By Steve Kim: This time around at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, there was no controversy after Manny Pacquiao and Tim Bradley went 12 hard, competitive rounds. After the official scorecards were read, Bradley, who had infuriated the masses by insisting he had absolutely won their first match-up in 2012, went over to the Filipino icon and said, “Manny, congratulations; you won the fight. You deserved the win.”
Well, well, well…it seems the reports of Pacquiao’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
No, he may not be that guy who, from 2008-2010, was a one-man blitzkrieg who rampaged through multiple divisions but he showed on Saturday night that he is still one of the premier prizefighters in the sport. After a heated first half of the fight which saw fierce exchanges and a confident Bradley goading Pacquiao into trying to hit him along the ropes, the “Pac-Man” pulled away in the later innings as he wore down the well-conditioned and heavily muscled Bradley with his steady work rate and footwork from the outside. While Pacquiao was consistent throughout, Bradley ran out of ideas after the sixth frame.
The scorecards read 116-112 (twice) and 118-110.
“We made a lot of adjustments in the corner. I listened to what my corner said. They told me to work on my timing,” said Pacquiao, who moved to 56-5-2 (38) by understanding that Bradley was trying to lay traps for his overhand rights (very reminiscent of Juan Manuel Marquez’s punch that decked Pacquiao in the third round of their last hook-up). Pacquiao not only used angles; he also employed feints to offset Bradley’s rhythm and timing. “Bradley was wild on the outside, so I went with the attack on the inside.”
This time around, Pacquiao faced a Bradley who took many more chances offensively. “Bradley threw a lot of punches; I didn’t want to be careless,” said Pacquiao, who admitted that one of those overhand rights did buzz him. But Bradley, a well-rounded prizefighter has one fatal flaw - a lack of punching power. He might be built like Tarzan but by professional boxing standards, he hits like Jane. And with Bradley overthrowing his punches, he was noticeably fatigued in the late rounds.
Unlike their first match-up, Pacquiao didn’t take his foot off the gas pedal and go into cruise control.
“I knew I had to do more this time than I did in the first fight,” said Pacquiao, who at age 35, beat a highly acclaimed fighter (on those pound-for-pound lists some fans take way too seriously, you’ll see the “Desert Storm” listed as high as number three) and the consensus is he’s done it twice. Pacquiao is no longer that guy who throws that 98-mile-per-hour heater that strikes out 15 batters. As baseball scouts would say, he’s lost an inch or two off his fastball but he’s still throwing in the low-90s, still getting guys out consistently and winning.
Larry Merchant, who called this bout on the international broadcast, commented, “We’ve talked about Pacquiao reinventing himself again against [Brandon] Rios, fighting as a pure boxer and I think, tonight, we saw him boxing, using some of that and then taking what was there - what his boxing opened up for him. And I thought Bradley was almost admitting he was a better fighter by fighting the way he did, trying to land punches from way outside.”
Versus Rios, a relatively cautious Pacquiao poked and pecked his way to a decisive 12-round whitewash in Macao, China. Against the passionate Bradley, who came into this fight with a chip on his shoulder as big as the Rock of Gibraltar, Pacquiao was more than willing to mix it up when he had to. The most commonly employed storyline coming into this promotion was the lack of “killer instinct” from Pacquiao given his last stoppage victory came in November of 2009 against Miguel Cotto. But it has to be pointed out: not only has Pacquiao - who won his first major title as a flyweight - faced bigger guys but the cast of characters who have gone the route with him (Joshua Clottey, Antonio Margarito, Shane Mosley, Marquez, Brandon Rios and Bradley) have a well-deserved reputation for durability. There aren’t a lot of KO losses on these fighters’ résumés.
The narrative coming is to this weekend was that Pacquiao was a declining fighter, who perhaps no longer had the passion for the sport. But if you look at his recent run and take away the hanging curveball (to use another baseball analogy) he threw to Marquez in their fourth fight, he has still fought at an incredibly high level. Don’t call it a comeback; it turns out he never really went away.
“Look, Manny Pacquiao is not just an exceptional fighter; he’s an exceptional one to the exceptional fighters,” said Merchant as only he can. “And the old saying is ‘A great fighter has a great fight left in him.’ Maybe he has two or three great fights left in him. Because at the end of the day, it comes down to whether the older fighter is so comfortable with his life that he doesn’t have the zeal to train and really get after it and this guy’s shown in the last couple of fights that he still wants to get after it.”
No, Pacquiao is not quite the nonstop buzzsaw he once was. His legs don’t have quite the same bounce in them as they did a few years ago and there seems to be a slight dulling of the reflexes, making him easier to counter. But tell me how many guys not named Floyd Mayweather would be favored to beat him between 140 and 147 pounds? “Dude still has it,” said an admiring Bradley. Pacquiao isn’t walking away into the sunset just yet. There’s still plenty of fight left in this whirlwind southpaw, who once again entertained boxing fans with his competitive spirit and unyielding will. Boxing is a better sport - and let’s be honest, a better business - when Pacquiao is rolling. He’s not done quite yet.
“I think I can fight for another two years,” said Pacquiao, who showed he is still very much alive as a fighter.
At the post-fight press conference, promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank Promotions and the assembled media went back and forth on the issue of...what else? A potential Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. Yeah, we guys in the media don’t really work out much but some just really love to partake in this exercise in futility. Arum talked of a Mayweather-Marcos Maidana pay-per-view boycott as a potential impetus to really kickstart negotiations but really, there’s no chance of that really gaining traction.
April 12, 2014