by Cliff Rold
In the wake of his second round atomizing of Ricky Hatton for the lineal World Jr. Welterweight Championship in 2009, Manny Pacquiao had a clear number one contender in his class. He’d heard of him. The relative handful of hardcore boxing fans knew his name well having seen him unify two titles at 140 just a month prior to Pacquiao-Hatton.
To the rest of the world, Timothy Bradley was anonymous. Pacquiao moved on to more lucrative fare. Bradley swung between bouts of meaning and bouts of inactivity.
Fast forward to 2012 and Bradley is less anonymous than he was in 2009, if only by way of his getting the opportunity of a lifetime. Timothy Bradley passed up good money last year against Amir Khan to sign with Top Rank and wait his turn.
His turn has come. Will Bradley’s dream come true be a nightmare on Saturday night?
Let’s go the report card.
Current Titles: WBO Welterweight, 2009-Present, 3 Defenses
Previous Titles: Lineal/WBC World Flyweight 1998-99, 1 Defense; IBF Jr. Featherweight 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 Jr. Middleweight 2010
Height: 5’6 ½
Weight: 147 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 144.45 lbs.
Hails from: General Santos City, Cotabato del Sur, Philippines
Record: 54-3-2, 38 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #1 at Welterweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 16-1-2, 11 KO, 1 KOBY (including Lineal title Fights)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 14 (Chatchai Sasakul, Lehlo Ledwaba, Jorge Eliecer Julio, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Oscar Larios, Juan Manuel Marquez, David Diaz, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey, Antonio Margarito, Shane Mosley)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat or Draw: 4 (Medgoen Singsurat, Agapito Sanchez, Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales)
Titles: WBO Jr. Welterweight (2009-Present, 4 Defenses)
Previous Titles: WBC Jr. Welterweight (2008-09, 2 Defenses; 2012)
Weight: 146 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 140.7 lbs.
Hails from: Palm Springs, California
Record: 28-0, 12 KO, 1 No Contest
Record in Major Title Fights: 6-0, 1 KO, 1 No Contest
BoxingScene Rank: #1 at Jr. Welterweight
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 4 (Miguel Vazquez, Junior Witter, Kendall Holt, Devon Alexander, Joel Casamayor)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in No Contest: 1 (Nate Campbell)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Pacquiao A+; Bradley A
Pre-Fight: Power – Pacquiao A-; Bradley B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Pacquiao B; Bradley B+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Pacquiao A; Bradley A
The most eye-catching part of this fight, especially early, is likely to be the speed of both men. This is the quickest handed fighter Pacquiao has seen in years, if ever. Pacquiao won’t be that much quicker than Devon Alexander or Kendall Holt were against Bradley, but he’s a vastly superior volume puncher and, when he’s on, can land bombs from angles fighters never see. It will be up to Bradley to use his speed to stop Pacquiao from getting set.
In order to do that, Bradley has to mix up his offense. He’s not a knockout puncher, but his overhand right and bodywork can cause enough hurt to make men think. Bradley will have to use lateral movement and the jab to force Pacquiao to chase, and attack in close if Pacquiao’s rushes leave him off balance. Bradley has shown he can be tenacious in the trenches and he is a better infighter than the sharp shooting Pacquiao. The danger would be in staying in the trenches too long, allowing Pacquiao to time and measure him with power shots.
That was one of the mistakes Miguel Cotto made against Pacquiao when he was having some success early in their fight. He stayed too long. He was forcing Pacquiao to fight in close but Pacquiao solved the attack, even motioning to his corner that he knew what he was doing. Pacquiao is smarter than he gets credit for in the ring.
Fighters don’t hang around in the world title scene for going on 14 years without knowing what they’re doing. Bradley will know that and his own ring smarts will be a key. Bradley is a danger to Pacquiao because of them. He is, short of a knockout punch, a complete fighter. He can do a lot of things very well even if no one thing is great and that could mean forcing Pacquiao to solve different riddles at different times.
Not to be forgotten, there is some concern about Bradley’s head. He sometimes leads with skull and fist together and there have been some nasty head clashes in his fights. Against a southpaw aggressor like Pacquiao, the chance for butts is there. The fear has probably received too much play. Pacquiao often faces orthodox fighters and headbutts have rarely been an issue (though he was stopped with a combo headbutt/low blow early in his career). Bradley didn’t need his head to beat Witter, Holt, or Peterson. The expectation is a clean fight here.
Both men have shown great courage in their careers. Bradley showed big time focus in going on the road to unseat Junior Witter for his first title. He showed toughness in getting off the floor twice against a Kendall Holt who could always punch (but struggled with the faith in his power to finish too often), outworking and outboxing Holt inside and out. Pacquiao has been in pitched battles for years, from coming from behind to stop Sasakul for his first title to surging late to save his Welterweight belt last year against Marquez.
Perhaps the biggest variable could be how the fight starts. Pacquiao has a way of stunning fighters early, being quicker and more ferocious than they were ready for. If Bradley is hurt early, could he show too much warrior and give Pacquiao chances to finish? Alternately, if Pacquiao finds the fight going long and hard, can he keep up with a younger man who needs this win the same way Pacquiao needed to beat Barrera the first time in 2003?
The pick here has been locked in all week but the weigh-in Friday left some room for doubt. Pacquiao at the division limit of 147 is the highest of his career and doesn’t look as ripped as he has in recent fights. Have all the distractions, from marital problems to politics to bible study, become a hindrance? Is there something to trainer Freddie Roach predicting a big win…but also adding he’ll tell Pacquiao to retire if he doesn’t look good? This should be a fantastic fight. Even before the weigh-in, the urge has been there to pick Bradley. The safe pick remains.
If it ends up the Fight of the Year, it would be no surprise here. Both men are aggressive in different ways and bring speed both ways. Both have something to prove, Bradley being at the big dance for the first time and Pacquiao returning from two lesser outings. The need to prove will end up favoring Pacquiao who has more experience and knows his window of prime is closing. The pick here sees Pacquiao outlanding Bradley often enough, and maybe stinging his man just a bit more, en route to a decision that could have some debate.
Report Card Picks 2012: 29-6
Cliff’s Notes… The undercard features significant action in three different weight classes…At Welterweight, BoxingScene #7 Mike Jones (26-0, 19 KO) has a chance for a showcase win against dangerous but shopworn veteran Randall Bailey (42-7, 36 KO). Look for Jones to start slow but gear up around the third and get rid of Bailey between rounds four and seven…At Jr. Featherweight, #2 Guillermo Rigondeaux (9-0, 7 KO) makes his first defense of the WBA 122 lb. belt against Teon Kennedy (17-1-2, 7 KO). Look for Rigondeaux to keep the strap with a late stop or wide decision…Finally, at Bantamweight, fan favorite veteran #9 Jorge Arce (60-6-2, 46 KO) tries to keep a possible showdown with Nonito Donaire alive. He has the seven years younger Jesus Rojas (18-1-1, 13 KO), a man with quick hands, surprising pop, and a bit of a size advantage. In the upset pick for the night, the nod goes to Rojas by late stoppage in what could be a showstealer.
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 protected]