By Cliff Rold
Maybe the bad decision wasn’t so bad after all.
If Manny Pacquiao had received the verdict he appeared to earn in the first bout with Timothy Bradley, we probably still get the epic fourth encounter between Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. It’s harder to imagine that we still get Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov or Bradley-Marquez in 2013.
It’s harder still to imagine we wind up where are now. The wins over Provodnikov and Marquez showed grit and guile from Bradley, mostly in that order. They allowed him to continue to grow as a fighter while the world wondered if Pacquiao had begun his recession. As they arrive in the ring on Saturday night, this looks a much more intriguing rematch than anyone would have thought could be the case when boos cascaded on the Bradley-Pacquiao verdict in June 2012.
Both men seek validation of different kinds. Pacquiao wants to show he’s still Manny and make clear who the better man in this rivalry is. Bradley, with a win, validates the place he took from Pacquiao in the Welterweight division.
It’s a pick ‘em fight.
Those are often the best kind.
Let’s go the report card.
Title: WBO Welterweight (2012-Present, 2 Defenses)
Previous Titles: WBC Light Welterweight (2008-09, 2 Defenses; 2011); WBO Light Welterweight (2009-2012, 4 Defenses)
Weight: 145.5 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 143.6 lbs.
Hails from: Palm Springs, California
Record: 30-0, 12 KO, 1 No Contest
Rankings: #1 (Boxingscene, ESPN, Ring), #2 (TBRB, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 9-0, 1 KO, 1 NO Contest
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 10 (Miguel Vazquez UD10; Junior Witter SD12; Kendall Holt UD12; Nate Campbell NC3; Lamont Peterson UD12; Devon Alexander Tech. Dec. 10; Joel Casamayor TKO8; Manny Pacquiao SD12; Ruslan Provodnikov UD12; Juan Manuel Marquez SD12)
Current Titles: None
Previous Titles: Lineal/WBC World Flyweight 1998-99, 1 Defense; IBF Super Bantamweight 2001-03, 4 Defenses; Lineal/Ring World Featherweight 2003-05, 2 Defenses; Lineal/Ring/WBC World Jr. Lightweight 2008; WBC Lightweight 2008-09; Lineal/Ring World Jr. Welterweight 2009-10; WBC Light Middleweight 2010; WBO Welterweight, 2009-12, 3 Defenses
Height: 5’6 ½
Weight: 145 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 145.4 lbs.
Hails from: General Santos City, Cotabato del Sur, Philippines
Record: 54-5-2, 38 KO, 3 KOBY
BoxingScene Rank: #3 (BoxingScene, ESPN, Ring); #4 (TBRB, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 16-2-2, 11 KO, 1 KOBY (including Lineal title Fights)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 18 (Chatchai Sasakul KO8; Medgoen Singsurat TKO3; Lehlo Ledwaba KO6; Agapito Sanchez Tech. Draw 6; Jorge Eliecer Julio TKO2; Marco Antonio Barrera TKO11, UD12; Juan Manuel Marquez D12, SD12, MD12, KO by 6; Erik Morales L12, TKO10, KO3; Oscar Larios UD12; David Diaz TKO9; Oscar De La Hoya RTD8; Ricky Hatton KO2; Miguel Cotto TKO12; Joshua Clottey UD12; Antonio Margarito UD12; Shane Mosley UD12; Timothy Bradley L12; Brandon Rios UD12)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Bradley B+; Pacquiao A-
Pre-Fight: Power – Bradley B-; Pacquiao A
Pre-Fight: Defense – Bradley B; Pacquiao B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Bradley A; Pacquiao A
Bradley is talking knockout heading into the rematch and fans should hop he tries for it. His aggressive approach in the Provodnikov fight put him in the line of fire and we got a classic. Pacquiao, while not having scored a knockout since 2009, can still crack. It would be a mistake to think otherwise. While he may not be the whirling dervish he was in eviscerating Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto anymore, he’s also still one of the fastest fighters in the world.
A Bradley in range for Pacquiao to use that speed and power is in a danger zone.
Does Manny still have the mentality to exploit that danger? It’s a bigger question than physical capability. Against Rios, Pacquiao was fine with moving his hands consistently and boxing his way to a points verdict. He noticeably backed off in spots, a sign perhaps that the Marquez loss was still with him in the ring. Bradley might not be a huge puncher, but he’s always hit hard enough to keep foes honest and he’s physically strong. It might be enough to give Pacquiao pause even if he stuns Bradley.
Pacquiao hasn’t been much for going for the kill since the exacting clash with Antonio Margarito. While one sided in outcome, Margarito laid a lot of hurting leather on Pacquiao and he’s never really been the same offensive force. Against Shane Mosley, he was sometimes friendly. Against Bradley the first time, he fought in spots. The one time he let it all hang out, Marquez found the finish first. If Pacquiao isn’t going for the kill, it’s a high-speed chess match.
That suits Bradley better. Pacquiao is an underrated boxer. He’s been able to use his speed of hand and foot to outmaneuver multiple foes over the years. Bradley though also has quick hands and is comfortable boxing. He outboxed Juan Manuel Marquez, something few have done. His jab is educated and he knows how to create space when he needs it. While many disagreed with the final outcome of the Provodnikov fight, Bradley stayed in the fight and then took over in spots by using his jab and feet to keep Provodnikov at bay. Had he simply stayed in the trenches all night, he wouldn’t have survived.
Both men at this point are seasoned and proven. Bradley will be more confident after the gauntlet he navigated in 2013. Pacquiao has to be a little desperate. A loss here isn’t the end, but it limits his options and further erodes his marketability, a steady decline since the third Marquez fight. In terms of intangibles, both men have much to recommend them. Bradley has been hurt, against Pacquiao, Kendall Holt, and Provodnikov, but reaches into a deep well to find ways to get through. Pacquiao…well, he’s Pacquiao. He wouldn’t be where he is without tremendous ring character proven in wars against a multitude of top foes over the years.
It looks like this one could come down to the judges. On that note…
This should be a better fight than the first and much closer. Forgetting the official verdict, it looked here like Pacquiao won about nine rounds that time. Bradley will make it harder to choose this time. Manny will move his hands for more of three minutes but likely look for contact before explosion. Bradley will be more comfortable and have spots to counter speed with speed. It’s going to make for a lot of close rounds and that’s where the first verdict could matter. Bradley may lose coin flip rounds with judges trying to make sure they get the rematch right. No one wants to be the guy who robbed one of the game’s rainmakers a second time. The same thinking may have played a part in the first Bradley-Pacquiao fight. Pacquiao came in off a hotly debated win in the third Marquez fight. Judges are human and overthinking in pursuit of doing things right can sometimes end up wrong. This one might end with debate, though not as much as the first. The pick here is Pacquiao by a narrow decision in a fight where each man has backers, proves worth a purchase, and opens the door for a rubber match to settle the issue once and for all.
Report Card Picks 2014: 11-6
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com