STORMBRINGER: Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley Preview


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The career arcs of Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley suggest that their meeting on Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada, may be more than routine star maintenance. Instead, the cocoon of Pacquiao’s iconic status might be ripe to burst from a budding force.

Bradley, now 28-0 with 12 knockouts, looked like a middling prospect during his ShoBox debut against Jaimie Rangel in December 2006. His hands were fast and willing but his feet were heavy. The bout abruptly ended from a headbutt¬¬¬-something that would become a bit of a theme for Bradley-and the Palm Springs native won a comfortable technical decision. But he was tagged with several left hands in the process.

In the five and a half years since, Bradley has improved dramatically, showcasing a new wrinkle in virtually every fight. For his first world championship opportunity, he traveled to the United Kingdom to defeat Junior Witter, taking advantage of Witter’s propensity to pull away from trouble with chin high by landing several flush overhand rights. In his first unification bout, he survived a Kendall Holt left hook in the opening round that launched him off his feet. He came back to earn a decision over Holt using an array of feints to supplement a fiendish body assault. Six months later, he unveiled the most impressive title defense of his career, curtailing Lamont Peterson with footwork, an active jab, and precise counterpunching.

Indeed, if Bradley’s typecast as a fighter who simply puts on his hardhat and outworks his opponent was ever accurate, it’s now outdated. He has developed into an adaptable practitioner, armed with a slippery defense and sharp ring IQ, willing to adapt to whatever strategy presents him with the best path to victory. It’s possible that with a career-defining opportunity looming in the form of Manny Pacquiao, a ceiling yet unseen will be reached on June 9th.

Meanwhile, beginning in December 2008, Manny Pacquiao, 54-3-2, with 38 knockouts, saw his stardom reach another level after he steamrolled Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, and Miguel Cotto within a year. He would have been hard-pressed to look more destructive in those bouts, surpassing pre-fight assurances by stopping his bigger opponents with sensational ease.

The expectations reached an unsustainable stratosphere after his demolition of Cotto. He dominated his next two fights against Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito, but both survived to see the end of 12 rounds. Then, a lackluster performance against a reticent Shane Mosley, in which Pacquiao’s aggression uncharacteristically subsided for long stretches, raised questions about whether the Filipino icon was becoming vulnerable. Nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez amplified those questions last November, fighting him on even terms after entering the ring as a heavy underdog. Though the rubber match largely followed the script of their first two affairs¬-aside from how the judges chose to split hairs, neither man can claim superiority after 36 rounds of battle-one distinction it had was that Pacquiao never took Marquez off his feet, or even put him on shaky legs.

But if Pacquiao’s explosiveness has waned with age, he remains a serious KO threat to nearly anyone around his weight class, and memories of Holt sending Bradley airborne remain prevalent despite the 28-year-old’s proven durability. Bradley bounced back up, quickly shook off the cobwebs, and remained undeterred while he aggressively pressured his dangerous foe throughout the following rounds. It was a cruel reminder, however, of how sloppy he can be when he’s eager, and making the same mistake against a finisher as virulent as Pacquiao can lead to a short night and a long ride back to Palm Springs.

Pacquiao’s concerns with losing by knockout Saturday night are substantially smaller. The 33-year-old was last separated from his senses in 1999, when he tried to defend a flyweight title by squeezing a super bantamweight frame into 112 pounds. He hasn’t been in serious trouble of suffering the same fate since. And while Bradley’s fists are a grade or two higher than feather¬having displayed a stinging body attack and the ability to knock down the likes of Junior Witter, Edner Cherry, and Lamont Peterson with right hands¬¬-the last time he recorded a one-punch knockout was against brittle Nasser Athumani in 2007. It was one of only two stoppages over the last five years or so for Bradley. In part, Bradley’s low KO percentage is the result of poor finishing skills-with his footwork and technique slipping noticeably after he stuns an opponent-but whatever the case, he hasn’t shown the ability to take out stern opposition, so the chances of him stopping Pacquiao are in the vicinity of zero.

While it’s clear that Bradley doesn’t have Pacquiao’s firepower, a combination of attributes makes him tough to deal with. He scarcely gets caught with a flush punch, accompanying a low center of gravity with copious head movement. He has a spirited and varied jab to go along with a dedicated body attack. And he’s quick to make sharp deviations from a strategy that begins to flounder. That you rarely see him get handled for a full three minutes of a stanza, or clearly lose two consecutive rounds, is a sign that he’s an intelligent, well-rounded fighter.

