By Cliff Rold
It was a better fight than the first for both men.
Only one exited the better man in both fights. This time, the judges agreed. It is just the latest case of fan and pundit overreaction to a knockout loss. Manny Pacquiao lost an all-time classic at the end of 2012 to an archrival certain to join him one day in the Hall of Fame. Eulogies about the end of a great one were premature.
Manny Pacquiao remains one of the best fighters in the world and proved it by beating another man who can be described the same. At 35, it remains to be seen how many more nights he has like Saturday.
Let’s go the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Bradley B+; Pacquiao A-/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Bradley B-; Pacquiao A/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Defense – Bradley B; Pacquiao B/Post: B; B+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Bradley A; Pacquiao A/Post: Same
Timothy Bradley came out with a good idea on Saturday: emulate Juan Manuel Marquez and catch Pacquiao with a blind overhand right. It worked in rocking Pacquiao at one point and keeping him honest in several exchanges. It also created an atmosphere conducive to engagement.
Engaging with Pacquiao is a risky proposition.
In the first, Pacquiao looked dry and a little slow. It may have been by design, perhaps to preserve his legs. By the second, a warmed Pacquiao began to show that, while the speed he had at his absolute peak has receded, he still has more than almost anyone. The combinations started to come and, unlike the first fight, the hands were moving consistently. While there were lulls, that was the big difference for Pacquiao.
Rather than wait until the second half of rounds to play the marksman, Pacquiao was prepared to fire bell to bell. There was real electricity in the first six rounds but Pacquiao pulled away with particularly strong rounds in seven and ten. After letting Bradley back into the fight in the eleventh, Pacquiao closed well enough to make victory clear in the twelfth.
Pacquiao did a good job taking away a lot of Bradley’s offense upstairs even if he left himself open to the body. Bradley, rocked a few times on the night, used good head movement to survive. His legs were rubber for long stretches but the incredible condition he puts himself in again served him well. It’s a little remarkable that a fighter on the deck against Kendall Holt and Ruslan Provodnikov stayed afoot for 24 rounds with Pacquiao.
Evander Holyfield once noted about never being dropped by Mike Tyson that a fighter’s senses are heightened when they know the man across from them is dangerous. Bradley was always alert to the danger. He’s a tough dude.
We still couldn’t avoid some scoring silliness. 116-112 was fine. This scribe scored it 115-113 for Pacquiao with swing rounds circled in five (scored for Bradley) eight, and nine (both scored for Pacquiao). 118-110?
No, Manny didn’t win ten rounds. But, just as he should have the first time, he won the fight. Now what? Everyone still wants to see Mayweather but it’s not likely, at least so long as Pacquiao is under contract to Top Rank. There was a time when Mayweather and Pacquiao shared a closer market value.
Mayweather has pulled far ahead in that regard and he’s going to set more terms than not. If rumors of Pacquiao’s deal expiring with Top Rank at the end of the year are true, than perhaps we can fantasize about 2015.
For now, the viable options appear two. Pacquiao could do a rubber match with Bradley or face the winner of Marquez-Mike Alvarado. Perhaps Ruslan Provodnikov slips in there too. Any of those would produce good viewing but it feels a little like treading water.
Part of the appeal of Pacquiao was his ascension through the ranks, the moves from Flyweight to Welterweight that evoked comparisons to names like Armstrong and McLarnin. Since 2008/09, Pacquiao has been almost entirely a Welterweight and the chance for fresh matches in getting thinner all the time.
Golden Boy has a deeper bench at 140 and 147 right now than Top Rank. They can feed Mayweather new foes until he’s done if Pacquiao never becomes available. The reverse isn’t as true.
For Bradley, a rubber match is the most lucrative option but, if unavailable, he could always match with Provodnikov at 147 again or with Brandon Rios in what could be fan friendly fisticuffs. He doesn’t have the frame to move to Jr. Middleweight so the Top Rank round robin will continue with him in the mix. He lost fair and square but competitively on Saturday. There is no shame in losing to a modern great.
And Saturday, even past his peak, Pacquiao reminded everyone he’s just that. Decades from now, conversations of this era’s best fighters will always include him at or near the top. It’s nice to know there are still a few more chapters to the story yet to be told.
Report Card Picks 2014: 12-6
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]