By Jake Donovan
Manny Pacquiao vowed to not enter the ring until his beloved Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat were done with Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals, to the point of delaying the start time of his fight with Tim Bradley by more than 30 minutes.
An hour after watching the Celtics’ season end, Pacquaio saw his own evening suffer a similar fate.
Unlike the game that put the Miami Heat back in the NBA Finals, Pacquiao’s fall was mired in controversy. The Filipino superstar landed on the wrong end of a controversial split decision loss to Tim Bradley in their HBO PPV headliner Saturday evening at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Major outrage followed the final verdict, but who was actually winning the rounds came down to preference. Bradley admittedly gave away too many moments in the opening rounds, as his best sequences were often met with straight left hands from the longtime pound-for-pound entrant. One such shot put Bradley on his heels late in the first, though he believes its damage was overstated.
“I was stepping back and don’t know what happened. I think I stepped on his foot," Bradley would claim afterwards when recalling the moment with HBO color commentator Max Kellerman. The quote was later supported by his appearance at the post-fight presser, showing up in a wheelchair after suffering what is believed to be a broken ankle suffered during the sequence.
The punch served as a deterrent to what was otherwise a solid opening round for Bradley, who refused to wilt and came back strong in the second. Once again, it came down to Bradley enjoying sequences of success but Pacquiao landing the far more telling blows.
For the first time in the fight, separation was offered between the two when Pacquiao enjoyed a strong showing in the third round. Bradley threatened to fall behind, but as was the case throughout the promotion he refused to be swallowed whole by the magnitude of the event.
Whereas his initial reaction when hurt earlier in the fight was to clinch, Bradley stood his ground and fought back when was stunned in the fourth round. Toe-to-toe action ensured in the fifth round, one of many close rounds in the fight. The tendency for fans – and often for judges – in close rounds is to defaultly go with a style or even a fighter they tend to favor.
The majority of fans seemed to give rounds to Pacquiao by default. The judges chose different, sometimes rewarding the eight-division champ for his crisp punching while at other times honoring Bradley for his determination and aggression.
In Bradley’s mind, it was the difference between the fight that was scored and the fight that was viewed.
“It was a good fight. Every round was close. Pacquiao won the early rounds. I controlled the later rounds with my jab.” Bradley insisted in the end.
While he didn’t exactly run the tables down the stretch, there is a valid argument to be made that Bradley offered the stronger finish of the two. Pacquiao appeared to have peaked in the middle rounds, which again featured solid two-way action on the inside, which isn’t always as easy for the judges to score as it is for those who benefit from multiple camera angles.
Pacquiao’s lack of output in the championship rounds is what ultimately cost him the fight. While Bradley can’t exactly be credited for winning a war of attrition, his supreme conditioning certainly came into play as at no point in the fight did he ever show signs of slowing down.
That said, at no point in the fight did the majority of the viewers believe that Pacquiao’s win streak was about to come to an end.
The reading of the final scorecards proved that matter wrong. The first score read of 115-113 Pacquiao caused jaws to drop, as many were stunned that it could be anything other than a Pacquiao landslide. The next score of 115-113 Bradley provided the bout with a much needed dose of drama that quite frankly was missing during the 12 rounds of boxing action.
Then came the 115-113 score on the third card, followed by a long and dramatic pause.
“… AND NEW!”
Nothing more needed to be said, as the boxing world was flipped on its axis. Bradley immediately raced to the ropes in celebration, while his wife Monica and manager Cameron Dunkin were overcome with joy – if not surprise – in the crowd.
The happy dances came amidst a chorus of boos from the crowd – the exact same backdrop provided the last time Pacquiao played the MGM Grand last November. Only that time, the southpaw was on the receiving end of the crowd’s disapproval as he was lucky to escape with a majority decision in his third fight with longtime rival Juan Manuel Marquez.
This time around, he wasn’t quite as fortunate – though actually more gracious in defeat on Saturday than perhaps he was in victory last November.
“I respect the judges and the officials. I cannot blame them,” said Pacquiao, whose 15-fight win streak comes to an end as he falls to 54-4-2 (38KO). “It’s part of the game.”
Whether it’s genuine humility or a different outlook on life thanks to his newfound faith in God, Pacquiao remained at peace even during the evening’s most chaotic point.
As for Bradley, he remained in his glory. Throughout the pre-fight hype, the sculpted Californian not only vowed victory, but made mock plans for a proposed rematch on November 10. Pacquiao had a rematch clause in his contract in the event that he lost and sounded as if he wishes to exercise it.
Bradley couldn’t be more pleased with such a response.
