by Cliff Rold
One of the most enduring tales in the mythology of the Abrahamic faiths is that of Job. Job had shown himself devout, so much so that he became the central piece in a battle between God and the devil himself. The devil claimed Job’s faith was self-serving, a product of his own human good fortune.
God felt otherwise.
To make his point, God allows the devil to strip Job of fortune, family, and health. Still, Job keeps the faith.
Welterweight Manny Pacquiao has made much of his religious awakening since his third fight with Juan Manuel Marquez last November. To be sure, the fistic gods have smiled on the Filipino icon. His has been a blessed life in the squared circle since a 2005 loss to Erik Morales. Titles at 130, 135, 140, 147, and 154, stretching him to titles in a record eight divisions overall and a more impressive record four lineal crowns.
Saturday night was Pacquiao’s Job moment. In a fight where whose scores among observers seem largely to range between 11-1 and 7-5 in his favor, two of three judges gave his WBO Welterweight belt to an earnest but outgunned Timothy Bradley.
A simple loss is unlikely to test Pacquiao’s spiritual faith. We may yet find out in a Bradley rematch how much faith Pacquiao is willing to put into the hands of the boxing Gods as he enters the twilight of his career.
Let’s go to the report cards.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Pacquiao A+; Bradley A/Post: A+; A-
Pre-Fight: Power – Pacquiao A-; Bradley B/Post: A-; B-
Pre-Fight: Defense – Pacquiao B; Bradley B+/Post: B+; B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Pacquiao A; Bradley A/Post: Same
One thing needs saying: Timothy Bradley doesn’t deserve any venom today. While Saturday’s was not a great fight, it was a very good one and he busted his hump out there. Bradley withstood some big bombs and was the more consistent worker out there. That was a performance full of beard and heart. He was as honest as could be after the fight, saying he’d have to watch to see if he won.
Most fighters would just say ‘I won’ and move on. Bradley is a man of character. He showed it for twelve rounds and afterwards. Had the decision been rendered correctly, he would be applauded for his effort today. He still should be.
But, my oh my, the decision.
Boxing fans are used to seeing fighters like Bradley get the shaft in favor of big stars. They are not used to seeing superstars get it bad. It is rare, and far more damaging than fights like Campillo-Cloud or Richard Abril-Brandon Rios. There are two reasons for that.
The first is fights like those are mostly seen by serious boxing fans that have long ago made the choice to stick with a sport so often capable of sticking it to the people who love it. They don’t cross over to the mainstream sporting fan flirting with boxing on a major event level.
There is the foundation for reason number two. Those people, the one’s who push superstars into million-buy pay-per-views, tune in to see stars put in work. They buy the brand of Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather first. They love real upsets, but a fake one like Saturday’s isn’t a black eye for boxing.
It is a gunshot wound.
It is a reinforcement of every negative boxing generates and earns. If the men who drive the top of boxing’s economy can’t get a fair shake, then, the thinking might go, what’s the point? In that sense, Saturday was the worst decision in boxing since Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield I. Saturday lost some flirters.
Some will see poetic justice after Pacquiao-Marquez III but that was a much closer fight than Bradley-Pacquiao and there were far more (including this scribe) who saw Pacquiao eking it out. Even if one did see Marquez winning (and there were plenty), there is never any justice in injustice.
Saturday, the verdict was unjust.
Pacquiao, considering the quality of his opponent, put forth his best showing since the Miguel Cotto fight in 2009. By round three, he was finding big left hands and should have had a big lead after ten. He was ahead 7-3 on this card, and that was being generous to Bradley. Pacquiao gave away the twelfth but did enough to win the eleventh and secure victory.
While he often let Bradley spend bullets before turning it up in the last half of rounds, Pacquiao was clearly landing the harder shots and often backing Bradley up. Bradley was stunned on more than one occasion. Pacquiao had the look of a calm master for much of the fight; his right hand was working as well as it ever has to compliment the left and his defense was keeping Bradley from getting on track.
There was lots of chess played and Bradley did solid work to the body. It was enough to keep the fight close. It should not have been enough to win. HBO’s score was way too wide at 11-1. Any score having Bradley ahead at the end was too wide by more.
In the end, Bradley will likely get another big payday in the rematch and it’s hard to feel bad about that. He comes across as a good guy and the food on his table is secured for the year. Pacquiao will go back to the drawing board and look for the knockout.
Having been robbed like he was, Pacquiao’s diva-like delays before the fight will be forgotten and the broader public will embrace him even more.
It’s funny. A belt changed hands Saturday but nothing really changed beyond the potential loss of casual observers. Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather are still the biggest draws in the game, still the two best fighters in the world. They each took a serious challenge in their most recent bouts and proved up to it. Whoever one thought was the absolute best before Saturday should remain firm in their conviction.
Mayweather-Pacquiao is still the main event for the sport. It may even be that Saturday helps get fans to the fight they really want to see. In 2001, Lennox Lewis was upset by Hasim Rahman (legitimately) while playing a waiting game with Mike Tyson. The loss scared the paymasters enough to get the showdown done after Lewis’s revenge over Rahman.
Could history repeat itself? The world will know after the almost guaranteed rematch between Pacquiao and Bradley later this year.
Report Card Picks 2012: 30-9
Welterweight: Mike Jones had always been a little suspect and the power of Randall Bailey raised serious questions Saturday. Jones exits the ratings and Bailey enters in one of the feel good stories of the year. Bradley also enters at number three, having given a good account in a losing effort and in consideration of ample accomplishments at 140. Pacquiao remains at number one in consideration of his winning the fight. Just as was the case in bad decisions like Gabriel Campillo-Tavoris Cloud and Erislandy Lara-Paul Williams, the real winner is rewarded over the idiocy of boxing judges.
Remaining results and the full ratings update are a click away.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]