By Thomas Hauser: A wave of outrage has swept over the boxing community with regard to the scoring of the June 9th fight between Manny Pacquiao and Tim Bradley. The overwhelming majority of fans, writers, and commentators who watched the fight thought that Pacquiao was a clear winner. Jerry Roth agreed that Pacquiao had won, although his 115-113 scorecard was closer than many observers thought appropriate. Duane Ford and C. J. Ross ignited a firestorm of protest, scoring the bout 115-113 in favor of Bradley.
I’m poor candidate to audition for the Greek chorus. On fight night, sitting in row E of the press section, I thought the decision could have gone either way. And I scored the fight 115-114 for Bradley.
Was I wrong? Later in this article, I’ll recount the thoughts I had after watching a replay of the fight. For now, let’s put Pacquiao-Bradley in perspective.
In recent years, Pacquiao has taken boxing on a glorious ride. Fans in the United States became aware of him when he knocked out Lehlohonolo Ledwaba in 2001 to claim the IBF super-bantamweight crown. A string of triumphs followed, highlighted by a 2008 demolition of Oscar De La Hoya and devastating knockouts of Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto.
Floyd Mayweather (Pacquiao’s rival for boxing supremacy) has been packaged as a superstar. Pacquiao is viewed by millions of fans around the world as a superhero. There’s a difference.
In his native Philippines, Pacquiao is thought of as the heart of his people. Two years ago, he was elected to Congress. It’s likely that, next year, he’ll run for governor of Sarangani province. The Philippine constitution requires that the country’s president be at least forty years old. Pacquiao will turn forty on December 17, 2018. The first presidential election after that will be contested in 2022.
Nor is Pacquiao’s influence limited to his native land. Earlier this year, Forbes placed him fourth on its list of the “most influential” athletes in the United States.
Tim Bradley doesn’t have to make his way through a mob of adoring fans each time he steps out onto the street or goes to the gym. But the more time that people spend with him, the more they like him.
Bradley grew up in the not-so-good part of Palm Springs, California, as a middle child with two sisters. His father was a hard taskmaster. Tim grew up with a lot of anger in him.
“I got into fights all the time,” he recalls. “I’m talking about from the time I was seven or eight years old. Anytime anyone looked at me wrong, I’d get into it with them. It’s different now. I like to be respected, but I’ve learned to treat other people with respect. Beyond that, what can I say? I’m a family guy. I love friends and family. I like to make people happy. I’m outgoing, stubborn, ambitious. I work hard and do whatever it takes to get what I want. I don’t want anything given to me. I want to earn it. For me, happiness comes from the pursuit, from the journey. I live in the moment. Whatever life brings me, I deal with it.”
Other tidbits of information include, “I used to wait tables. I liked doing that because I like talking to people. But I don’t think I’d want to wait tables now. And I used to sing in the church choir. I can carry a tune.”
Bradley excelled in multiple sports when he was young. “I was always the smallest but the strongest kid in my class,” he recalls. “I was fast and ran a pretty good mile. In junior high school, I scored thirty touchdowns in flag football in ten games.”
But his primary love was boxing.
“When I was in sixth grade,” Bradley remembers, “I had a friend named Julio. He used to train at a gym. In school, we’d slap-box, just fooling around. Julio told me I should go to the gym with him. I begged my dad to let me do it. Finally, my dad got tired of me talking about it and brought me in. I met my first trainer that day. His name was O.J. Kutcher. O.J. looked me over and said, ‘Someday, you’ll be a champion.’ I told him, ‘You say that to everyone.’ And he told me, ‘No, I don’t. I see something special in you.’”
That same day, Kutcher put Bradley in the ring with Julio to see what he could do.
“I was a street-fighter,” Tim recalls. “I lived in a tough neighborhood and wouldn’t let anyone bully me. Most of the fights I had, I won. When Julio and I fooled around slap-boxing in school, I always got the better of him. So now I’m in the ring with Julio. I say to myself, ‘I’m going to dominate, doing what I always do.’ I got tamed pretty quickly. Julio kept popping me in the face, snapping my head back with his jab. The madder I got, the more I got hit. My head hurt. My neck was sore. I had a bloody nose and my lip was split. I was mad, sad, angry, crying. Julio shut me down. He kicked my butt. He humiliated me. He killed my pride. I came out of the ring with tears running down my face, and my dad asked me, ‘Is this what you want to do?’ I said yes. And Julio was nice about it. He patted me on the back and told me, ‘Don’t worry; it’s just the first day. You’ll get better.’ He was right. Three weeks later, we got in the ring again and I busted him up.”
“I loved going to the gym,” Bradley continues. “The people there were like family to me. I didn’t want to miss a day. I always wanted to run more, spar more, work harder. It got to where my parents used it as leverage with me. If I did something wrong or if there was something right I didn’t do, I couldn’t go to the gym. And O.J. changed my life. He didn’t sugarcoat anything. He told it the way it was, but he believed in me. He was like my dad away from home, the way he cared about me. He even went to school sometimes to check up on my grades. Then, when I was fourteen, he had a stroke and never recovered. I watched him pass. I was there when they turned off the machine that he was hooked up to. That was very hard for me. I still miss him. If he was here, if I could see him again now; first thing, I’d tell him I was happy to see him. I’d ask if he wanted to grab a bite to eat and catch up on things. Then I’d tell him how grateful I am that he was in my life; that I did what he told me I could do and I hope he’s proud of me.”
