FORMER eight-division world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao is all set to lace on the gloves in April and the only matter that remains unsettled is the identity of the opposing fighter who will show up at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.
With American Floyd Mayweather Jr. seemingly satisfied with the cheap thrill he is getting from bashing Pacquiao in cyberspace, and with Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez uninterested in a fifth showdown, Pacquiao’s choice for his next adversary has been narrowed down to just two fighters - World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight champion (147 pounds) champion Timothy Bradley Jr. of the United States and WBO junior welterweight (140 pounds) titlist Ruslan Provodnikov of Russia.
Bradley and Provodnikov both parade impressive credentials, but if Pacquiao knows how to play his cards right, he will be picking Bradley for his next opponent.
Everybody remembers Bradley (31-0, 12 knockouts) as the petrified pugilist who received a gift decision over Pacquiao in June 2012. Unless you are Bradley’s distant relative or somebody who owes the fighter a huge debt, the prevailing opinion is that Pacquiao was robbed of a decision victory. Bradley was literally harpooned by the critics, but to his credit the American responded by going for broke in his next fight against Provodnikov in March last year. In a 12-round scorcher that earned Fight of the Year honors from several boxing publications, Bradley abandoned his safety-first approach and stood toe-to-toe with Provodnikov. Bradley emerged the winner by decision, but he nearly paid the price as Provodnikov almost knocked him out in the 12th and final stanza.
The Bradley who showed up against Provodnikov would make for a dangerous opponent for Pacquiao. But here’s the rub: After developing a concussion in the Provodnikov fight, Bradley decided to forget about being a brawler and embrace anew his old hit-and-run style. Bradley was back to his slick self in September when he eked out a methodical, ho-hum decision win over Marquez.
The return of the old Bradley favors Pacquiao. This early, many expect Bradley to fight Pacquiao in their rematch like a Tour de France participant: Staying on his bicycle and doing a lot of backpedalling. Pacquiao hurt Bradley on several occasions in their first meeting, but for some reason he refused to go full throttle on offense. After getting knocked out by Marquez in December 2012, Pacquiao has arguably come to the realization that he cannot soften up on his foes because they will not hesitate to fire back. Pacquiao still displayed that hesitancy in his comeback fight against Brandon Rios late last year, but that was expected considering that the Filipino was bent on avoiding another ambush. Having returned on a triumphant note, Pacquiao is likely to settle into the hitting groove again against Bradley.
From a marketing standpoint, Pacquiao-Bradley is not that palatable. Heck, the first fight didn’t really make serious money at the gates. But this is the safest fight for Pacquiao; one that will keep a megabuck showdown with Mayweather alive. At this stage in his career, with the Mayweather fight hanging in the balance, Pacquiao cannot afford another devastating stoppage defeat. Bradley may have the boxing skills, but he lacks the requisite punching power to duplicate what Marquez did to Pacquiao. More importantly, Bradley’s chin remains suspect.
In stark contrast, Provodnikov (23-2, 16 knockouts) is the young and dangerous brawler Pacquiao may want to avoid at this point in time. Nicknamed the “Siberian Rocky,” Provodnikov is tough as nails and offers power that can light up a far-flung barrio. The guy also knows Pacquiao inside and out, having been his former sparring partner. Provodnikov works the head and body well and has a wide upper body that can force Pacquiao into the ropes.
Pacquiao-Provodnikov is guaranteed to produce fireworks, but it is not the fight Pacquiao needs right now. He may not directly admit it, but every fight Pacquiao takes into consideration has Mayweather in the equation. Pacquiao has to think long term: He may lose a few millions in terms of pay-per-view income against Bradley, but in doing so the Mayweather fight remains within the realm of possibility.
Pacquiao can take a gamble and walk the thin line against Provodnikov, but he fell flat on his face the last time he did it against Marquez.