Monday, February 27th 2012
“Manny Pacquiao vs. the Vegan”
FEBRUARY 27, 2012
Manny Pacquiao vs. the Vegan
By Jason Gay, The Wall Street Journal
Pretty soon the boxer will pass on the burger. He will deny the cheese. He will skip the sushi that he adores, and he will not-as Sylvester Stallone did so memorably and nauseatingly in “Rocky”-break five eggs into a glass, and slurp them down raw.
Instead, the boxer will embrace the quinoa. He will thrill to the avocado and befriend the almond. He will enjoy the spinach, the tofu, and the $7.95 organic smoothie that bears his not-yet-household name.
And on June 9 in Las Vegas, after months of strict vegan training, the undefeated boxer Timothy Bradley Jr. hopes to have the fight of his life-and defeat the world-renowned champion Manny Pacquiao.
“Dude, I swear, it’s the most unbelievable feeling ever,” Bradley said. It was Thursday morning in New York City, and Bradley, 28, was riding to a news conference in a slick SUV, praising the diet he believes gives him a pronounced advantage in the ring.
“The reason I love it so much is that I feel connected to the world,” Bradley said. He was wearing a charcoal gray suit jacket, a purple dress shirt, and jeans. “My thoughts are clearer, crisp. I am sharp. Everything is working perfectly-I feel clean. It’s a weird feeling, man. It’s just a weird feeling.”
Bradley, who lives and trains in Palm Springs, Calif., first experimented with a vegan diet in 2008, when he was readying for a title fight in London, England. An adviser suggested that a vegan regimen would give him more energy and endurance. Bradley was given a list of foods to consider.
By his own description a “meat and potatoes guy,” Bradley was staggered to feel an almost-immediate surge in preparation and competition. “I was able to outwork a lot of my opponents,” he said.
“He really liked it,” said Bradley’s trainer, Joel Diaz. “His body felt different.”
Since then, Bradley-nicknamed “Desert Storm”-has stuck by the vegan diet as he became junior welterweight champion and built an unblemished record of 28-0. For three months leading up to a bout, he will eat vegan, with no exceptions. This is what he intends for his MGM Grand showdown with Pacquiao on the second Saturday in June.
“I’ll still be a vegan even after the weigh-in,” Bradley said.
Bradley’s taste is well-known in vegan circles in Palm Springs, the city where he first began to box at age 10. Tydel Wilson, a manager at the Palm Greens Cafe, said the fighter will visit the restaurant twice a day during his peak training periods. Palm Greens went so far as to create a smoothie called the “Bradley’s Ultra Green” which includes spinach, kale, mint, ginger, probiotic, bananas, aloe vera, apple juice and Spirulina.
“He’s such a great patron,” Wilson said. “He knows most of the people here.”
Bradley is hardly the first athlete to find success with vegan training. Over the years the diet has found a place in the conditioning routines of top-tier players like NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez. Cyclist David Zabriskie raced the Tour de France as a near-vegan, supplementing with small amounts of fish. Not long ago the ex-boxing champion Mike Tyson credited a vegan diet with shedding weight and improving his well-being.
But Bradley is not a retired boxer making “Hangover” movies, like Tyson. He’s an elite up-and-comer who will become the latest to try and dethrone Pacquiao, the wildly popular champion and Congressman from the Philippines.
Boxing fans had hoped this spring would finally deliver a fight between Pacquiao and his dream rival Floyd Mayweather Jr. But when that pairing unravelled again, Bradley got his shot.
“It’s new blood going against old blood,” Bradley said. “I’m in my prime, man.”
Bradley’s six-month-old daughter, Jada, yelped happily in the back seat, watched over by Bradley’s wife, Monica. As he prepares for the biggest fight of his career, Bradley still lives in that unpretentious place between confidence and celebrity. While the globally famous Pacquiao travels in a mega-orbit of associates and advisers and occasionally a personal composer, Bradley’s entourage is light-just a few associates, including his father, Tim Sr. On the occasion he is recognized, he never refuses an autograph.
“I’ve met a couple celebrities that I admired and they completely destroyed me,” Bradley explained. “They were rude and didn’t want to sign an autograph or take a picture. I thought if I ever made anything out of my life, I would never turn down a fan, ever. I know how that feels.”
He can still travel without much interruption. The night before, as Pacquiao navigated a frantic schedule that included a scheduled meeting with NBA sensation Jeremy Lin (the summit was called off after an exhausted Pacquiao was sent to bed), Bradley and Monica went to a peaceful dinner at the Olive Garden in Times Square. Bradley joked that dinners like these were one reason he couldn’t go vegan for 12 months of the year.
“I don’t want to lose my wife!” he said.
“I eat more vegetables than he does,” Monica protested.
“That’s true,” Bradley said. “I don’t think I can go [vegan] year round. But for fights, I have to do it.”
The SUV pulled up to an event space on Manhattan’s West Side. Bradley jumped out and unhitched the trunk to remove his daughter’s baby stroller. While a line of boxing fans watched, Manny Pacquiao’s next opponent spent a few seconds wrestling with the stroller before it snapped open, ready to roll. Maybe it wasn’t the flashiest entrance, but the vegan contender had arrived.