Bradley turned pro in 2004 with Joel Diaz as his trainer and his father, Ray Bradley, as Joel’s assistant. Diaz had his own checkered past to contend with. A professional fighter with a 17-and-3 record, he was forced out of the ring by a detached retina and found himself drinking heavily.
“I’d take my gun in the middle of the night and go up in the mountains and cry and shoot into the mountains,” Diaz told writer Peter Nelson. He also found employment as a bodyguard for a childhood friend who was a drug dealer. Then the dealer was forced by circumstances to flee the country and Diaz had an epiphany that his life was going nowhere good, so he returned to boxing as a trainer.
Meanwhile, Bradley had few illusions about the trade he was about to enter.
“Al Mitchell [a trainer who worked with several U.S. Olympic teams] sat me down when I was an amateur,” Tim recalls. “He told me straight out, the professional game is a ruthless game. It can eat you whole, swallow you up, and leave you with nothing. Only two percent of the guys who turn pro make enough money to change their life. That’s one out of fifty. And even if you make the money, a lot of guys live beyond their means, blow all their money, and wind up where they started.”
Bradley’s career in the professional ranks has been fueled by a Spartan work ethic.
“I’ve been around a lot of fighters,” says Cameron Dunkin, who has managed Bradley for the past three years. “And I have never – I mean never – been around a fighter who works harder and is more focused on doing what he has to do than Tim is. He takes his career more seriously than any fighter I’ve ever known.”
That focus helped Bradley craft a 28-and-0 record and brought him the WBC and WBO junior-welterweight crowns. He won his belts the hard way. First, he traveled to England to face Junior Witter (a titlest that few fighters wanted to meet) in his own backyard. Then he decisioned Lamont Peterson and Devon Alexander.Those three opponents had a composite record of 84-1-2 at the time Tim fought them.
“Fighting makes me happy,” Bradley says. “Boxing is a beautiful sport. You can tell a lot about a person’s character by the way he fights. It lets you see what he’s like inside. You can always find excuses, but either you perform in the ring or you don’t. To be a great fighter, you need skills and basic talent. You need to be smart; you have to think in there. You need courage, heart, and determination. If you can dish it out but can’t take it, you won’t go anywhere in boxing. And it helps if you have a mean streak. For me, that comes from my childhood.”
How competitive is Bradley?
“I would love to go back in time and fight Marvin Hagler,” Tim says. “Ray Leonard would move on me; slap me around while I chased him. Hagler would stand there and fight. Probably, I’d get my butt kicked, but it would be a great fight.”
There were kick-off press conferences for Pacquiao-Bradley in California and New York. Both fighters were gracious with Tim cast in the role of a credible challenger.
“I’m grateful to Manny Pacquiao for giving me this opportunity,” Bradley told the media. “There’s no one in the world I’d rather fight. I hope he regrets it. I’m not just coming to look good. I’m not just coming to survive. I’m not just coming for a paycheck. I want the throne.”
Bob Arum, who’d guaranteed minimum purses of $26,000,000 to Pacquiao and $5,000,000 to Bradley, declared, “People tell me I’m underestimating Bradley. No, I’m not. Bradley is a very good fighter. That’s what the public wants.”
Pacquiao, for his part, warned his challenger, “When someone hits me, I hit back.”
There was a brief spat when Alex Ariza (Pacquiao’s strength and conditioning coach) opined, “The guys we’re sparring with in the gym are better than Bradley. If he’s afraid of Amir [Bradley had turned down a fight against Amir Khan in 2011], I don’t know what he’s thinking, fighting Manny. He’s obviously just there to get paid. He’s not there to win, for sure.”
That earned a sharp rejoinder from Joel Diaz, who noted, “Alex Ariza can say whatever he wants. He’s never been in camp with Tim Bradley. He hasn’t even stepped in the gym to see Tim Bradley train. I can open my mouth to the world and say, ‘In my gym I have better fighters than Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. I have better fighters than Manny Pacquiao.’ If he has better fighters in his gym than Tim Bradley, how come nobody knows them? How come they’re not world champions?”
When the media tour was over, Bradley observed, “I’d never met Manny before. Each time we came face to face, we were sizing each other up. He has big legs, but he’s no bigger than me. My abs are as good as his. He was very friendly, but it was a kind of scary nice.”
Then Tim added, “Before I fought Devon Alexander, people were saying how good he was. Then the fight started, and I was like, ‘This is it? This is what everyone is raving about?’ I’ve been studying Pacquiao for years. People say, ‘He’s blazing fast. He hits so hard.’ I want to see for myself if he’s as good as people say he is and if I can compete with that. Manny can fight. He’s great at what he does. I want to prove that I’m better than he is.”
Bradley trained for the fight at home, living with his wife and three children.
“I don’t have a big entourage,” he said. “There’s not a lot of people riding on my coattails. I don’t need a bunch of guys who are there for no reason except they’re being paid. This is a chance for me to put some serious money away and secure my family’s future. My team will be Joel Diaz, my father and mother, my wife, and Sam Jackson [a close friend]. What we’re doing has worked so far, so why change?”
As he’d done prior to his eight most recent fights, Bradley went vegan for the full three months of training. His diet included kale, spinach, broccoli, brown rice, brown pasta, fruit, almonds, walnuts, grain, and supplements for extra protein. Everything was gluten-free.
“I never ate vegetables when I was a kid,” Tim explained. “I used to hate vegetables. But if you prepare vegetables properly and put the right spices in, they taste good. There’s no Big Macs or fried chicken on this diet. If it has eyes or a momma, I’m not eating it.”
