by David P. Greisman
The trash talk, if it could even be characterized as such, was rather tame in the build-up to the rematch between Timothy Bradley and Manny Pacquiao. This was not for lack of trying on the part of those involved with marketing the event and the media covering it.
The combat sports cannot count on geographical loyalties as their primary form of support, not in the way that pro and college teams do. There aren’t thousands or tens of thousands automatically filling arenas and stadiums to root raucously for whichever players happen to be donning the uniform that season. While some fighters have local fan bases, the greater goal is to reach a wider audience, never mind a worldwide one.
Those larger audiences only come if people care about the personalities involved, the physicality to come, or both. And so boxing, mixed martial arts and the “sports entertainment” that is professional wrestling have long found a way to spotlight outsized personalities, to turn up the temperature on heated rivalries until they reach their boiling point, or, when necessary, to manufacture the marketing — all so as to create interest in outcomes and cultivate a conflict around the conflict.
This is why we’ve been drawn to and drawn in by Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, a trilogy in which what happened outside of the ring was just as notable as what happened in it; by the compelling character that was Mike Tyson, whose train wreck moments were simultaneously encouraged and condemned; and even by the endless bickering and back-and-forth between boxers, managers, promoters and network executives, quotes that feed article after article and which fit perfectly into the 24/7 appetite for all things boxing between those nights when the actual boxing is happening.
Bradley and Pacquiao had plenty of opportunity to talk trash, what with the requisite press conferences, media interviews, televised advertorial miniseries, and HBO’s filmed “Face Off” placing each man across from the other at a small table, the network’s Max Kellerman acting as moderator and instigator.
By and large, the rhetoric remained respectful, which would be unusual given the controversy that followed their first fight, but was unsurprising given the personalities involved.
Even though Pacquiao believed (like the overwhelming majority of observers) that he won the first fight, he has not been one to convey anger about it publicly. Rather, he said he would move on and promised to do better in the future. Bradley, meanwhile, was confident in himself and certain that he deserved a decision that few others felt he deserved. He has mostly been intent on building himself up rather than tearing his opponents down.
All of that can probably also be attributed to what happened on and after June 9, 2012. Pacquiao and Bradley’s promoter, Top Rank, called for an investigation into the split decision and then proceeded with its plans as if Pacquiao had actually won.
There would not be an immediate rematch between them. Controversy can help sell a fight, but instead Top Rank worked to settle the score on another dispute, the longtime rivalry between Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. Pacquiao and Marquez had been in three close fights in which the action was far more appealing and the results were far more debatable than in the Bradley bout — most had Pacquiao beating Bradley without question, and saw the controversial decision as but an incorrect result not reflective of what actually happened.
Pacquiao fought well at times but suffered a one-punch knockout loss in the fourth fight with Marquez. Bradley was seemingly punished for his win and didn’t fight for the remainder of the year; he returned in 2013 in what some thought to be a keep-busy fight with Ruslan Provodnikov. Bradley came out too aggressive, perhaps in response to the criticism and consequences of his win over Pacquiao. Provodnikov, who had improved as a fighter, capitalized on Bradley’s strategic misfire and hurt him badly early. Their brutal battle was one of the best fights of last year. Bradley escaped with a close decision and a bad concussion, a physical toll that nevertheless put him on the road to greater recognition.
Bradley faced Marquez later last year, wisely combining the better parts of his approaches against Pacquiao and Provodnikov. He exchanged punches at times and moved in and out of the line of fire on other occasions. He was entertaining enough without endangering himself too much. He won a split decision and improved his aesthetic perception.
Pacquiao returned a month and a half fter Bradley-Marquez, boxing his way to a unanimous decision over Brandon Rios. The victory showed that Pacquiao wasn’t yet done, a conclusion some had reached for some reason after the controversial defeat to a very good fighter and the knockout loss to a great one. The win over the limited Rios didn’t necessarily show how much Pacquiao had left, though.
That question was more likely be answered in the Bradley rematch.
That was also the line of questioning that Bradley took when it came to talking about Pacquiao — and to him.
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Pacquiao and Bradley sat across from each other several weeks before they were to stand in the same ring.
“There’s nothing I can say bad about Manny. The only thing is that hunger that he’s looking for — it’s no longer there,” Bradley said during HBO’s “Face Off,” soon adding that he believed Pacquiao’s killer instinct was gone.
“I don’t know how he lost it. He’s in a different place now,” Bradley added. “He’s not the same. He’s a tremendous fighter, but I don’t see it. I do not see it.”
