THE first time they met two years ago, Timothy Bradley Jr. was supposed to be just a minor hump in Manny Pacquiao’s pursuit of a megabuck showdown with American Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Pacquiao ended up stepping on a banana peel, losing to Bradley on points and stumbling altogether as he got knocked out by Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez in his very next fight.
Bradley felt like he hit the jackpot after he handed Pacquiao his first loss in seven years, but the moment he stepped out of the ring, reality struck like a bolt of lightning. Majority of the ringside experts who watched at ringside scored the fight for Pacquiao. The World Boxing Organization (WBO) tapped five judges to re-score the fight and all of them had Pacquiao the clear winner. Bradley did not receive a key to the city and instead found himself dealing with a truckload of criticisms that included profanity-laced death threats.
On Sunday (Manila time), at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, Bradley and Pacquiao will touch gloves again in the hope of finally settling the score between them. Officially, Bradley’s WBO welterweight (147 pounds) championship is at stake, but in a rematch of this magnitude, it is safe to say that the very careers of the protagonists are on the line.
Pacquiao, in particular, is under immense pressure to deliver. His 15-bout, seven-year winning streak snapped by Bradley, Pacquiao (55-5, 38 knockouts) has been anything but his vintage self in his recent fights. He was creamed in six rounds by Marquez in December 2012 and appeared too cautious and methodical in a points win over American Brandon Rios in November 2013. At age 35, and after going through 383 rounds in a ring career that dates back to 1995, Pacquiao is under obligation to address the burgeoning observations that he may be over-the-hill.
For his part, you can say that Bradley (31-0, 12 knockouts) is just happy to be around in the rematch, considering that nobody expected him to win the first time out. But the criticisms that followed the first fight have transformed Bradley into a more dangerous fighter. In March 2013, in his first appearance after beating Pacquiao, Bradley rumbled with Russian Ruslan Provodnikov in an attempt to prove to his critics that he was not afraid to mix it up. Bradley developed a concussion and almost got knocked out, but he still captured a hard-earned decision. In October 2013, Bradley took on Marquez, the guy who poleaxed Pacquiao, and turned in his best performance by outboxing the feared Mexican counterpuncher.
Pacquiao remains the favorite in the rematch, but it is Bradley who is coming in with a lot of confidence. Not one to mince words, Bradley contends that Pacquiao has lost that loving, err gloving, feeling. “That hunger he’s (Pacquiao) looking for, it’s no longer there,” says the 30-year-old Bradley. “It’s no longer there and he can’t get it back. It’s gone. Manny can’t even sit here and say certain things he would like to say because of what he believes in. It’s not there anymore.”
If Bradley has acquired the habit of not taking a bath a week before the fight to get into a groove, Pacquiao may have to skip a few meals if only to literally get that hungry feeling again. Seriously, the rematch is for Pacquiao to win or lose. He hurt Bradley on several occasions in the first match but inexplicably tempered his assaults. The key for Pacquiao is not to fight Bradley like a congressman trying to win over a constituent’s vote. The Provodnikov fight showed that when Bradley is forced to trade at close quarters, the American gets stiff from the waist up, making his huge and dangling bald head an open target for short hooks. Bradley is at his best fighting at a distance, as he needs some space to unload his best weapon – a clubbing, overhand right thrown from way out. Pacquiao will have to cut the ring well and not give Bradley that space he covets.
Bradley will test Pacquiao’s chin early on, knowing fully well that it has been cracked before by Marquez. But the moment he realizes that Pacquiao can still take it and dish it out, expect Bradley to jump into a bicycle and do his best imitation of a Tour de France participant. Even with a bad ankle, Bradley was able to outbox Pacquiao in the remaining rounds of their first fight. This could be the turning point in the rematch and this also explains why Pacquiao incorporated Muay Thai (Thai traditional kick-boxing) into his regimen. Kick-boxing training puts emphasis on leg-strength and the moment Bradley starts to hit and run, Pacquiao wants his legs to be there for him. In recent fights, Pacquiao has acquired the habit of developing leg cramps the moment his foe starts backpedalling.
The rematch figures to be more exciting considering that there is a lot of emotion involved. Both men are talking about a knockout victory, although it may not be that easy to pull off considering their styles. Pacquiao will have to shake off the memory of the numbing loss to Marquez and not hesitate. Bradley is tough to nail with one punch considering his tactic of pulling his head too low after taking a blow. Pacquiao will have to perfectly time his assaults as one miscue could lead to a nasty head-butt.
It will all go down to who between Pacquiao and Bradley is the hungrier fighter. The WBO title is the turkey and the ring is the dinner table. Pacquiao and Bradley will have to take off the gloves, bring out the forks and rumble for the palatable prize.
“I truly believe that it (Pacquiao’s killer instinct) is not there,” reiterated Bradley.
“I pray that God can give me that fire. Another fire. I will pray for that,” countered Pacquiao.
Nothing wrong with Pacquiao sounding like a preacher for as long as he shows up in the rematch flaunting the killer instinct of Samson.