As for the fight itself, the assumption was that, once the bell rang, neither guy would have to look hard to find the other. The prevailing view was that two issues would define the outcome: “How much, if at all, had Pacquiao’s skills diminished?” and “How good is Bradley?”
Bradley is in his prime and had beaten some very good fighters.
“He’s tough,” Freddie Roach acknowledged. “He comes forward and is very aggressive. He’s very strong and muscular up top. He’s a physical fighter. He uses his head and elbows a lot, and Manny sometimes has trouble with that. But Ricky Hatton fought that way too, and look what Manny did to him. Manny will win this fight,” Roach concluded. “He’s faster; he’s more experienced; and he has a lot more power.”
Punching power was Pacquiao’s biggest edge. He has it. And Bradley doesn’t. Tim had only twelve knockouts in twenty-eight pro fights. He stopped an aging Joel Casamayor in his last outing. But one had to go back to a fifth-round stoppage of Nasser Athumani in 2007 to find a knockout on his resume before that.
Also, three years ago, Bradley was knocked down and hurt badly in the first round by Kendall Holt. He survived and won a twelve-round decision. Pacquiao is faster than Holt and hits a lot harder. Tim likes to trade punches with opponents. There was doubt as to whether he could survive a firefight with Manny.
“All fights are different,” Pacquiao said. “I don’t take this fight lightly. Bradley is undefeated and he is a champion. I know what he’s feeling. But I am confident that I will win.”
As an added precaution, Roach brought a new crop of sparring partners into the gym to force a harder, less friendly pace than Manny had grown accustomed to in recent training camps.
On the other side of the ledger, the case for a Bradley victory began with the premise that Pacquiao is no longer the fighter he once was. Exhibit 1 in support of that theory was Manny’s last fight against Juan Manuel Marquez. Most people had predicted a dominating win for Pacquiao. The judges gave him a majority-decision triumph. Most observers at ringside thought that Marquez deserved the nod.
Pacquiao called his outing against Marquez “a not so happy fight” and added, “I was in one-hundred-percent physical condition, but I had some family issues that I had to deal with. I also underestimated him.”
Roach noted, “It was the first bad night we had in ten years. We all predicted knockouts and so forth. It was a little embarrassing. But Marquez is always going to give Manny trouble. He’s a very good boxer and very smart.”
Freddie also echoed his fighter, saying, “We had a great training camp for Marquez. But on the week of the fight, everything fell apart. Manny had some personal problems and they affected the fight. All of the distractions around him caused him to fight poorly. I don’t think Manny will let that happen again.”
But the fact remained that Marquez had entered the ring to face Pacquiao with a significant power deficit. And Juan Manuel had found a way to neutralize Manny’s power, not just once but each of the three times they’d fought over an eight-year span.
“I was surprised that Pacquiao couldn’t get Marquez out of there,” Bradley said. “Marquez is a great fighter, but he’s thirty-eight years old and past his prime.”
There was also a belief that Bradley’s head-first style of fighting posed a particular danger for Pacquiao. More than most elite fighters, Manny seems to be bothered by the sight of his own blood. Head-clashes are more likely when an orthodox fighter faces a southpaw. Pacquiao is lefthanded. And head clashes occur with remarkable frequency whenever Bradley fights.
“Bradley comes in head first,” Roach said. “We’ve been working on how to nullify that. We have a lefty fighting against a righty. Their heads may clash. It’s something I’m concerned about.”
There was also an issue regarding what kind of shape Pacquiao was in. On April 21st, Alex Ariza (Manny’s strength and conditioning coach) left Pacquiao’s training camp in the Philippines without Roach’s foreknowledge to work with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
“I had Amir Khan and Manny Pacquiao, my two top fighters there,” Roach complained. “Alex wanted to go work with Chavez Jr, and I told him, ’I think it’s a bad move.’ Alex is very good at what he does, but he overdid it. His head has gotten too big, and we need to calm him down a little bit.”
Ariza’s defended his decision, asserting that he’d spoken with Pacquiao, who “gave me the green light and said, ’Yeah, go help him. I’ll see you in LA. It’s okay.’”
Manny confirmed Ariza’s version of events, saying, “They are making a big issue of that. But Alex asked permission of me, if I’m okay that he goes back to LA. If I don’t agree, he’s not going to leave.”
Ariza leaving training camp for two weeks meant less torturous strength and conditioning sessions for Pacquiao in the gym. There were those who thought that this was part of Manny’s thinking.
As expected, Bob Arum spoke glowingly of Bradley’s chances, telling the media, “When you look at Manny’s opponents, the freshest guy he has fought will be Bradley. The others he has fought have been great names like Cotto, Margarito, De La Hoya and Hatton. Bradley is not a great name, but he’s a great fighter and young and fresh. The most important element with Bradley is his mind. He’s a very very determined young man. He’s confident in his abilities and determined, and that is a tremendous plus for any athlete.”
Arum, of course, was hyping the fight to sell on-site tickets and pay-per-view buys. But he was correct in his appraisal of Bradley’s self-belief. Again and again in the months leading up to the fight, Tim made the case for his impending success:
* “People say, ’Bradley doesn’t have power.’ But dudes sure do like to hold when they get close to me. I’m not the biggest puncher in the world. I don’t have one-punch knockout power. But I can back you off me and keep guys honest with my power. I have stinging power. Anyone who thinks I don’t, come down and spar with me.”
