LAS VEGAS – Manny Pacquiao makes his highly anticipated return to the ring on Saturday night (Sunday noon, Manila time) in a title fight that could either restore his tarnished image or bolster fears that his storybook career is at an end.
Looking like a mere mortal in November’s fight against Juan Manuel Marquez, the Filipino hero is keen to atone when he fights undefeated American Tim Bradley with his World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight title on the line.
The bout is set for 12 rounds at the MGM Grand, but no one among Pacquiao’s fans in the stands – and millions more around the world – would want to wait around that long and hear the toll of the final bell.
Anything short of a knockout won’t do if the former bakery hand turned billionaire fighter wants to restore his fearsome reputation that had been eroded by a couple of ho-hum fights as well as the questionable victory over Marquez.
Pacquiao is well aware of the stakes and has, for the first time, openly talked about wanting to knock Bradley’s head off, the best to silence critics and please fans who are expected to pack gymnasiums and theaters around the country to watch the fight.
On a day when traffic will once again be unbelievably light in Metro Manila and the crime rate dips to abnormal levels, nothing could be sweeter than the singular roar of fans over the sight of Bradley kissing the canvas.
“I’m very focused for this fight,” said Pacquiao, who tipped the scales on Friday right on the limit at 147 lbs. – the heaviest he has ever weighed a day before a fight. “I have peace of mind, no distractions or thinking about something.”
On the eve of the match, Pacquiao remains a clear 4-1 favorite to retain his crown, and rightfully so. The champion has had a trouble-free buildup thanks to a transformation that saw the champ rid himself of vices and turn to the Bible.
In Bradley, Pacquiao also has an opponent handpicked not necessarily because he can help sell tickets or pay-per-view buys but more because he is a fighter so unlike Shane Mosley, who hid behind his gloves for 12 full rounds.
Pacquiao has gone undefeated in his past 15 fights dating back to 2005, and there is very danger of that streak coming to an end against this challenger.
But don’t tell that to the cocky American challenger from Palm Springs, California who has embraced his role as the antagonist in this fight – not a shabby deal considering he stands to earn his biggest paycheck ever of US$5 million.
“I’m ready for war,” Bradley said.
Bradley (28-0, 12 KOs) came in a pound lighter at 146, but had the ripped body between the two. “Look at my physique, baby. I trained very hard for this fight. They’re going to see a war, baby,” he said.
““I want to know what it feels like to be in the ring with the best. I’m gonna prove everybody wrong.”
Like in the past, leave it up to trainer Freddie Roach to do the trash-talking on behalf of Pacquiao, owner of a 54-3-2 record (38 KOs) who will earn at least $26 million for his latest megafight.
Roach believes Pacquiao will knock out Bradley – something the reigning and defending champion has not done since scoring a 12th-round technical knockout of Miguel Cotto in 2009.
“He’s a durable guy and he might be more resilient than I think,” said Pacquiao’s longtime trainer. “But I think we can catch him early like Kendall Holt did. Manny is a better puncher than Holt.”
Holt sent Bradley to the canvas twice in their unification title bout in 2009, but still lost a unanimous decision as Bradley dominated most of the rounds.
The Hall of Fame-bound trainer doesn’t see the same thing happening to Pacquiao.
“Tim Bradley won’t win a round against Manny Pacquiao,” he said.
Veteran referee Robert Byrd will be the third man on the ring, while the three judges scoring the bout are Duane Ford, CJ Ross, and Jerry Roth.