“This is boxing. I’m a real champion and I’ll do a rematch,” stated Bradley, who improves to 29-0 (12KO) with the win. The bout was just his second in Las Vegas, along with just his second trip to welterweight since becoming among the top fighters in the world at the 140 lb. division.
Bradley weighed 146 lb. for this fight and appeared to wear it well. He’s prepared to make weight once again, whether it makes business sense or even to silence those who believe he was given a gif on this particular evening.
“I know it’s predominantly Pacquiao fans in here,” Bradley said in response to the chorus of boos that continued to pour down whenever he spoke. “But you know what, let’s do it again.”
Pacquiao is open to a rematch, though of course such a path will for the moment kill any plans of the forever-attempted showdown with pound-for-pound rival Floyd Mayweather. Such a fight was unlikely to happen anyway, with Mayweather barely a week into his 87-day jail sentence from a plea agreement made last year stemming from domestic violence charges.
Perhaps by the time his arch nemesis is back into the swing of things, the 33-year old Pacquiao can resume his role as welterweight champ. A 2 ½ year reign comes to end for Pacquiao, who won the belt with a 12th round stoppage of Miguel Cotto in Nov. ‘09.
The win capped a Fighter of the Year campaign, his third in four years. Save for his 12-round beatdown of Antonio Margarito, Pacquiao hasn’t quite looked like the ball of destruction that has terrorized fighters over eight weight classes.
On this particular evening, Pacquiao looked better than he has in years. Sadly for the box office superstar, two of the three judges didn’t quite agree.
”I did my best, but my best wasn’t good enough,” Pacquiao stated, offering a quote reminiscent to a song he’s been known to belt out during karaoke sessions.
The future Hall-of-Famer continued to pay homage to those outside the sport. An hour after Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers gave a tip of the hat to the team who knocked his squad out of the playoffs, Pacquiao followed suit during his own darkest sports hour in recent memory.
“Give credit to Bradley, he did well tonight. I respect the decision.”
A bout thought to steal the show instead became the evening’s biggest letdown as Jorge Arce and Jesus Rojas fought to a two-round no-decision.
Arce (60-6-2, 46KO) appeared to be well on his way to an early knockout, flooring Rojas (18-1, 13KO) with a counter shot in the first minute of the fight. It turned out to be an isolated moment, as Rojas quickly recovered and did his best to make a fight of it.
It was a fight for another four or five minutes until Arce was caught with a headbutt and low blow. The free-swinging Mexican star winced in pain as action halted. Rojas was already in motion as he caught and floored with a right hook that was ruled an unintentional foul. Arce couldn’t recover in time to continue, thus declaring the non-title featherweight bout a no-decision.
Randall Bailey reached deep into his bag of tricks, erasing a deficit – and the memory of a painfully dull fight – with a thrilling 11th round knockout of Mike Jones in their vacant welterweight title fight.
The first several rounds went absolutely nowhere, a scenario feared by many considering Jones’ preference for boxing over brawling. Jones had a chance to make a major statement, hurting Bailey in the ninth round but lacked the puncher’s mentality to do anything about.
Quite the opposite was true of Bailey, who is nothing if not a puncher. The aged veteran shocked Jones, flooring the unbeaten Philly boxer for the first time in his career with a right hand towards the end of the 10th round. Ever the finisher, Bailey followed up in the 11th, scoring a monster right uppercut to drop Jones for the second time in the fight. Jones was completely out of it, prompting referee Tony Weeks to stop the fight.
Bailey’s last title reign came more than a decade ago, when he served as a 140 lb. titlist during the late 1990’s. The Floridian is now a two-time titlist (along with an interim reign back in ’02) as he improves to 43-7-1 (37KO). Jones suffers his first pro loss as he falls to 26-1 (19KO).
Jones’ appearance on the card was sold by co-promoter as part of the most significant night in Philly boxing history. Along with the welterweight, Teon Kennedy appeared on the pay-per-view undercard, with both fighters contending for major titles.
Kennedy fell miserable short in his attempt against Guillermo Rigondeaux, who scored five knockdowns en route to a fifth round stoppage in the televised opener. Rigondeaux scored knockdowns in the first, second (two), fourth and fifth round before prompting the stoppage at 1:11 of round five.
The win was just the 10th as a pro (10-0, 8KO) for Rigondeaux after leading one of the greatest careers in the history of amateur boxing, including two Olympic gold medals. The stoppage of Kennedy (17-2-2, 7KO) marked the third defense of the belt he acquired with a decision win over Ricardo Cordoba in Nov. ’10.
Rigondeaux has won each defense inside the distance in his best effort to shed the label of that as a dull fighter.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments via e-mail.