* “Pacquiao is a great fighter. He’s fast; he’s explosive; he’s well-schooled. I know all that. But I think I can make him pay for the things he does wrong. You’ve never seen anybody just walk through me with power, and it won’t happen on June 9th. I’ve been on the canvas before, so it’s nothing new to me. The most hurt I ever was in the ring was in my twelfth pro fight against Eli Addison. In the second round, we both threw right hands and missed and our heads collided. I got whacked on the right side of my temple and didn’t know where I was at. I lost control of my body. I thought I was walking fine, but I was staggering around like Zab Judah did against Kostya Tszyu. People were laughing. They thought I was kidding around. Then the referee said ’box’ and Addison came at me. I was on autopilot. The next thing I remember, it was the seventh round. But I won the decision. That’s the kind of fighter I am. I know that, sometime in the fight, Manny will hit me with a big shot. The question is, what happens when that happens. He doesn’t scare me. His punches have sting. His punches hurt. But except for Ricky Hatton, he hasn’t shown one-punch knockout power.”
* “I don’t just rush in. I’m hard to hit. I have really good eyes and a good boxing sense. Pacquiao doesn’t fight well inside. I do. Pacquiao sets up his punches with his feet. My footwork is as good as his. I’m as fast as he is. I know what he can do, what he likes to do, and what he doesn’t like. I think he’ll be surprised by how strong I am, how fast I am, and how good I am. Manny has more power than I do, but skill wins fights. I don’t just have muscles. I know how to use them.”
* “Pacquiao has been fighting slower opposition lately. Ever since De La Hoya, the only guy he fought who had any speed was Marquez. Marquez was quick, and you saw what happened in that fight. My opponents have been young lions; Devon Alexander, Lamont Peterson, Junior Witter. Pacquiao has been fighting guys who are past their prime, guys that are slipping and sliding down the mountain. I’m on my way up.”
* “I can’t come out too fast. I’ve got to be smart; go out for a few rounds, read him, and then start picking him apart. I have to find out what his best punches are and feel him out and get the timing down. I can’t throw wide punches to get to him because, if I do, he’ll come straight down the middle and BOOM. He likes to mix it up. You know how you slow down a fighter like that? You fight him. I’ll be going at a fast pace for every minute of every round. Thirty-six minutes, twelve full rounds. And I won’t fade the way the other guys he’s fought lately faded. The longer it goes, the more dominant I’ll be.”
* “Freddie thinks his fighter is more skillful than me. Maybe he is; maybe he isn’t. I don’t care what Freddie Roach thinks. He can say whatever he wants. He isn’t in my training camp and he won’t be in the ring fighting for Pacquiao. Junior Witter watched film. Lamont Peterson watched film. Devon Alexander watched film. Freddie Roach can watch all the film he wants and say anything he wants. Freddie Roach has never been in the ring with me.”
* “Nothing is guaranteed in boxing. You don’t win fights with your record. You win fights with what you do on the night of the fight. In boxing, it’s always about right now. I know when to box and I know when to brawl. I’m physically and mentally prepared. I can hang with anybody. I went through a lot of things in and out of the ring to get to this point in my life. Pacquiao’s people don’t know what they got themselves into. It’s my time now.”
Bradley believed in himself. There was no doubt about that. And there was another factor to be considered.
There are very few choirboys at the elite fighter level. Pacquiao’s persona and all that he has accomplished outside the ring have been an important part of his rise to global superstar status. But in recent years, there have been rumblings that, behind the scenes, there was trouble in paradise. Now some not-so-wonderful details were surfacing and becoming part of the Pacquiao story.
Pacquiao and his wife Jinkee have four children. He professes to be a devout Catholic. But over the years, there has been a pattern of infidelity in his life.
In May 2009, GMA News in the Philippines reported, “In 2006, Pacquiao admitted engaging in a one-night stand with Joanna Rose Bacosa, who would later claim that the world’s greatest southpaw fathered her son, Emmanuel John Pacquiao. Bacosa brought the matter to court, accusing Pacquiao of violating Republic Act No. 9262 and sought support for the boy. Making one of the biggest splashes was the boxer’s rumored affair with sexy actress Ara Mina. The actress was rumored to be the reason why Pacquiao abandoned his training in the U.S. in 2007 and resumed it in the Philippines. The two starred in the 2007 Metro Manila Film Festival entry Anak ni Kumander, where they had to lock lips nine times to perfect a kissing scene. In early 2008, photos of Pacquiao dancing with an unknown young lady in green at the Embassy in Taguig City proliferated on the Internet.”
Jinkee defended her husband at the time, saying, “I trust Manny. He loves us and our kids. Our relationship is strong.”
That would change.
Meanwhile, Pacquiao had developed a serious gambling habit, suffering losses well in excess of a million dollars annually. Arum would later acknowledge, “He was addicted to it. Manny had one of the worst gambling habits of any athlete I’ve ever known.”
And Philippine tax officials filed a criminal complaint against Pacquiao for failing to produce documents to investigators who were examining “discrepancies” in his tax returns.
“If Mr. Pacquiao is not hiding something, then he should submit all the documents required by the BIR,” Bureau of Internal Revenue officer Rozel Lozares said. “He is a lawmaker and we expect him to respect the law.”
Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated would later reference what he called the fighter’s “Charlie Sheen-like behavior”.
