by Cliff Rold
He might not be a young man anymore but he’s still got plenty of greatness left in him.
Scoring two knockdowns along the way, 37-year old Manny Pacquiao (58-6-2, 38 KO) of General Santos City, Cotabato del Sur, Philippines, may have capped one of the great ring careers of all time with a demonstrative decision win Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada against 32-year old Timothy Bradley (33-2-1, 13 KO) of Palm Springs, California.
It was, officially, the tiebreaker in their three fight series. Their first fight was one of the more controversial decisions in recent years with Bradley getting the nod. Pacquiao left little doubt as to the better man in what will surely be their last encounter.
Pacquiao weighed in at 145 ½ lbs. and Bradley 146 ½. The referee was Tony Weeks.
Pacquiao came up just short of announcing his retirement after the fight. If this is the end for Pacquiao, whose political ambitions are growing in his native land, he walks away a winner after being outboxed in clinical fashion by Floyd Mayweather in their long awaited 2015 bout. He also walks away with an argument for history.
There was no sanctioning body title on the line for this fight. Bradley was forced to give up the WBO belt when he opted to face Pacquiao instead of mandatory challenger Sadam Ali. Ali lost to the man Bradley defeated for that belt, Jessie Vargas. This fight didn’t need a belt.
Pacquiao and Bradley entered the bout rated as the top two welterweights by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and ESPN (though not Ring Magazine). With Mayweather officially retired, Pacquiao makes a strong case as the lineal successor to Mayweather at welterweight.
That would make Pacquiao the first fighter in history to win history’s title in five different weight classes after capturing the lineage previously at flyweight, featherweight, Jr. lightweight, and Jr. welterweight. There will be debate on that point.
There was no debate about who won what was the best fight in the Pacquiao-Bradley series.
Pacquiao was at mid-ring before the opening bell, banging his gloves as if he’d missed the ring. Bradley worked the jab and circled the ring, touching the gloves of Pacquiao. Neither man landed much of note through the first three minutes, both looking for long crosses and working to figure out the rubber match range. The second was similarly low contact with Bradley controlling the space for a lot of the round and working well to the body but Pacquiao landing some peppering straight lefts.
Pacquiao continued to find scoring opportunities in the next three rounds but Bradley was always there, hustling and landing some of his own. A Bradley right hand opened the fifth, driving Pacquiao into the ropes for a moment. It would be the best offensive round of the right to then for Bradley, landing some jarring right hands. Pacquiao responded and may have stolen the frame in the last minute, taking advantage of the aggression and raking Bradley with lefts.
While Pacquiao had some solid spots in the sixth, the consistent work of Bradley made his case for the frame. In the seventh, another tactical round got a dose of drama late when a right hook caught Bradley off balance and caused a flash knockdown. Bradley came back with a big answer in the eighth. A flush left behind the ear wobbled Pacquiao and had the Filipino great covering up as Bradley went to work. Pacquiao kept his feet and was returning fire at the bell but Bradley had firmly put himself back in the fray.
Bradley maintained an aggressive posture in the ninth and landed another hard left early. A left from Pacquiao busted the lip of Bradley midway through the round and Pacquiao went to work again. A counter left sent Bradley to the floor, this time more hurt than at any point in three encounters. Bradley beat the count but Pacquiao had extended what looked like a substantial lead.
There were no knockdowns in the tenth but a careful Bradley did little as Pacquiao piled up points. Pacquiao took off much of the eleventh round and the same was true until late in the twelfth when a digging Bradley was badly hurt in the closing seconds of the fight. No stranger to finishing a fight on his heels, Bradley still did as he always does and made the final bell.
All three judges came in identically at 116-110 in favor of Pacquiao.
Pacquiao was asked after the fight about the two knockdowns scored in the fight. “This fight is different than the last two fights because I was aggressive…and careful,” he said in describing his approach adding, “every round I’m looking for a knockout.” Turning to the fans, perhaps with an eye to the Mayweather fight fallout, Pacquiao said, “I hope I give them a good fight.”
Asked about the future, Pacquiao waffled a bit on whether this was his very last fight and seemed to hinge some of the question on his political futures. If he does walk away, his plaque in Canastota will be just five years away.
Bradley, always a class act win or lose, was hazy on the knockdowns when asked. “I don’t even remember man.” Asked to comment on Pacquiao’s challenge to him, Bradley stated, “He’s just very quick; very explosive” of the only man to defeat him as a professional. Bradley was asked about his future as well and said he’s still got plenty of fight left in him. His marriage with trainer Teddy Atlas couldn’t help him against Pacquiao but its ultimate success may yet be determined.
The bout was televised in the US on HBO pay-per-view, promoted by Top Rank.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]