Heading into his first fight with Pacquiao on June 9, 2012, “Desert Storm” was a different man than he is today. A hardnosed, cast iron-willed champion who carved his way through the 140-pound division in all manner of ways, was now ascending to an entirely new level. Recently signed with Bob Arum’s Top Rank Promotions after years toiling in obscurity as a bona fide, if largely unknown, legit junior welterweight champion, Bradley had self-belief, a new manager in Cameron Dunkin and a a dream of beating an elite-level foe. When the smoked cleared after 12 rounds, Bradley had two injured feet and Pacquiao’s belt via split decision victory that still pisses fans off. At ringside, when the scores were announced and the rain of boos drenched the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Bradley’s dream must have felt, at the very least, bittersweet. He’d made millions, won the fight on the cards and drew the ire of a public he was barely introduced to on such a large scale.
Pacquiao attempted to rebound by going into what was supposed to be a go-to win: a fourth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. However, a reckless Pacquiao rushed in on a wounded Marquez and took a right hand for the ages to the face. Pacquiao awoke a few minutes later to a whole new world in which his minimum was a little less than it was. A potential Floyd Mayweather fight was a true thing of the past and Marquez had the better of him. Still, Congressman “Pac-Man” smiled.
In his next fight on March 16, 2013, Bradley went looking for respect. He got it by picking a fight with Ruslan Provodnikov, a Russian pressure fighter with bone-rattling and teeth-chattering power. Bradley won the fight and showed dimensions fans didn’t know he had. Buzzed early and more often than we had ever seen previously, Bradley showed depth of character and an inhuman ability to stay conscious while absorbing massive head trauma. He won the fight on the cards and inaugurated Provodnikov into the upper echelons of the sport in the process. “The Siberian Rocky” went on to win the 140-pound WBO belt Bradley once wore by defeating Mike Alvarado in his next fight.
As for Bradley, respect was finally his. While some fans grumbled about the Provodnikov decision, no one could deny the heart, will and determination Bradley had shown.
While he seemed bitter in the lead up to his fight with Provodnikov, complete with a giant residual chip on his shoulder from the post-Pacquiao fallout, after the war, Bradley seemed at ease. However, fans now questioned that with the damage he suffered in the fight (Bradley said he was so badly concussed, he didn’t remember the fight), would he be the same? Always questions.
In his next fight versus Marquez on October 12, 2013, Bradley proved that not only was he not physically diminished by Provodnikov but he could dominate Marquez, who was coming off that stunning sixth round knockout of Pacquiao. Showing the ability to switch up from brawling on the inside to being a disciplined boxer, Bradley put on a masterful performance, outpointing Marquez (on two out of three cards) in the process.
Meanwhile, Pacquiao recovered from his out-of-nowhere loss to Marquez by beating up Brandon Rios over 12 rounds in a confidence builder. This leads us to Saturday night and a rematch that has come through natural causes. It’s not a retread. The repercussions are potentially massive. If Bradley wins, there is every reason to believe he will be the one to rightfully call out Mayweather to see who is the best at 147 pounds. If Pacquiao prevails by spectacular knockout or dominant performance, we get either a trilogy or another round of discussions about the “Fight to End All Fights.” Pacquiao either becomes a phoenix and resurrects the rock star warrior/god-king he once was or Bradley proves he is the baddest dragon slayer in the land, a blue-collar champion born of the Coachella Valley here to dominate at 147 pounds. No quote can tell us what will happen. The fight will show us the truth.
In this rematch you have to ask yourself: Who can improve? Which guy can fight a better fight this time out? The answer is: Both can. Pacquiao showed versus Rios last November that he can be disciplined and box for 12 rounds. But Brandon Rios is not as elusive as Bradley, who can be downright squirrelly. Pacquiao and Bradley are of near equal stature at 5’6½” and 5’6”, respectively. There will be inside fighting; they will each have to come to the other to get their work done considering they share nearly identical reaches at 67” (Pacquiao) and 69” (Bradley). Both can bounce on their toes and box. Both have chins but can be stunned or dropped. If there is a difference, it’s that when hurt and dropped, Pacquiao generally loses. He has been stopped three times. For now, Bradley has shown resilience even when getting hurt and dropped.
All things being pretty much equal, I’ll go bold. Give me Pacquiao by seventh round knockout. Call it a gut feeling. Call it what you want but Pacquiao has the power edge and at least comparable speed. Off a turn move, Manny drops Bradley. Whereas Provodnikov was inexperienced, Pacquiao is not. Pacquiao evens things up and rejuvenates his brand with a stunning performance.