Finally, Jinkee decided that she’d had enough. In the days leading up to Pacquiao’s November 11, 2011, fight against Juan Manuel Marquez, she resolved that she would no longer tolerate her husband’s promiscuity. Whether or not Manny was actually served with papers demanding a divorce on the night before the fight is open to debate. What is clear is that, not long after the fight, Pacquiao declared that he’d experienced a religious awakening and would change his lifestyle in numerous ways.
The new Manny Pacquiao pledged fidelity to his wife, sold his ownership in a Manila casino, divested himself of his one-thousand-rooster cockfighting operation, shuttered his sports bar, pledged that he would give up all other vices, and re-dedicated himself to his faith.
“The old has passed,” Pacquiao proclaimed. “The new has come. When I committed my life to the Lord, I gave up many things that were not in keeping with what the Bible teaches. The sins I committed over and over, I stopped doing. It’s better for me now. I found a new way of life. It is the right way. I read the Bible before, but now I have learned to obey the word of God. The manuel to my life is the Bible. I have peace of mind now. I am always happy every day because I am following the word of God. I know, if I die today, where I’m going. I’m not worried about what fits in this world. I’m worried about what happens to me in my eternal life.”
“Manny had money and fame before,” longtime adviser Michael Koncz explains. “But he always needed action. Gambling, cockfighting, women. All those things kept him from being bored. Even with politics; he loved the challenge of getting elected. But getting elected is one thing; achieving after you’ve been elected is another. I think Manny expected that he’d be faced with tough decisions every day in the political arena and have accomplishment after accomplishment. But politics doesn’t work that way. It’s not as immediately gratifying as a knockout. And what has happened is, now when Manny has time to fill, he reads the Bible and shares the Bible. When he wants to feel that he’s making a difference in people’s lives, he shares the Bible with them. He’s more relaxed and more content than I’ve ever seen him.”
Jinkee was pleased by the change in her husband. “Our lives were like a roller coaster ride,” she said. “Now it’s very different than before. It’s full of trust. Now we have a happy life together.”
Arum also hailed Pacquiao’s transformation. “Manny’s life was careening off the rails,” the promoter declared. “It’s different now for him. He goes to sleep on time, in bed with his wife, not guilt-ridden. He’s at peace with himself. From somebody who has visited the training camp a few times, the difference in Manny’s face is so apparent. He’s not as tired as he was and he’s not as worn as he was. There’s a glow in his face. I think this religious awakening has been all good on his part. I’m a little prejudiced because I’m religious myself. But I believe when young athletes find religion it will greatly enhance their careers. When an athlete has a religious experience, it’s a great thing.”
Freddie Roach also took a positive view.
“He has more focus and more energy,” the trainer noted. “In the past he’d come to the gym with rings under his eyes from getting so little sleep because he’d been out late all night. Now he shows up fresh and, when he’s done, he does his Bible study and goes to sleep. I have no doubt it’s going to make Manny a better fighter. He and God are very close right now, and he’s just a better athlete with no distractions.”
There were some bumps in the road. It was pointed out that, despite Pacquiao’s recent religious reawakening, he was continuing a lucrative endorsement deal with Hennessy cognac. There was also a flap when Manny spoke publicly against gay marriage.
More significantly, Pacquiao told Filipino television personality Korina Sanchez that he was thinking seriously about retiring from boxing because the sport conflicted with his devotion to God. That was followed by an interview with Bob Velin of USA Today in which Manny said, “Hitting each other is not good. So I was thinking I’m not going to stay long in boxing."
That earned a riposte from veteran boxing writer Charles Jay, who observed, “Except that Pacquiao’s not retiring. He’s simply talking about leaving boxing in 2013, or after three, four or five more fights, which frankly, may be when he was going to leave the sport anyway. The contradictions are all over the place. Pacquiao revealed that he was seriously considering retirement after God appeared to him in a dream and told him to quit boxing. If you are going to push yourself as some sort of messenger of God, and God tells you to do something, you don’t ‘seriously consider’ it. In other words, we are to believe that God told him to do something, and Pacquiao said something like, ‘Okay, good idea. I’ll think about it. But first let me sign for this fight against Timothy Bradley, and then have a couple more fights, and of course, there’s the possibility of that fight with the evil Mayweather. Sometime next year, I’ll get back to you.’ I thought the idea was that God didn’t want him to be a fighter anymore. I don’t think He asked him to win a couple of additional championship belts first, then hang ‘em up.”
Bradley had his own take on it all.
“I’m a spiritual person,” Tim said. “But not I’m religious. I believe in one God and I embrace Christ as my Lord and Savior, but I don’t go to church every Sunday. To me, the way religions do things, too much of the time it’s like a cult. I can’t tell you that anyone else is wrong, but I can tell you what I believe. I believe that every person can be saved. I believe that murderers can go to heaven. God is in my heart. I live my life the best way I can. Am I right? No one knows the whole truth of what is. Do I know? No, it’s faith. I’m not perfect, but I’m the best person I can be. I don’t throw my religion in anybody else’s face. Manny has his way of doing things, and I have mine.”
The media center at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas was less frenetic during fight week than had been the case for other recent Pacquiao events. Pay-per-view buys were tracking in desultory fashion, and the NBA conference championship series between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics posed a problem. Ultimately, Miami-Boston went to a seventh game on Saturday night, which pulled an undetermined number of potential buyers away from the fight.
Equally important, the NBA playoffs deprived Pacquiao-Bradley of important media coverage. ESPN was televising the Heat-Celtics series, which meant that the sports entertainment colossus devoted its multiple platforms far more to basketball than to boxing. The fight also faced same-day competition from the Stanley Cup finals, French Open, and Belmont Stakes
Publicist Fred Sternburg (a fixture in Pacquiao’s camp during big promotions) was asked if he saw any difference between Manny’s demeanor in advance of the Bradley fight as opposed to previous events.
