Editor’s note: ESPN boxing analyst Timothy Bradley Jr. will be inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame on Sunday.
Dear 23-year-old Tim,
I’m telling you now, you will cry.
You will fall on your knees in jubilation, looking up to the sky and thanking God for this fantastic news. Your wife, Monica, who has spent the past 17 years by your side, will be standing next to you, off the shoulder of a two-way road, stranded and waiting on a tow truck after hitting a pothole, damaging the tire and rim.
You just got a call to inform you have been selected into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The day December 7, 2022, which started not so good, will become one of the best days of your life.
You probably remember watching boxing with Dad growing up — enthralled with Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson. You love boxing at that time, but you have no idea how much. The road won’t be easy, not even close. During your career you’ll be criticized when losing — and when winning. The road won’t be easy, not even close. But this sport will take you from boy to man, and from a better man to a legend.
So this is what I want you to know before you get started on this path that at the moment you’re not quite sure you should take. Some of it will be a relief to hear, some of it might scare you, but understanding your path is so important. You got this champ. Right now you work as a server at Mimi’s Cafe. Days start early at 5 a.m., as running is a daily regimen for boxing training. From there you work 8 a.m. to 4 p.m, then go to the gym at the Boys & Girls Club in Indio, California, where you spend three plus hours training. Days are long.
You’re going to hate that schedule, especially during fight weeks. Your struggles with dieting and working around food will ultimately become unbearable. You’ll lack dieting knowledge, as you will stop eating altogether to make weight for your fights. You will suffer and have stomach pain with occasional cramps. You also stop drinking water during your hours at work, creating even more suffering once the dehydration process occurs. But you need to persevere.
That process becomes more complicated and more challenging as you get closer to your goal of becoming a world champion.
After plenty of consideration, you’ll decide to quit your day job and go against what many people told you along the way to the top: “Always have something to fall back on.” But we both know that you rarely listen to what people say.
You’ll question the decision, wondering if that was the right thing to do — as you had just moved in with your new girlfriend, Monica. You have zero financial security and Monica has two beautiful children from her previous marriage. They will quickly become your responsibility, and you’d decided to call Robert and Alaysia your son and daughter, although they have a father in another home. Instead of providing just for yourself, you’ll have three additional mouths to feed. Life will change rapidly at 23, but trust me, it will be the most important, and challenging, year of your life.
Keep your faith. Pray about whatever is troubling you and stand by your decisions. Your chosen path will lead you to victory.
Tim, please think about what’s missing from strengthening your character and lean on this strong mother of two children for strength. I know about your current lifestyle and I’m only here to convey a message: The difference between you making it big time or not will reflect your character. I’m not worried about your work ethic or courage, nor your passion for succeeding in this unforgiving sport. But partying and drinking go against the things you are trying to accomplish.
The road is long, but you can make it as short, comprehensive, or narrow as possible with your decisions. It all boils down to what you truly want. Sacrifice, suffering and surrender are the necessary tools to progress in every aspect of life, especially in boxing. Seek discomfort instead of comfort. You’ll need more than just yourself on this climb. The love from your family will balance you out. They won’t be a crutch, instead they will be the wind beneath your wings. Monica will provide the soft landing.
Over the next few years, you are going to make mistakes. Don’t worry. We all make mistakes. Please don’t get upset, Tim. No one is perfect. You are young and still trying to find yourself. But if you can admit your faults, you should be willing to change. Perhaps you will become more assertive, focused and aware in making sound decisions, heightening mindfulness to make better choices expeditiously, confidently, and without hesitation.
This pivotal moment will seem to most as a detour. But it will make you see things more clearly. The journey will no longer be about you. It never was, as I believe that God guides our steps. You have three hearts to look after. That’s enough fuel to intensify your desire to someday, be a great father figure, fighter and husband.
It’s pretty scary, right?
Now back to boxing. Remember, you are capable and certainly skilled enough in your craft — you have the heart, knowledge and dedication to climb this treacherous sport. Along the way, many will doubt you — and that’s okay. Some will consider you undersized for your weight class. They will say you have limited punching power that won’t allow you to overcome the world’s elite fighters. Your ring intelligence, guts, hunger and a never-quit attitude will take you to this place of immortality one day.
But before that, you need to get over your insecurities. The daunting world of media, social media and boxing fans will judge you. They’ll praise you and tear you down, simultaneously. Learning and going through this process will put you ahead of the curve once you know how to manage it. Developing a thick skin and not running away from who you are, but running towards who you want to be is essential for success. The more vulnerability you show along the road, and the more receptive you are to criticism, the faster you’ll grow wings to fly high above it all. And that also will keep you grounded while finding your inner peace.
Don’t be afraid to express yourself and your true feelings. Speak your mind and always show your infectious spirit with a big smile. Enjoy the ride, as it is short, and fear only the reflection you see when you look in a mirror because you can be your worst enemy.
You will make it to the top, and when you get there, embody the legendary spirits that came before you. Fight the best to become better, to create a legacy. That way, when it’s all said and done, you can be distinguished among the greatest boxers ever.
Besides being plentiful in the ring, you must be just as assertive with financial literacy. Your business is, and always will be, associated with work and money. And your business depends on you looking good in the ring, sounding well outside of it and winning. You can help your business by showing your personality in and out of the ring. Winning every match will strengthen your partnerships with your promoter and help grow your business to its full potential.
It would be best if you weren’t so reserved. Be ego-driven. Show the world your fearless, outspoken soul. Be that young, happy soul that walked into the boxing gym for the first time. But be professional while promoting yourself or during fight promotions.
Know your worth, and learn the business of boxing quickly because snakes and rats lurk in this business in every form. Remember to trust your intuition as you have made it this far. You have made challenging life-changing decisions, and you have been fine. Keep your circle tight, and don’t forget to test those in it.
You will start making serious money, and things will change instantly. Run your training camps like a business. Seek a good paralegal or a lawyer to establish a corporation. Please note more money requires more solutions for problems.
You can make your dreams a reality but educate yourself about budgeting and management. It’s not about how much money you make. It’s about how much money you can keep, save, and invest. Setting aside money will only help you exit the sport on your terms.
Lastly, I want to make you aware of the psychological and physical changes you will be going through as you move forward in your career. Take full advantage of your prime years, age 25 to 30. Youthfulness begins to wear off in your thirties as a boxer, so taking care of yourself and keeping your weight down over your fighting weight will enhance longevity in the sport. You take enough punishment in training, sparring and during competition. You literally will get the sense knocked out of you. The more you aid your mind and your body, the better your body will feel. By doing so, you will be increasing your overall health and wellness plus, more importantly, nourishing your overall performance.
Boxing is unforgiving, and it takes a lot from you and out of you, but it doesn’t mean you can’t get some of it back. Excellent health is the most sought thing in life.
There is no arguing you will be a little different after every fight, as a piece of you is left behind in the ring, so make sure you kick ass well enough to leave your name behind for years to come, because that’s when you’ll know it was all worth it.
Your 39-year-old self
Timothy Bradley Jr.
Timothy Bradley Jr.: A letter to my younger self as I get inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame