Image by icheehuahua, MaxBoxing
By Bill Tibbs
When boxing superstar Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao, 55-5-2 (38), and undefeated World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight world champion Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley, 31-0 (12), meet for the second time on April 12 in Las Vegas, Nevada, lots of questions about the future of the Philippines’ favorite son should be answered. A couple of years back, fans assumed the Filipino congressman would be a full-time politician by now. However, the iconic boxer appears to have no desire to leave his day gig as one of the most popular fighters in the world to completely go into politics.
The HBO Pay-Per-View rematch in the “Entertainment Capital of the World” will be Pacquiao’s first fight in the U.S. since 2012. Heading into this bout, the pressure seemed to initially be on champion Bradley despite being the winner in fight number one. Timothy revealed in interviews that he gave himself “eight rounds to four” in their first bout and is intent on proving his first win was indeed a clear-cut, deserved victory by beating Pacquiao again.
However, a closer look reveals there is a lot - if not more - on the line for Pacquiao as a win or a loss will send him on very different paths.
The first fighters first fought in June of 2012. Going into the fight, Pacquiao was on a 15-fight unbeaten streak taking him back over seven years. Included in the streak were wins over Mexican legends Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez. “Pac-Man” also had wins over stars Oscar De la Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito and Shane Mosley. His résumé boasted as impressive a roster as you will find among fighters of his era.
Prior to their first outing, Bradley was a respected but considerably lesser known champion than his massively popular Filipino opponent. While Timothy was thought to pose some difficulties, he was also thought to be the next win on the list as Pacquiao prepared himself to hopefully face pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather in a mega-fight sometime down the line. However, after 12 rounds, the scorecards were announced and there was a new champion as “Desert Storm” picked up a split decision win. Most ringside observers felt Pacquiao had done enough to keep his title and as a result, Bradley wasn’t really given the credit he had earned with the win.
Then Pacquiao made his comeback bout in December of 2012. After the Bradley loss, he chose to square off against respected Mexican legend Marquez. Despite always being a tough day at the office, Pacquiao had found a way to defeat Juan in two previous bouts, their first outing being a draw. And again, it looked like Manny would beat his tough opponent as he was dishing out some serious hurt on Marquez and was coming on in the bout. Then it happened.
In the sixth round, Manny walked into a perfectly timed counter shot from Marquez, was floored and frighteningly knocked out cold. Clearly, 2012 was not a good year for Manny.
So in his only bout of 2013, Pacquiao travelled to Macao, China to face respected California brawler Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios. Pacquiao timed and countered Rios all night and won a safe, if less than scintillating, decision. While “Pac-Man” had his moments, he didn’t appear to want to step on the gas and get Rios out of there in the exciting, old-school Manny, “seek and destroy” style.
Since his big win over Pacquiao, Bradley has engaged in two great fights himself. The Palm Springs resident showed a Texas-sized heart in turning back the challenge of Russian tough guy Ruslan Provodnikov in March of last year. Then, in his second bout of the year in the fall, he won a 12-round split decision over Marquez.
In pre-fight pressers, Bradley seems excited and eager to show the world that his win over Pacquiao was the real deal. Pacquiao has countered that he will be the more aggressive Manny of old. At times, Pacquiao (and it could just be his somewhat shy, quiet manner) seems to be working hard to convince himself he can find that old, aggressive, bombs-away, fight-night fire again. Meanwhile, Bradley appears to be chomping at the bit to get in there and go hard and fast from the get-go.
Bradley knows he will have to be aggressive as Pacquiao will have the sympathy of the fans, which can indeed influence the scoring in a live setting with their raucous support every time Manny lands a shot. On the other hand, Pacquiao knows he must attack right from the start and not play it too safe by boxing and moving, allowing Bradley to be the aggressor forcing the action. Both fighters seem to have a game plan they are more than willing to share. Both fighters seem to know their ring strategy isn’t going to be a surprise to either. It also sounds like both fighters won’t have to look too hard to find each other in the ring.
In recent pre-fight interviews Pacquiao said, “Sometimes I’m just too kind and too nice to my opponents in the ring and that’s why you can’t see the aggressiveness and killer instinct. This time around, I have to get it back and show I still have it”.
Champion Bradley countered with, “I can’t wait. Manny says he’s going to be the aggressive, destructive Manny Pacquiao of old times and I get excited. I love challenges and I love when people say I can’t do something because I love to prove them all wrong like I’ve been doing my whole career.”
Bradley seems to have a new level of confidence that wasn’t as (outwardly) evident before their first fight. He knows Pacquiao is changing up his game and senses trainer Freddie Roach will have his charge bring the heat. And if pre-fight interviews are an indication, Bradley welcomes - and is genuinely excited about - the challenge. While Bradley has always been a confident athlete, he seemed to have a little “just happy to be getting the opportunity” vibe about him before fight number one. Not this time. He is the champion and he is sporting championship-caliber confidence.
While Pacquiao does have options if he can’t get by Bradley in their second go-round, a loss raises questions about his future and to some extent, his marketability in the ring. While Mayweather vs. Pacquiao isn’t currently making any moves in the negotiation process as we speak, a loss for Pacquiao may end talk of a Mayweather bout altogether.
Will Bradley put an exclamation point on his first win? Will Pacquiao show us the Manny of old and pick up the victory, possibly setting up a rubbermatch? Did back-to-back wars for Bradley against Marquez and Provodnikov take anything away from the champion? Did Rios land something of substance to really test Manny’s chin to see if he has truly recovered from the clean knockout loss to Marquez? Lots of questions to be answered on April 12th and lots of excitement for fight fans!
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