“Yes,” Sternburg answered. “Manny has been on time all week.”
But there were other differences. In recent years, Pacquiao has seemed to enjoy the rituals of fight week. Now he appeared to be tired of them. He was more subdued than in the past; more somber, possibly, than serene.
“His last few fights, he hasn’t been the old Manny,” Roach explained. “I think he has something to prove to the people.”
But in the eyes of some, Pacquiao already had one foot out the door. “My family wants me to retire,” he said. “My wife, my mom, my kids.” And one had to ask whether the demands that come with the devotion of the Filipino people were transforming the idolatry of millions from an inspiration to a burden.
Sugar Ray Leonard, who has been there done that, wondered aloud, “Is it too much now?”
Bradley had no such internal conflicts. He was enjoying the spotlight and took to the big-fight atmosphere the way a duck takes to water. There were times when he seemed like a hero out of central casting. Smart, well-spoken, gracious, a family man with solid values and a megawatt smile that lights up a room when he enters. He has a compelling personality and seemed to believe in himself as much as a fighter can.
During an hour-long “satellite tour” two days before the fight, Bradley was in good spirits.
“I feel wonderful . . . I feel good . . . I’m great. How are you? . . . Thank you . . .”
Among the thoughts he offered were:
* “When I was a kid and won a tournament, I’d be all excited and show everyone my trophy. This fight is about a lot more than a trophy. The money I’m making on Saturday night will change my life and my family’s life. Winning will change things even more.”
* “I know that Manny is a great fighter. But he has to prove to me that he’s better than me. We’ll find out on Saturday if I’m great or not. One thing I know is that, when it’s over, I’ll be satisfied that I trained as hard as I could, fought as well as I could, and put it all on the line.”
* “Sure, I’m nervous. If I wasn’t nervous, there’d be something wrong with me. But I’m sleeping fine. I love pressure. When I’m under pressure, I perform. The more pressure, the better I fight.”
* “The stage is ready. The lights are on. I believe with all my heart that this is my time.”
Bradley’s confidence was contagious. Pacquiao was a 4-to-1 favorite at the MGM Grand Sports Book. But there was an undercurrent of sentiment in the media center that an upset might be brewing.
Manny had catapulted to superstardom with scintillating victories over Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, and Miguel Cotto. He was dominant in triumphs over Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito but slipped a bit against Shane Mosley. His most recent performance, against Juan Manuel Marquez, had been disappointing. It was a matter of conjecture whether his newly-found religious fervor would spur him on in the ring against Bradley or blunt his aggressiveness.
Tim emphasized that latter point, noting, “Pacquiao’s life is going in a lot of different directions. He’s here; he’s there. One day he’s fornicating. Then he’s not. But it seems like he’s trying to get away from boxing.”
Bradley, on the other hand, was a hungry fighter. More than simply saying all the right things, he seemed to believe them and gave every indication of being ready to translate his belief into reality. The presumption was that he would come as hard as he could for as long as he could; that he would dig as deep as possible on fight night, whereas Pacquiao might not. After all; against Marquez, Manny had shown a disinclination to walk through fire in the late rounds when it appeared as though Juan Manuel was in the lead.
In sum; Pacquiao’s aura of invincibility was glowing less brightly than in the recent past. Alex Ariza acknowledged, “You can race your car in high gear for just so long before there are problems.”
And Don Turner, who was monitoring the proceedings from his home in North Carolina, opined, “I’ve been around boxing a long time. Let me tell you what I’ve learned from watching guys like Ali and Evander and Larry Holmes. When the bell rings, Pacquiao’s belief in Jesus might help him. But Jesus won’t.”
There were comments that Bradley would be a good spokesman for boxing if he won; that he was about the future, whereas Manny might be about the past.
“Hell must be freezing over,” Tim said when told that quite a few members of the media were picking him to win. “This is great.”
The biggest concern voiced by members of Team Bradley was that, if the fight went to the scorecards, their man wouldn’t get a fair shake from the judges.
* * *
“On the day of a fight,” Bradley has said, “it’s like there’s this huge rock on my back and I want to get it off. Then, right before I leave the dressing room, things become sort of like an out-of-body experience. When I walk to the ring, some fans are cheering ‘Go, Bradley!’ Others are shouting, ‘You’re going to get knocked out.’ None of that means anything to me. When I step between the ropes, the nervousness leaves me. I say to myself, ‘I own this ring.’ And I look across the ring at the other guy and say, ‘You made a mistake, buddy.’”
The first two rounds of Pacquiao-Bradley were closely contested with all three judges splitting them evenly between the fighters. According to CompuBox, Pacquiao outlanded Bradley 11-to-10 in the first stanza, but I gave that round to Bradley because I thought he fought more effectively.
Pacquiao dominated rounds three through six of what was then an exciting action fight. Bradley fired back when hit and pumped punches to the body when Manny tried to tie him up on the inside. But Pacquiao scored more effectively, particularly when punches were fired in bunches.
“He was fast,” Bradley acknowledged afterward. “And he stunned me a couple of times in there.”
In round five, I made two notes: “Bradley more respectful now of Pacquiao’s power . . . Can Manny keep it up for twelve rounds? If so, he wins.”