Unfortunately, making use of his head has often been a multifaceted plan of action that includes not just defense and intelligence, but butting the hell out of people. It’s not that he launches himself into his opponents like Victor Ortiz did to Floyd Mayweather, Jr., he just ‘tends to’ lead with his head when beginning a combination. Three of his last 13 bouts have ended early due to headbutt related lacerations, and Pacquiao, suffering the hazards of being an aggressive, sometimes reckless, southpaw, has had a history of getting cut from butts. To Bradley’s credit, he managed to avoid serious clashes with Joel Casamayor’s omnipresent head last November, which may be a sign that he’s aware of his reputation and is trying to repair it. Nevertheless, a headbutt or two playing a role in Saturday night’s outcome remains a distinct possibility.

Head knocks aside, we’re likely to see a fast-paced chess match. Bradley’s proficiency of slipping punches combined with Pacquiao’s lively legs means that there may not be consistent contact in every round. It’s unlikely to be a ‘war,’ as Bradley has promised several times during promos and HBO 24/7 episodes. But the feeling here is that it’ll be highly intriguing, with swings of momentum born out of exuberance augmented by versatility, with both men capable of entering a new gear when it’s called upon. Bradley will look to press forward at times behind a jab distributed to chest and head, seeking out paths towards clean overhand rights. Pacquiao will have rounds where he’s pressing Bradley back, using his quicker feet to strike with left hands delivered from unsuspecting angles. Pacquiao’s right hook, a necessary ingredient against a combatant as layered as Bradley, will remain as integral as Bradley’s ability to counter Pacquiao’s advances with lefts beneath the rib cage. Keys to victory should be found closer to the bottom of the toolbox than the top, forcing two skilled fighters to survey the limits of what they’re capable of.

As the favorite and the headliner, if Pacquiao finds himself in a losing battle, most attention will be directed at the increasingly-prominent slope his career has been sliding down since beating Miguel Cotto. But more attention should be paid to the ascending path of the man in front of him. Tim Bradley is a formidable challenge.

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Tags: Featured Manny Pacquiao Timothy Bradley Welterweights

  • jet79

    Hi Michael,
    This is excellent; I especially like the point you raise in the conclusion, that even if Bradley wins he probably won’t be the story. It makes me wonder whether Bradley, as deserving as deserving as he may be, will be satisfied with the stardom that he would receive if victorious. It would probably take a rematch victory to make him the name he wants to be.
    I’m admittedly really looking for ward to this fight, but with Bradley having little chance of earning a stoppage, and the probable lack of “consistent contact” it’s going to be tough for Bradley to get the win. I could see a hostile response to the final tallies after twelve rounds. (Though I wonder if the notion that Bradley can’t get a fair shake, coupled with the waning love affair with Pacquiao, might produce a bias in viewers equal to the expected bias from the judges.)
    I’m assuming this fight goes to the cards because Bradley’s a survivor and Pacquiao’s been in cruise control for a while. A Pacquiao stoppage would impress the hell out of me because Bradley is indeed a formidable challenge.

  • jet79

    Hi Michael,
    This is excellent; I especially like the point you raise in the conclusion, that even if Bradley wins he probably won’t be the story. It makes me wonder whether Bradley, as deserving as he may be, will be satisfied with the stardom that he will receive if victorious. It would probably take a rematch victory to make him the name he wants to be.
    I’m admittedly really looking for ward to this fight, but with Bradley having little chance of earning a stoppage, and the probable lack of “consistent contact” it’s going to be tough for him to get the win. I could see a hostile response to the final tallies after twelve rounds. (Though I wonder if the notion that Bradley can’t get a fair shake, coupled with the waning love affair with Pacquiao, might produce a bias in viewers equal to the expected bias from the judges.)
    I’m assuming this fight goes to the cards because Bradley’s a survivor and Pacquiao’s been in cruise control for a while. A Pacquiao stoppage would impress the hell out of me because Bradley is indeed a formidable challenge.

  • Michael Nelson

     @jet79 Hey JT,
     
    Thank you much.  Yeah, Bradley likely won’t get the credit he deserves if he pulls of the upset, but at least it’ll be a nice step towards universal respect.  Glancing over twitter, many are using the Holt thing as evidence that he’ll get steamrolled.  He’d put that behind him for good if he’s there for 12 tough rounds tomorrow. 
     
    You’re right, it’ll be hard to win a close decision.  I half facetiously tweeted “Bradley whoops that ass” the other day; in reality, there’ll probably be a bunch of tough rounds to score.  In addition to being the headliner, Pac’s style’s far more eye-catching. 

  • Andrew Fruman

    Hey Michael, nice preview.
     
    I’ve been on the Bradley bandwagon for awhile now, and had been hoping he’d get a crack at Manny – but now that the fight is so close, I can’t stop worrying about an early clash of heads and the dreaded 3-round technical draw decision.
     
