By John J. Raspanti
Many were surprised when promotional company Top Rank announced a few months ago that former eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao would fight WBO welterweight champion Timothy Bradley for the third time at the MGM Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV this Saturday.
Even Bradley, who impressively dispatched Brandon Rios in his last bout, didn’t expect the phone to ring.
“Honestly, I didn’t think he’d call,” Bradley said at a press conference announcing the match, “But I think it was meant to be. I didn’t even think it would happen after the Rios fight. They were like ‘Pacquiao wants to fight you.’ and I was like ‘Wow! Okay!’ I wasn’t even thinking about it.”
The tepid response from boxing fans indicates that most would have been far happier if Bradley had missed the call, or better, hung up.
Not surprisingly, Pacquiao doesn’t agree.
"This is a great privilege to fight Bradley again,” said Pacquiao. “I chose Bradley because I believe he’s a different level from the last time we fought.
"He’s changed. He’s improved a lot and he proved that against [Brandon] Rios. We can make a lot of action in this fight. We believe we will get great action. More than in the last two fights we had."
Whether Bradley has changed as a boxer has been open to interpretation. The reviews of his one-sided butt-kicking of Rios were mostly positive--except for one notable exception.
“It’s the same Bradley,” former "Trainer of the Year" Freddie Roach told www.sports.abs.cbn.com. “Look who they put in front of him – an out-of-shape guy who was ready to retire,” Roach said of Rios.
“Bradley hasn’t beaten Manny yet, and he’s not going to beat Manny on April ninth," he said.
Bradley’s fight with Rios was also his debut with new trainer Teddy Atlas. His working relationship with Atlas looks to be a prefect fit. Bradley appeared fresher and more engaged during the Rios bout. At this point in his career, Bradley needed a take-charge guy like Atlas.
Roach prefers taking a wait-and-see attitude.
“Teddy Atlas is a good motivator, and Bradley fought a good fight,” said Roach. ”I don’t think you can give Atlas credit yet.”
Controversy has surrounded the fight since Pacquiao opined two months ago that gays and lesbians are “worse than animals.” He’s since tried to explain his comments away by stating that his words were “taken out of context“--which in this writers opinion, only made what he originally said worse.
The 37-year-old Pacquiao has been talking retirement. Nobody really believes him. His part-time gig includes a seat in The House of Representatives in his native Philippines. He’s also running for the Senate.
As for the fight, Pacquiao, (57-6, 38 KOs), who was last seen in the ring last May losing a wide decision to Floyd Mayweather, has split his last six bouts. His speed and power have declined--evidenced by his lack of a knockout victory in six years. He could still whip a number of younger fighters. But is Bradley one of them?
Bradley sports a 33-1-1 record with 13 knockout victories. His single loss was to Pacquiao in their second fight in 2013, though most, this writer included, feel he lost his first bout with Pacquiao as well. Bradley, 32, is a sound boxer with fast hands. His lack of punching power has always been an issue--though Bradley makes up for it with tenacity and the will to win.
Pacquiao is more talented, but timing could be everything. He’s proven in the past that he can ignore distractions. Has he gone to the well once too often this time?
Bradley will have be at his absolute best Saturday to win.