By Matthew Hurley: It would be hard to ever notice any trace of bitterness or hostility in Manny Pacquiao. Outside the ring he is the consummate gentleman who never seems to have a negative word for anyone not named Floyd Mayweather. And even when he does target Floyd, it’s always G-rated, which has led many to question whether his killer instinct has abandoned him.
Timothy Bradley, Pacquiao’s opponent on April 12 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and the recipient of a dubious decision victory over Manny in 2012, believes the fire that once burned so brightly in Pacquiao has been extinguished by his religious convictions, which in turn mellowed him, and the vicious right hand Juan Manuel Marquez knocked him out with in 2013. Bradley insists that the two men are now on completely different career trajectories. Bradley sees himself only getting better and more confident since their first go round. Pacquiao, he believes, has regressed and will never get back what he once had when he was at his best.
For his part, Manny waves this off as nonsense. At a recent press conference in Manhattan he addressed Bradley’s criticisms.
“Bradley told me that I don’t have the killer instinct anymore and I’m not aggressive. That’s a challenge to me.”
In an article by Tim Smith, he quotes Manny’s trainer Freddie Roach as saying, “I told him it’s been four years now since we had a knockout. I told Manny that’s why your paydays are getting lower and that’s why the pay-per-view audience isn’t as good.”
That last knockout came late in his bout against Miguel Cotto in one of Pacquiao’s best performances. The last time Manny was gunning for a knockout he left himself vulnerable and wound up on the wrong end of a concussive punch. But Pacquiao and Roach are adamant that the loss to Marquez hasn’t damaged the fighter psychologically. After all, Manny has come back from losses before. His dismantling of Brandon Rios this past November was tactically impressive. He did pretty much whatever he wanted against a big, rugged, albeit overmatched opponent.
But he again failed to stop his rival.
Bradley feels he can outbox Manny and that his proven toughness will keep him in the fight if it gets violent.
He remarked, with tongue in cheek, on ESPN’s Making The Rounds, “It’ll probably go the distance because I’m not considered a big puncher. But I’m a much better fighter than I was in 2012.”
To that Pacquiao later countered, “The only way Bradley can beat me is by KO. He cannot outbox me.”
In a revealing moment before Pacquiao took on Rios, Bradley admitted that their first matchup was an exhausting experience. “So many feints and the speed. He’s doing so many things. I was tired by the fourth round.”
Yet Bradley proved his worth in that first bout, fighting on a hobbled foot and refusing to go down. His subsequent wins against Ruslan Provodnikov, the fight of the year for 2013, and Juan Manuel Marquez at the end of the year, have elevated him in the minds of nearly everyone who appreciates professionalism and hard work.
Bradley was always a fighter described as being good at everything but great at nothing. If there is greatness in Bradley it will win out because of his resolve and dedication. His toughness compensates for a lack of punching power and a style not easily appreciated by the more blood thirsty fans of the sport, the Provodnikov fight notwithstanding.
Despite all the catcalls that continue to rain down on him regarding the decision in the first bout, Bradley remains defiant in his belief that he won fair and square – judges be damned.
“I won eight rounds to four,” he says. “I truly believe that.”
Still he calls this rematch a redemptive opportunity. “I need Manny. He needs me. I’m going to beat him again and erase all doubt.”
So in a strange way, this fight is a golden opportunity for both men. And it was born out of a rather pedestrian first bout.
Pacquiao needs an impressive win to remain a bankable star and possibly set up that long anticipated dream fight with Floyd Mayweather. Although the chances of the fight ever happening continue to slip away.
And Roach was right – Manny’s pay-per-view numbers for the Rios fight were less than spectacular, somewhere between 400,000 and 475,000 buys. Location, Macao, China and the opponent certainly had something to do with it, but it’s obvious that the bloom is off the rose, at least for now. If ever Pacquiao needed a spectacular showing it’s in this rematch, and the bright lights of Las Vegas, where most of his best and exciting performances took place, should be enough to inspire him. If not, if the fire truly has gone out, he’ll be in a world of trouble because the Timothy Bradley he’s facing now is oozing confidence. That’s what makes this fight so intriguing. They seem more evenly matched now than they were in 2012.
Still, there are plenty of people who believe this could turn into a dull affair, with Bradley on his bicycle and a slower Pacquiao chasing him round after round. But then, when Pacquiao – Marquez 4 was officially announced, and many yawned behind their hand, we were treated to a night of boxing so dramatic it turned the sport on its head. You never know what can happen when two fighters start swapping leather.
It says here that after a slow, rather cautious start, Bradley – Pacquiao 2 heats up and kicks into overdrive late. There’s just too much on the line for both of them. It’s a legacy fight for Bradley and fight for survival for Pacquiao. Throw a little desperation into the mix and this rematch could turn into one of the best matchups of 2014.
Matthew Hurley is a full time member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His first book on boxing, Ringside Reflections, can be purchased at Amazon.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
February 11, 2014