    If it doesn’t end in such disappointing fashion, I think we’ll see a good close fight.  Bradley is not the same class of counter-puncher as Marquez, but I think he’s quicker on his feet, and has the ring smarts to pull off his own variation of that strategy… circling away from Manny’s left, while picking his spots to attack.  Can he win a decision though with that sort of plan?  Of course he might go in to bully mode, and look to keep the fight at close quarters, which has it’s pros and cons too.  A lot of possibilities – and I agree with your assessment of the match-up as fast paced chess.
     
     

  • Andrew Fruman

     @Michael Nelson I would say this to everyone pointing at the Holt fight as an example of why Bradley is going to get flattened… Marquez was dropped hard by a somewhat shop worn Michael Katsidis – and didn’t even get buzzed against Pacquiao. Knockdowns happen.  Fighters get caught sometimes, and at least in my opinion, how Bradley reacted after the knockdown, is more telling of his chances than anything else.  He got back up and took the fight to Holt in every round.  He’s a smart gritty fighter, and he’ll be tough to keep down on Saturday.

  • Michael Nelson

     @Andrew Fruman Hey Andrew,
     
    Thank you sir.  Yeah, we were both on the bandwagon pretty early.  A no decision would be absurdly bad in so many ways… and completely in line with what we’ve become accustomed to in these hyped match-ups.    Shit.  You got me thinking it’ll happen too.
     
    Good assessment on the differences with Marquez.  Bradley’s offensive array doesn’t come close to JMM’s, but I’d consider him harder to hit at this point in their respective careers, and like you said, much livelier legs.  Bradley won’t have the consistent success Marquez had counterpunching Pacquiao.  I think he can pull off a few timely eye-catching counters though, while going to work whenever Pacquiao covers up on the ropes.
     
    A lot of people might see that as ‘outworking’ him, but Bradley won’t outwork him if he’s getting tagged.  How he defends will be his key to a decision.

  • Michael Nelson

     @Andrew Fruman Agreed.  It was a great left hook that lifted Bradley off his feet and temporarily made his eyes roll around in his head.  That he hopped back up less than two seconds later shows that the man can take a punch.  Granted, going back down to a knee was weird, but he was following his corner’s directions.
     
    The only take away I had was how open he was in that first round against Holt, and how he can’t afford to do that against Pacquiao.  But I’m sure he learned from the experience and respects Pac’s power a lot more than he respected Holt’s. 

  • thenonpareil

    Hi MN, 
     
    looks like a lot of folks around here are giving Bradley a good chance.  Of course, if Bruce Trampler thought Bradley had a real shot to win, this fight wouldn’t have been made.  But it looks like Top Rank has given itself a significant margin for error here.  This is not the kind of fight that fits into the PPV cash-in model of big name, limited risk.   
    It should be an interesting fight.  Pacquiao is subject to the same laws of boxing deterioration as everyone else is.  At 33, with 60 hard fights–and several weight classes–behind him,  it looks like he is ready to be taken.  It may not be Bradley who does it, but he could be in the right place at the right time tonight.  
    AF mentioned Bradley’s foot speed, and I’d add that Bradley is the first fighter with live legs that Pacquiao has faced in years.  This is no ponderous, lumbering fighter like Mosley, Margarito, Hatton, Diaz,  old De La Hoya, etc.  Marquez is still formidable, but he’s not so spry on his feet either.   If Pacquiao cannot reproduce the workrate of the Margarito-Clottey era, then Bradley will have time to think and counter.  If Pacquiao’s slowed down as much as it appears he has–cramps, age, who knows?–then Bradley should be a handful for him.  I think Top Rank is counting on the lack of power, the wide right hand, and the fact that Bradley didn’t really look too good against Abregu in his only legit welterweight fight.   Bradley’s chin is a non-issue, since Holt was one of the hardest one-shot punchers in boxing at that time.  Holt is just gunshy and conservative.  If he punched more, he’d knock out more than his share of fighters.  If Pacquiao knocks Bradley out, he’ll have earned it.  
    As you wrote, it should be a high-speed chess match in there and something to look forward to.  I would probably pick Pacquiao via decision, but I’m hoping for a good scrap between two proven professionals.  
     

  • FunkyBadger

    I dreamt about this fight last night, Bradley goes down early and hard from  repeated straight lefts to the face.
     
    Given my recent run of predictions, it seems only fair to give my subconscious a chance to, ahem,  shine.
     
     

  • Michael Nelson

     @FunkyBadger FB,
     
    If your dream proves oracular, it’ll be as impressive as anything Pac pulled off in his ’09 run.  Definitely not out of the realm of possibility

  • Michael Nelson

     @thenonpareil Hey Carlos,
     
    Good call on this being the first pair of lively legs Pac has seen in quite a while.  Though I guess Hatton’s feet were quick when he darted towards Manny with chin high.  It’s a fairly unique challenge for him. 
     
    Just got fingers crossed for no bad headbutts.  Otherwise, I don’t see how it’s not at least intriguing.