He expanded on this during a media conference call in late March:
“When was the last time you saw him knock somebody out? It's been a long time,” Bradley said, bringing up Pacquiao’s November win over Rios. “He [Rios] was right there in front of him and he couldn't get rid of him. He [Pacquiao] is supposed to be one of the vicious punchers in the game. I have never seen Manny Pacquiao take a step back before — I think it was the last round of the Rios fight, and he had RIos trapped in the corner, and you saw Manny take his foot off the gas pedal and it was unbelievable to me.
“In our fight, I had two wounded feet and he couldn't take me out. What makes you think he can take me out with two good feet? I had two wounded feet, and that's when I started noticing. He has the ability, man — now don't get it twisted as me saying he doesn't have the fire or the passion — Manny Pacquiao used to come in blazing and knock guys out, just knock them out, and he didn't mess around. Now it looks like he is more compassionate towards his opponents, and that's not good for boxing.”
Pacquiao tackled the topic in a separate call with the boxing media.
“I assure you I still have the hunger to win, and my desire to win is as strong now as it has ever been. His talk about me has inspired me. It has provided me great motivation in my training,” Pacquiao said in late March. Later, he added: “The more he says it, the more it inspires me to show the hunger and the killer instinct he is talking about. It’s good for me, but not for them, I think.”
The last time a Pacquiao opponent had failed to see the final bell was more than four years ago, in November 2009, when he broke Miguel Cotto down and stopped him in the final round. That was his fourth straight knockout or technical knockout, a streak that began with David Diaz and continued with demolitions of Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton.
After Cotto came Pacquiao-Clottey in March 2010. It was a fight in which Pacquiao’s whirlwind activity and his opponent’s style and demeanor meant that Clottey mostly covered up and sent out single shots, some of which visibly stung Pacquiao. It’s difficult to break down an opponent intent on defense and capable of blocking punches. And it’s unwise to leave yourself too wide open against a foe whose entire game plan is based on counter punching.
In his next bout, in November 2010, Pacquiao pummeled Antonio Margarito but took his foot off the gas in the final two rounds. Margarito’s right eye was nearly shut and the scorecards were a near-shutout, yet neither Margarito’s corner nor the third man in the ring stopped the massacre. Pacquiao actually turned toward the referee three times in the 11th round, seemingly silently imploring him to step in. And Pacquiao boxed for much of the 12th, allowing Margarito to make it the distance.
His fight with Shane Mosley in May 2011 also went to the cards. Mosley was a hesitant, moving target; Pacquiao’s greatest successes in these heavier weight classes came against slower men who were either coming forward or largely stationary. There also was an embarrassing amount of glove touching with Mosley, 44 incidents of it in total.
Pacquiao-Marquez 3 came in November 2011 and also ended in a decision; Marquez, of course, has never been an easy opponent for Pacquiao. Then came the losses in 2012 to Bradley and Marquez.
Bradley was correct about Pacquiao’s record, then, and perhaps accurate about Pacquiao’s changed attitude, given what we’d seen from him in a few of these fights in recent years. Then again, Pacquiao had been incredibly aggressive in the fourth Marquez bout, an approach that turned out to be his undoing.
More likely, this was an attempt at manipulation by Bradley, the setting of expectations. He either wanted Pacquiao to come forward — or he wanted Pacquiao to think that was what Bradley wanted.
“I do not think Bradley will fight toe-to-toe with me either, so I will have to hunt him down,” Pacquiao had said.
Bradley provided this thought about their first fight and their coming rematch: “I was able to make adjustments and I was able to move, and Manny had problems with me when I was moving. He is expecting me to move around this fight, and he is getting ready for it. He is going to be in tune for every movement I do.”
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Bradley had said that Pacquiao had become too compassionate, that Pacquiao’s killer instinct was gone, that Pacquiao had trouble with Bradley’s movement and that the only way Pacquiao could win the rematch would be by knockout.
These were questions in the form of assertions, which in turn were deliberated upon and debated among boxing fans and observers. Was the Pacquiao who had destroyed so many now firmly a thing of the past? Had this man of faith truly softened to the point that it was essential for his trainer, Freddie Roach, to show Pacquiao incidents of violence and payback within The Bible? Could Pacquiao deal with a mobile opponent? Could he score his first knockout in years?
These were pertinent questions, but potentially irrelevant ones. That’s because once the bell sounds and the fight begins, it doesn’t necessarily matter what questions are posed beforehand — but rather what is asked of you in the ring.
