If Tim Bradley defeats Manny Pacquiao on June 9th, knocking one of boxing’s celestial bodies off its orbit, melancholy predictions for the sport’s future surely will follow. Somber though the mood may be, boxing will persist—violence always finds an audience. But the consolation of boxing’s survival is too modest an expectation. Despite inclinations to settle for mere palliatives, there is cause for genuine optimism with a Bradley victory.
One reason for this optimism is evident in a change in public sentiment toward Pacquiao. The Filipino fighter’s ascension to the sport’s summit began with his 2008 rematch victory over tormentor Juan Manuel Marquez. His superiority at and below 130lbs generally conceded, Pacquiao went trophy hunting. Between March of 2008 and December of 2009, Pacquiao destroyed David Diaz, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, and Miguel Cotto. However historians may choose to look back on Pacquiao’s run—inserting asterisks based on catchweights and shrewd matchmaking—it was comprised of captivating performances and resuscitated casual interest. Even if he was strafing your favorite fighter, Pacquiao’s brand of belligerence, and the mania he spawned, were undeniably remarkable.
What followed was a tiresome trio of victories over Joshua Clottey, Antonio Margarito, and Shane Mosley, and another disputed decision over Marquez. After the Marquez fight a rumble of animosity toward the Filipino fighter could be detected: people felt that Pacquiao had been gifted a decision, benefiting from favoritism garnered over the course of the previous years. Pacquiao’s image as a fighter was changing. There is little recourse to the endearing underdog narrative when Pacquiao spars (spares?) an aged Shane Mosley or gets the nod against Marquez despite looking baffled and ineffective for surprisingly long stretches of the fight. Resentment has begun to percolate as fans tire of the global icon (while eager to embrace another, of course). Given the criticism directed at his most recent fights, it looks as if the gripping summer romance with Pacquiao may finally feel the chill of autumn. This may be unfair, but the significance of this fading romance lies in its prevalence, not its validity.
For some, Pacquiao’s polarizing gay marriage stance is probably expediting this change in sentiment. To parse the issue in its entirety is more than is required for purposes here. Suffice to say that one’s position on gay marriage is is fundamentally personal. To disagree with Pacquiao is to hold him in opposition to your worldview, your understanding of human worth. Given the ontological significance of the debate, Pacquiao’s opposition to gay marriage is a tipping point, grounds for repositioning oneself in opposition to him. Even those ambivalent about the sport may find themselves forced to choose sides when informed of Pacquiao’s stance. Given that Pacquiao has entered an existential debate, a Bradley victory could be unjustifiably celebrated as a triumph of a particular worldview. What this could do for Bradley’s Q-rating is more than the deed alone would accomplish, and would be an auspicious start for a fighter who just committed regicide.
Bradley has other advantages that make a victory over Pacquiao cause for optimism. Unlike recent Floyd Mayweather victim Miguel Cotto, Bradley gives every impression of a fighter on the rise. It is possible that, at 28 and with only 28 professional bouts under his belt, the earnest pug from Palm Springs, California, has yet to give his best performance. A propensity for head butts and lack of power aside, Bradley’s future holds great promise. If one of the sports citadels were to fall, it’s likely that Bradley could construct more from the rubble than Cotto would. He may never draw like Cotto, but he figures to remain in the sport far longer. Bradley is in his physical prime, and he has yet to achieve the financial success he undoubtedly believes he deserves. Furthermore, there is a charm about Bradley, an indigo tint to his collar that makes him compelling. He is also promoted by Top Rank, who have proven—with a few exceptions—that they can maximize a fighter’s appeal. All of these attributes would be augmented by a win over Pacquiao. Were someone to beat Pacquiao, Bradley is as attractive a candidate as any.