In round six, I wrote, “Pacquiao looks very good . . . Pacquiao unloading . . . Bradley walks to his corner at end of round with a weary discouraged look.”
At that point, I had Pacquiao ahead 59-55 (the same score as Jerry Roth). Duane Ford and C.J. Ross had it 58-56.
Then, in my eyes (and also in the eyes of all three judges), the momentum of the fight changed.
Before the fight, Bradley had said, “I’m a rough fighter. I come in aggressively. There will be no time off. I’ll be fighting sixty seconds of every minute, three minutes of every round.” But he’d also acknowledged, “Pacquiao hits hard, so I’ll feel him out and see what he really has. If he does have power, then I’ll have to be smarter in there and outbox this guy.”
In round seven, Bradley started boxing. From that point on, I thought he controlled the pace of the fight.
Round eight: “Bradley boxing more now. Not pushing the pace . . . Pacquiao taking the round off. Looks a bit tired.”
Round nine: “Some good flurries both ways . . . Bradley looks stronger and digging deeper . . . Pacquiao may be losing his power.”
Round ten: “Pacquiao moving forward, but Bradley countering well.”
Round eleven: “Pacquiao throwing one punch at a time.”
Round twelve: “After an impressive start, Manny has looked ordinary the second half of the fight.”
When I talliied my score, I’d given Bradley five of the last six rounds with one round even for a 115-114 scorecard in Tim’s favor. Beneath those numbers, I wrote, “Pacquiao outfought Bradley the first half of the fight. Bradley outboxed Pacquiao in the second half. Manny at his best always finished strong. This time, he didn’t. Like the Marquez fight, he wasn’t willing to walk through fire in the late rounds to win.”
Duane Ford and C. J. Ross scored the fight 115-113 in Bradley’s favor. Jerry Roth scored it 115-113 for Pacquiao.
Looking at the round-by-round punch-stats after the fight, I questioned my scoring of several rounds. When I watched the replay, I could see how a majority of observers scored the bout for Pacquiao. Duane Ford and C.J. Ross didn’t have the benefit of hindsight. I think they’re honest judges, and I don’t think the decision was a “robbery.”
Bob Arum thought otherwise. In the media center immediately after the fight, the promoter declared, “I have never been as ashamed to be associated with the sport of boxing as I am tonight. To hear scores like we heard tonight; it’s unfathomable. These people don’t know how to score. Two of the judges [Ford and Roth] are too damn old to score anymore. What were they looking at? How do you explain it to anybody? What fight were they watching? They’re honest, but they need to correct their vision. What we saw tonight was ridiculous. It’s bizarre. This isn’t arguing about a close decision. This is an absurdity. Everyone who’s associated with boxing should feel ashamed.”
As Bart Barry (who also scored the fight for Bradley) wrote afterward, “Bradley and Pacquiao were examples of graciousness ignored by almost everyone else.” Pacquiao told the media that he thought he’d won, but added, “The decision has been done already, so we have to respect it and give credit to him. It’s part of the game. I’m still here. Next time.”
Bradley attended the post-fight press conference in a wheel chair with strained ligaments in his left foot and a badly swollen right ankle. “I stepped on the referee’s foot and felt something pop,” he explained. The other injury came when he pivoted awkwardly.
The injuries highlighted Bradley’s fortitude and gave rise to the question of whether they’d hampered his performance. But he refused to cite them as an explanation or excuse, giving credit to Pacquiao for being a great fighter.
Meanwhile, a perfect storm was brewing. An overwhelming majority of on-site media had scored the fight for Pacquiao. The most notable exception was Brian Kenny (who ironically, called the fight for Top Rank’s international feed). Kenny saw Bradley as a 115-113 victor and held to that view after watching a replay.
Here, I should note that, on The Fight Game this past Saturday night, HBO made a point of showing round seven (which all three judges scored for Bradley) without blow-by-blow commentary. Jim Lampley referred to the round as “the smoking gun.” The point was then made that, according to CompuBox, Pacquiao outlanded Bradley 27-to-11 in that round.
I think that Bradley outlanded Pacquiao in round seven. Don’t take my word for it. Watch the round again without sound and decide for yourself.
Still, conspiracy theories abounded. Depending on one’s imagination, either Arum bought off the judges (because his contract with Pacquiao was expiring and this was a way to lock Manny in for another fight). Or Richard Schaefer did it. Or maybe it was Al Haymon, Floyd Mayweather’s omnipotent manager.
On June 11th, Arum formally requested that the Nevada Attorney General’s office conduct a full inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the scoring of the bout.
“I want to investigate whether there was any undue influence,” the promoter said, explaining his action. “They have to investigate the commission, how these guys were appointed, what was told to them before the fight, if anything. We have to investigate the judges. We have to investigate the betting pattern. And we have to investigate the promoter; that’s me. If this was a subjective view that each of the judges honestly held, okay. I would still disagree, but then we’re off the hook in terms of there being no conspiracy. But there needs to be an independent investigation because it strains credulity that an event everybody saw as so one-sided one way, all three judges saw it as close. The public has a right to know. The fighters have a right to know. The only way to restore fans’ confidence in boxing is by letting an independent body investigate every detail of the fight, no matter how big or small. Sunshine never hurt anyone."
The story-line of Pacquiao-Bradley is now the judging. But there are other story-lines buried beneath the controversy.
First, all the talk about the decision has deflected attention from the fact that, for the first time in years, Manny failed to sell out an arena in Las Vegas.