Or as the pro wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper once said: “Just when they think they got the answers, I change the questions.”
Bradley got off to a good start, landing a clean right hand near the halfway point of the first round, a flush enough punch that Pacquiao reacted by making a face and clapping his gloves together. Both men accentuated movement in the opening minutes, darting in to attack and dashing back to avoid the other’s approaches.
Bradley began to load up on his power shots in the second round, sending out a pair of looping right hands, one directed upstairs that Pacquiao blocked, the other landing to the body. Pacquiao soon hit Bradley with a good southpaw left cross, then jumped forward with a flurry. Later, Bradley threw another looping right to keep Pacquiao off, a shot intended to make Pacquiao aware, if not wary, of the potential return fire, while also letting Pacquiao know that Bradley felt he could contend with the pressure.
It was Bradley who sought to apply pressure in the third, coming forward and slugging away with hard punches to the body and head, and standing in and trading with Pacquiao. Yet Pacquiao was finding a home for his left hand, which he landed several times.
The fourth round brought Bradley’s best moment, when he landed a right hand that lifted both of Pacquiao’s feet off the canvas. It was a looping blow reminiscent of the one that Marquez had used in his first knockdown of Pacquiao in 2012, a punch in which Bradley moved in and then directed the shot back to where Pacquiao was going to be.
Bradley is not known for his power. He’d scored just 12 knockouts in his 31 wins, and just two in his previous 14 appearances. The only notable fighter to be stopped during Bradley’s entire six years in prominence was Joel Casamayor in late 2011. Casamayor was 40 years old and far past his prime, and he subsequently retired.
Nevertheless, Bradley was throwing for power, trying to test the chin of the fighter who had run into Marquez’s right hand and subsequently dropped to the canvas, unconscious for minutes. Bradley weighed about the same on Saturday as Pacquiao, yet he had once been a 152-pound amateur, while Pacquiao had turned pro at 106.
There also was the strategic element.
“We didn't expect Bradley to come with that kind of style,” Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, said at the post-fight press conference. “That kind of threw us a little bit. We thought he was going to box us. We didn't think he was going to be looking for the home run all night long.”
Bradley remained aggressive in the fifth. His success begat confidence, which soon became cockiness. Toward the end of the round, Bradley backed away with his gloves down.
The fourth and fifth were the only two rounds that Bradley won on all of the judges’ scorecards. At that point, two judges had him one round ahead, while the third had him one round behind.
Then everything changed.
Bradley started the sixth aggressively, but soon it seemed as if he was taking the round off. At one point he dropped his gloves again. At another, he stood against the ropes and waved Pacquiao in.
His trainer, Joel Diaz, saw that something had happened.
“You’re losing the rhythm. What the f*** is wrong?” Diaz said between rounds.
“I’m hurt,” Bradley replied.
“OK, it doesn’t matter,” Diaz said, trying to motivate his fighter to work through it. “You want to go home? We’ll f***ing go home right now.”
Bradley refused, and then he responded.
He came out on attack to begin the seventh, then attempted to slip under Pacquiao’s punches and come back up with looping rights. He wasn’t doing enough to deter Pacquiao, though, and Pacquiao was now landing well at an in-between distance, or he’d move in to land a combination before moving away.
“Bradley was swinging with those big overhand shots and those big wide shots, and Manny was trying to beat him down the middle,” Roach said afterward. “I thought he had that killer instinct. He opened up on him when he had him on the ropes.”
Bradley again waved Pacquiao in, but Pacquiao didn’t take the bait and jump in recklessly. Instead, he tried to pick the right times to attack, conscious of when to send out shorter combinations and when to extend them.
Pacquiao seemed to take the eighth round off. Diaz continued to try to exhort his fighter.
“Wake the f*** up,” he told Bradley after the eighth.
“Stop the bullsh*t, Tim. Stop f***ing playing,” he said after the ninth, before giving him instruction that acknowledged the apparent injury. “Every time you move back, you got that pain, right? OK, let’s apply f***ing pressure.”
Bradley wasn’t getting broken down, but he wasn’t dictating the fight with pressure or volume, he wasn’t moving the way he did in the opening round, and he wasn’t accurate enough with his haymakers to deter Pacquiao. During exchanges in close, Pacquiao landed straighter and better while Bradley tended to be wider and wilder, similar to the flailing Bradley had done at times during the Provodnikov brawl. Pacquiao ducked, dodged or blocked many of those punches.
