IF there is a Nobel Prize for the best demonstration of boxing as a sweet science, it should be given to Filipino Manny Pacquiao for his recent clinical demolition of American Timothy Bradley Jr. for the World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight (147 pounds) championship.
While he fell short of sending Bradley to dreamland, Pacquiao left no doubt about the result as he pitched a shutout in the scorecards of all three judges to emerge the winner via unanimous decision. Pacquiao actually got off to a herky-jerky start in the first five rounds of the fight, as he was caught off-guard by a surprisingly aggressive Bradley. Bradley was looking for an ambush, believing that the jaw of Pacquiao was no longer that sturdy after his harrowing knockout loss to Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez in December 2012. In his first fight after the loss to Marquez, Pacquiao had looked tentative in carving out a lopsided decision win over Brandon ‘Bam Bam’ Rios in November 2013.
Bradley pressed the action early on and succeeded in wobbling Pacquiao in the fourth round with a huge right hand. By the end of the fifth stanza, trainer Freddie Roach was overheard telling Pacquiao, “You’re slowing down.” Pacquiao responded with a spirited effort from the sixth round onwards, administering a steady beating on Bradley.
Pacquiao tore Bradley by improvising and not relying on brute force. The first thing he did was take away Bradley’s best punch by throwing a lot of right jabs. Bradley’s killer punch is a clubbing overhand right which is best thrown when his feet are firmly planted on the canvas and with some space between him and his adversary. Pacquiao threw right jabs in bunches that repeatedly snapped Bradley’s head back and kept him off-balanced. The Pacquiao jab prevented Bradley from planting his feet and gaining leverage for his dreaded overhand right. It was difficult for Bradley to draw his major weapon because the right jab of Pacquiao repeatedly beat him to it.
Pacquiao also solved Bradley’s unorthodox defensive moves which had greatly annoyed previous opponents. When nailed by a punch, Bradley crouches low to duck additional blows. He then beams himself up using his huge head, forcing his foe to put on the brakes to avert a clash of heads. As his on-rushing foe suddenly freezes, Bradley seizes the chance to counter and regain momentum of the fight. Pacquiao solved this tactic of Bradley by employing clever movement and throwing punches outside Bradley’s peripheral view. Instead of hitting the brakes when Bradley crouched low, Pacquiao would spin around and nail a still crouching Bradley with punches aimed at the American’s oversized cranium. As he was still in the process of beaming himself up, Bradley was in no position to see the punches being thrown by Pacquiao on the top of his skull. There were several occasions in the fight when Pacquiao literally sprayed a crouching Bradley with a blizzard of blows, preventing the American from standing erect and retaliating properly.
Pacquiao religiously followed the battle plan until he loosened up a bit in the final round, and that was when Bradley’s head banged with Pacquiao’s and opened a deep cut on the Filipino’s left eye. Fortunately, the fight was almost over when the mishap happened.
Pacquiao reclaimed the WBO welterweight crown he lost to Bradley on a controversial decision in June 2012. While it is easy for critics to say that Pacquiao is no longer his explosive self, the Pacquiao of today is clearly more equipped to handle bigger and more dangerous opponents. The evolution of Pacquiao as a fighter has been from caveman to Einstein. In the Bradley rematch, boxing fans saw an integration of the two versions of the Pacman. We saw a little bit of the caveman and a little bit of Einstein. If Pacquiao is still fighting like the brute slugger he was 10 years ago, his boxing career would not have lasted this long. Pacquiao became a champion again at age 35 because he improvised along the way.
Pacquiao won an unprecedented eight world titles and scaled heights never reached by boxers of today’s generation. Thus, even if he slips a little, the Pacquiao of today remains a few notches higher than the ordinary boxer. The Pacquiao we are now seeing is a fighter who has adapted to the demanding landscape of the sport. With age comes wisdom, and you can say that as a fighter, Pacquiao has aged like good wine.