legend of the ring, his toughest fight ever.
Monica flew to Cancún with Tim. The day before the fight, Castillo failed to make the 140-pound weight. The fight was called off and Monica and Tim went home with nothing to show for their time but a hefty credit card bill.
“I really began to wonder then,” she says. “It wasn’t Tim’s fault that the other fighter didn’t make weight. But there was nobody there compensating him. And nobody really talking about that. It was just like, oh well, this stuff happens in boxing. I was angry, but nobody else seemed to be.”
Two months later, because Castillo failed to fight, Tim got a title shot. It was his first such opportunity. That was the good news. The bad news was that the fight would be against British boxer Junior Witter, and it would be in Nottingham, England, a home game for Witter. In boxing, you don’t win many away games.
“Monica flew in the day before the fight,” Tim says.“But it got to be midnight and she didn’t arrive. I couldn’t reach her and I was worried. It turned out the taxi driver couldn’t find my hotel.”
Monica arrived in the early hours of the morning. She then did something she had never done before: She told Tim he had to win the fight. “She said we only had $14 left in our checking account,” Tim says.
More recently, she has corrected him: “It was $11.”
Tim won the fight, became WBC Super Lightweight champion, and took home $52,000. The light of success was glimmering at the end of the tunnel. But Monica watched her husband enter boxing rings, cash big checks, and look only toward the next bout.
“There was so much I didn’t understand,” she says, “and it seemed like nobody was asking the questions that seemed so obvious.”
She asked lots of questions of Tim’s manager, Cameron Duncan, and listened carefully to the answers. He taught them so much about the fight game, she says, and she’ll be eternally grateful. Duncan says now that he loves the Bradley family, even though Monica fired him to assume his job. She had seen enough of the loose bookkeeping and underwhelming communication.
The nudge to make the move began shortly after Tim’s most celebrated moment. In 2012, he fought the presumably unbeatable Manny Pacquiao in a huge pay-per-view show in Las Vegas. He beat the Filipino great. At least that’s what the judges said. The boxing world screamed foul, and one of the judges retired rather than continue to face the wrath of officials and fans. Monica says Tim felt alone, abandoned. She felt Duncan hadn’t been there when Tim needed him the most. She also says she understood — Duncan had other fighters under contract to Tim’s promoter, Top Rank, and Pacquiao was Top Rank’s favored son and its star. Duncan stayed mostly quiet and the Bradleys felt mostly alone.
Contractually, Monica had to wait through two more fights before taking over as Tim’s manager. The first one was against Ruslan Provodnikov at the StubHub Center in Carson. Tim had spent months listening to how he hadn’t really beaten Pacquiao, how he had no knockout punch. He kept hearing how fight fans love a brawl and he would never give them one.
So, against Provodnikov, he did.
The Russian pulverized Tim in the first two rounds. Tim somehow recovered and put a terrible beating on Provodnikov in the middle rounds. Then, in the last round, Provodnikov had Tim nearly out on his feet, but Tim, still clear-headed enough to save himself, heard the ringside clacker that indicates 10 seconds to the end of the round. He made a career-saving decision. He waited two seconds, then took a knee. Because you can’t punch a fighter when he’s down, and there was insufficient time to call a knockout, those eight seconds smartly bought Tim a unanimous decision, won the hearts of thousands of new blood-thirsty fight fans, and two more lucrative fights with Pacquiao.
They did not win the joy of his wife.
“I know him,” she says. “He will feel out the other guy in the first round, then in the second round do what he is going to do the rest of the night. When he started brawling, I left after the second round. I was pregnant and crying.”
Tim’s stepson, 16-year-old Robert Smoot, captures the attitude of the entire family: “I like it when he fights. I don’t like it when he brawls.”
Tim has two more years under contract with Top Rank. That could be as many as four or even five fights, but that’s not likely. His next fight is expected to take place in early 2017. His most recent boxing gig, however, was as a commentator for the Top Rank TV production of Pacquiao’s fight Nov. 5 in Las Vegas against Jesse Vargas. Bradley won his only fight against Vargas, and the two losses in his trilogy with Pacquiao are the only two of his current 33-2-1 career.
Manager Monica probably won’t negotiate another contract after this one. In all likelihood, Tim will retire.
“I need to respect what he loves,” she says. “I’m never going to tell him it is time [to quit] because, to me, it was time long ago.”
HOMEBODIES AT HEART
Today, the Bradley family children range from Robert, 16, and Alaysia Smoot, 11, to Jada, 5, Malaya, 3, and Malakai Bradley, 1½. That is seven people, or one for each house they own, including the one in Cathedral City that once was threatened by foreclosure. Monica confirms all that real estate, but doesn’t dwell.
“We do not want money to define us,” she says.
But her role in acquiring it is significant. She has been Tim’s manager for his last five fights, the collective take from which is estimated to be around $10 million. There are thousands of fight managers, but in 2015, Monica was one of only four to be nominated by the Boxing Writers Association as manager of the year.
They’re still valley kids who choose to stay where their roots run deep. They have served for years on the board of a Coachella Valley youth football program that benefits underprivileged children. When Tim fights, they raffle off plenty of tickets for a variety of causes. They make other donations quietly, because they don’t want their family name synonymous with money.
But loyalty does. When the son of a Top Rank executive died recently, Tim and Monica drove to Las Vegas for the wake, and turned right around to drive home to their kids. When The Desert Sun laid off the sports reporter who had covered Tim’s career from the start, the Bradleys said they would no longer talk to the newspaper. And they haven’t.
They like to stay busy, resting on neither laurels nor bank accounts. Early next year, Monica plans to open her own restaurant in Rancho Mirage, the Haus of Poke, which will feature Hawaiian poke sushi.
Currently, the most important athlete in the family is Robert, a linebacker on La Quinta’s high school football team. Tim is a volunteer assistant coach and takes his role so seriously that he told Monica recently he couldn’t ride with her to a game “because I need to focus on the game plan.”
Early in the season, the entire Bradley family is on hand for a Wednesday night practice. The sun slips behind the mountains, the kids play in the stands, and Monica, watching Robert make a hard tackle, shrugs about her current fate.
“This is it,” she says. “I have to watch a son who has no fear and then I have to watch a husband who has no fear.”
Practice ends, and as the players and coaches walk off the field, Malaya, her little legs churning, runs toward the stocky man with the backpack and the sculpted body. He scoops her up and is now 0 percent boxer and 100 percent daddy.
“She’s the apple of his eye,” Monica says, liking that vision better than the football and boxing, but embracing the whole picture.