Pacquiao swept rounds 6 through 12 on the scorecard of judge Glenn Trowbridge, and six of the final seven rounds on the cards of Michael Pernick (who gave Bradley the eighth) and Craig Metcalfe (who gave Bradley the ninth).
Trowbridge’s final tally read 118-110 for Pacquiao, or 10 rounds to 2. Pernick and Metcalfe saw it 116-112, or 8 rounds to 4.
Aside from the right hand Bradley landed in the fourth round, the most damage he did to Pacquiao came from a clash of heads in the final moments of the fight. Pacquiao suffered a cut over his left eye, a wound that required 32 stitches to close.
Pacquiao left the winner, regaining the welterweight title he’d lost to Bradley 22 months ago.
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The questions that truly matter most are: “Who wins? Who loses? How? And what does that victory or defeat mean?”
The answers to the first three questions are straightforward. The fourth requires more analysis.
Pacquiao picked up a much-needed win over a very good opponent. Bradley officially entered this fight undefeated. Even if you were among the many who felt Bradley deserved to lose the first fight with Pacquiao, it would still be difficult to deny his track record at 140 and 147. Among the names Bradley had defeated at junior welterweight were Junior Witter, Kendall Holt, Lamont Peterson and Devon Alexander.
His first two big wins at welterweight came via the controversial decision over Pacquiao and then in the war with Provodnikov, a bout that the referee would’ve been justified to stop at several points in which Bradley was reeling and seemingly out on his feet. Yet last year’s victory over Marquez was very good, his most impressive performance since the 2009 win against Peterson.
Bradley’s injury was reported to be a sprained right calf. Then again, Pacquiao said the leg cramps that had hampered him in several past fights again returned in this rematch with Bradley.
Pacquiao didn’t need to knock out Bradley to win. “I told him, ‘All you do is outbox this guy,’ ” Roach said afterward. And it’s true. While questions have been asked about whether Pacquiao still had knockout power and killer instinct, his success at times in his years-long run came because he and Roach added strategy and versatility to an attack that once was one-dimensional and reckless.
What Pacquiao needed to do was outwork and outland Bradley, avoid as much danger as possible, and not leave any doubt in the eyes of the judges.
Bradley had spoken of Pacquiao supposedly being a lesser fighter due to compassion for his opponents. He had spoken of the difficulty Pacquiao had dealing with Bradley’s movement in the first fight.
But in the ring, the question of potentially problematic compassion never surfaced. Pacquiao didn’t stop Bradley or knock him out, but he continued to throw at and land on an opponent who has shown himself capable of blocking and slipping shots, and who sought to catch Pacquiao with home run swings.
Some may ask whether Pacquiao would’ve won had Bradley not gotten hurt. Then again, Pacquiao’s approach may have changed under such circumstances.
The questions, then, turn to what comes next for each man.
Bradley loses the leverage of having a world title belt and the momentum he would’ve carried had he defeated Pacquiao this past Saturday in a fashion far more convincing than in June 2012. He remains a viable contender at 147, though. It would make sense for him to face the winner of June’s fight between Provodnikov and Chris Algieri. Though Provodnikov now fights at 140, it seems likely that he would return back to welterweight to face Bradley again.
Pacquiao’s cut will need time to heal. The proposed plan had been for the winner of Bradley-Pacquiao 2 to face the winner of May’s fight between Marquez and Mike Alvarado. Despite the conclusive ending to Pacquiao-Marquez 4, the action in that bout was competitive enough beforehand to merit a fifth installment should Marquez win next month.
Pacquiao is 35 years old now, has fought as a pro for more than 19 years, has been in some tough battles in the ring and has long dealt with numerous distractions outside of the sport. He still appears capable of competing at a high level.
That doesn’t mean the drawn-out saga of a potential fight between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather needs to resurface.
Mayweather-Pacquiao has been spoken of for more than four years, even after negotiations once again fell through, and even after Pacquiao suffered consecutive losses.
It’s understandable that people keep returning to the topic. Boxing fans love outsized personalities and heated rivalries.
The trash talk between Mayweather’s and Pacquiao’s camps, and their legions of fans, has been far from tame. But unless both fighters are genuinely interested in making a deal, and until negotiations resume or contractual offers are extended — none of which is a guarantee given promotional, network and sponsor allegiances, never mind the egos involved — it’s all pointless posturing, a conflict about a lack of a conflict.
The 10 Count will return soon.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]