As hard as the bum verdict was to swallow, Manny Pacquiao may have those two blind judges to thank that all the attention is now on those fateful two seconds when Michael Buffer announced the decision that shook the world – and not on what happened inside that ring for that full hour in Las Vegas.
The controversy has turned into a smokescreen that momentarily blinded us to one other unacceptable sight inside that ring on Sunday: Bradley still up standing at the end of 12 action-packed rounds with the Pacman – the American's face unblemished, his spirits up and with the gall to even entertain hopes of a victory.
Until that time, Pacquiao fans had impatiently counted down the rounds waiting for that momentous instant when Bradley would kiss the canvas and the Filipino ring hero would climb the middle ropes to start another national celebration.
One, two, three…they counted as the fight wore on, growing increasingly agitated at the sight of the ripped Bradley holding his own against the Pacman, landing powder-puff punches every now and then but, shockingly enough, evading most of the champion’s punches and sucking up those that did land.
The knockout never came.
Once the smoke had cleared, we were confronted with questions over and above those about the ‘robbery’ that were suddenly begging for answers: Is our beloved hero really slipping? Has Father Time caught up with him?
Freddie Roach seemed unconcerned after the fight, and his words were assuring enough. The Bradley bout was the best he had seen Pacquiao fight since his devastating show against Miguel Cotto in 2009, he said. So no worries right?
Much as we want to hang on to Roach’s every word, however, there was this one other detail that just wasn’t right. The Pacquiao that we know was an easy man to root for, much like Jordan’s Bulls of yore. You look for a win, he gives it to you; you crave a knockout, he delivers as efficiently as the boy who brings you the morning paper.
Maybe we’ve become too pampered, but it wasn’t as much fun watching Pacquiao in his past six fights. There were no knockouts, and the last one against Mexican rival Juan Manuel Marquez he almost lost, if not for a similarly controversial decision that was met with the same outrage across the border in Mexico.
That unconvincing victory was primarily the reason Bradley was handpicked for Pacquiao’s next fight. Not because he was the most deserving challenger out there outside of the irrational Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Not because he could help sell the most tickets or the most number of pay-per-view fights.
Bradley was seen as the perfect dance partner that could help Pacquiao restore his battered reputation. Although unbeaten in 28 previous fights, the American fighter clearly doesn’t have the chin of Cotto, the raw power of Ricky Hatton, the guile of Marquez or the super-human bravery of Antonio Margarito.
If we are to come up with a Top 20 of all the great boxers Pacquiao had fought and dispatched with stunning regularity in his glowing career, it would be too generous of us to write Bradley's name in the single-digit slots.
More importantly, Bradley, based on his reputation alone, was not expected to hide behind his gloves for 12 rounds like what Joshua Clottey and Shane Mosley shamelessly did against Pacman. The guy wasgame, and he was practically fed to the lions.
Come fight night, it wasn’t entirely unreasonable to expect a knockout, given that Bradley looked all bark and no bite and Pacquiao had the perfect training camp.
Unlike his third fight with Marquez, there was also no talk of personal or physical issues that might have distracted Pacquiao. His relationship with wife Jinkee was as strong as it has ever been after a major lifestyle change, and there were no complaints of the cramps that limited his movement in the Marquez fight.
When the unthinkable unfolded before our eyes, only one of two things could have happened: either Bradley miraculously turned into the fighter nobody thought he was, or Pacquiao had once again underperformed.
On the surface, Pacquiao looked perfectly fine. He was fast on his feet, quick with his punches. The volume of shots he threw, and landed, was close to average. But the fact that Bradley was not only standing but was also left with a shot at an improbable victory after 12 rounds only bolstered fears that Pacquiao’s best days are behind him or, worse, his storybook career is at an end.
The one thing we can hold on to is that Pacquiao has always erased all our doubts and eased all our fears in the past with one swing of that mighty left hand. Just as he had done in that glorious victory over Hatton. Just as he had done in his memorable fights against Erik Morales. The bad news is, we may have to endure another long wait before the country's greatest ring warrior once again proves us wrong while his 34th birthday draws closer and closer.
The only thing that appeared certain at this time is that Pacquiao will fight Bradley in a rematch that Arum would find easier to sell come November.
Beyond that, it’s a big question mark out there.