Floyd Mayweather, despite considerable self-promotion, hasn’t sold out the MGM Grand since 2007. Pacquiao fought before capacity crowds in Sin City on seven occasions during that same period.
Not this time. Documents filed with the Nevada State Athletic Commission show that 13,229 tickets were sold for Pacquiao-Bradley. 925 complimentary tickets were given away and 2,070 tickets went unsold.
Similarly, Pacquiao’s previous seven fights averaged more than 1,100,000 pay-per-view buys. Early numbers suggest that Pacquiao-Bradley will fall in the 850,000 range. Some of that shortfall can be attributed to the fact that Bradley has yet to develop a following. But the bloom appears to be fading a bit from the Pacquiao rose.
The arena for the weigh-in at the MGM Grand was configued for 6,000 fans. In recent years, every seat has been filled for Pacquiao appearances. This time, the announced attendance was 4,000. That seemed like a generous estimate. Also, on-site merchandise for Pacquiao-Bradley sold less well than for previous Pacquiao fights.
It’s too early to proclaim the end of the Pacquiao Era. Indeed, the loss to Bradley might re-energize Manny as a fighter. But there’s a question as to how much he has left. Against Antonio Margarito and Shane Mosley, Pacquiao appeared to be compassionate late in the fight. But he wasn’t compassionate against Juan Manuel Marquez. Against Marquez, he couldn’t pull the trigger. And against Bradley, he faded as the bout wore on. Manny was at his most devastating physically and mentally for his fights against De La Hoya, Hatton, and Cotto. He’s unlikely to get to that level again.
There may, or may not, be a rematch between Pacquiao and Bradley. Arum has indicated that he questions the economics and aesthetics of such a fight. That might be part of an effort to drive down Tim’s contractually-mandated purse minimum before a contract is (or is not) signed.
The assumption all along had been that, if Bradley beat Pacquiao, Top Rank would know how to make the most of it. One of the sad things in the way Pacquiao-Bradley has played out is that Tim has emerged from the fight more tarnished in the public mind than if the decision had gone against him. That’s not fair.
The furor surrounding Pacquiao-Bradley has also been unfair to the judges.
Bad judging isn’t a new problem in boxing. Outrageous decisions in club fights and high-profile bouts are far too common. But it’s rare that they go against the house fighter. What’s unusual here is that a controversial decision went against the house fighter (who’s also the most popular fighter in the world).
In the days before Pacquiao-Bradley, numerous scenarios as to how the bout might unfold were discussed. There were predictions of cuts caused by head butts leading to a technical decision. There were predictions of knockouts and biased judging in favor of Pacquiao. No one who suggested that the decision could bring howls of protest prophesied that the winner would be Bradley.
Bad decisions can result from poor judgment or bias on the part of officials. Poor judgment can result from incompetence or a bad night. Biased officiating exists at every level of the sport. Everyone knows that it exists, and virtually nothing is done to eradicate it. In fact, the presumption is that officials are sometimes appointed precisely because they’re biased.
I don’t know C. J. Ross. I’ve watched Duane Ford at work over the years and know him casually. I think he’s honest and a good judge.
Ford has taken a beating in the media. “I’ve had better weeks,” he told me when we spoke last Thursday. “It hurts. Having judged as many fights as I have, you take criticism as part of the game. I love fighters. I love the trust they’ve given me over the years. That’s sacred to me. But this has been a bit overwhelming and it has been hard on my family. I’m asking myself if I want to stay in the game.”
Ford has been quoted in the Las Vegas Review-Journal as saying, “I thought Bradley gave Pacquiao a boxing lesson. Pacquiao missed a lot of punches, and I thought he was throwing wildly.” In response to questions from Kevin Iole of Yahoo.com, Duane decared, “If this were American Idol, without a doubt, Pacquiao would have won. But it was not. Remember, it’s a boxing match, and Bradley demonstrated his ability to box expertly."
Ford elaborated on those themes in our own conversation, saying, “When you’re a judge, you’re at arms length from the action. You see things that other people don’t see. When the bell rings, you concentrate and focus. Then the bell rings again and you turn in your score. It’s twelve separate fights. When a round ends, that fight is over. Unless you’re totally focused, it’s impossible to do the job right.”
“I had Pacquiao leading after six rounds,” Ford continued. “There were several times when I thought he hurt Bradley. But in the second half of the fight, I thought that Bradley landed some hard body shots and did an excellent job of standing his ground when he had to. It was a close fight. There were rounds that could have gone either way, and I scored them the way I saw them. I walked out of the arena that night knowing in my heart that I’d done an honest job.”
There will always be controversial decisions in boxing. That’s the nature of the sport. But the controversies rarely come when judges call them as they see them. They come when judges call them the way they’re supposed to see them.
Whatever investigation follows Pacquiao-Bradley should focus on more than one fight. Any official can make a mistake. The key is to look for patterns of misconduct; to explore the issue of which referees and which judges and which administrators in which jurisdictions frequently rule in a questionable manner.
The investigation should be keyed to the overall state of officiating in boxing. It should explore the way that judges and referees are trained and appointed. And most important, it should lead to the end of the system whereby referees and judges favor house fighters. It would be devastating if the ongoing furor over Pacquiao-Bradley instilled fear in the minds of judges who might otherwise have the temerity to rule against a popular house fighter.
Rather than beat up on two officials, boxing should use Pacquiao-Bradley as a teaching moment to press for unbiased competent decision-making across the board.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His next book (And the New!: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) will be published this summer by the University of Arkansas Press.
June 18, 2012