FALLOUT: On Timothy Bradley and Manny Pacquiao

PACKO

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Boxing is a sport that adds years to lives without extending them, that both glosses over and emphasizes the fact that getting punched in the head is bad for you. Admittedly, the study of brain trauma is a new and underdeveloped field, and it is still unclear whether the majority of the cognitive deficits that are associated with blunt head blows result from the physical trauma itself, or the brain responding to this trauma. Those deficits, however, are undeniable—even obvious—in boxing. Boxing can chuck a man out of his prime like a bouncer, dumping him on the curb, where balance, coordination, cognition and speech get lost in the gathering crowd. This is what is happening when a fighter gets old before our eyes. This is the ugly side of growing old in a bloodsport—the side that counts in dog years, that places asterisks next to ages and question marks on futures.

In some cases this drastic deterioration seems to happen overnight. Davey Moore was never the same after suffering eight rounds with Roberto Duran. Half blind from a swollen eye, Moore was beaten so savagely that his wife and mother reportedly passed out ringside. He lost four of his next ten fights before his premature death at age 28. At 27, Riddick Bowe was still kicking around the dilapidated outskirts of his prime when he was castrated by Andrew Golota. By the time Golota’s urge to self-sabotage got the best of him, he had scrambled Bowe permanently. Did these men get old overnight? No, there were other factors at play, especially with Bowe, whose appetite was rivaled by his ability to eat leather. But with both Moore and Bowe, a particularly violent fight seemed to push them beyond the threshold of recovery.

Have Tim Bradley and Manny Pacquiao also crossed that threshold? The June 2012 fight between the two—which Bradley won by disputed decision—was anything but savage. In fact, the dearth of telling blows was part of what made some rounds so hard to score. Bradley’s ankles fared worse than his face, and Pacquiao had nary a scratch on him. But in their next fights, both Bradley and Pacquiao would drive crowds into a frenzy the way only fighters can: by giving and taking a pounding.

Pacquiao ascended the gallows when he met suspiciously new-and-improved nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez for a fourth time last December. Marquez, who in thirty-eight prior rounds was unable to drop Pacquiao, scored a knockdown in the third before icing Pacquiao with a single right hand in the sixth. Several emotions follow such a chilling scene. How can one celebrate the sight of another person stretched lifelessly on the canvas? How can you not, knowing the Herculean feat required to plant him there? Pacquiao, wearing his infectious smile, walked out of the ring in Las Vegas that night, but the burning question is: Did any of him remain, like a chalk outline, on the MGM Grand canvas? And if so, how much was left behind?

The answers to these questions could be disturbing, especially considering Brandon Rios will be the first to ask them when he faces Pacquiao in Macao on November 23rd. Most comfortable in a rumble, Rios fights guided by the principle that if his opponent can touch him, then that opponent can be touched. Not a huge puncher, Rios has bruising, lingering power, the kind that pulverizes, and he has the chin to see the wrecking through. He will be gunning for Pacquiao from the opening bell, looking to smother not only Pacquiao’s offense, but his self-belief.

If the dervish that fought Marquez in December remains, Rios should prove too hittable, too stationary for a dynamo like Pacquiao. But if Pacquiao gave up some of his ghost when Marquez planked him, then Rios, a sturdy, unrelenting banger could give Pacquiao a painful bout of déjà vu. Just what Pacquiao has left is perhaps the most intriguing variable heading into Pacquiao-Rios.

Unlike Pacquiao, Tim Bradley heard the final bell in his last fight, though it may have been lost in the cacophonous ringing in his ears. After the fallout over his win against Pacquiao, Bradley went into the ring against Ruslan Provodnikov looking for catharsis. He got it, giving an extraordinary performance in winning a narrow decision. But he paid a frightening price. Going toe-to-toe against the heavy-handed Provodnikov, Bradley was out on his feet early in the fight, took his share of punishment in the middle rounds, and was dropped in the twelfth. Here is Bradley speaking about the experience on HBO’s “Faceoff: Bradley-Marquez”: “Went to the hospital that night, had a concussion. You know, a few weeks after the fight I was still affected by the damage that was done.” Just how was he affected, you ask? Bradley continues, “My speech was a little bit off, and you know, was slurring a little bit. After two months I get my speech back, and got my wits about me now.” Here the ugly side of aging in boxing rears its head again. But Bradley has no illusions about the reality of prizefighting. “Boxing is the hurt business,” he tells host Max Kellerman, “and I’ll deal with the consequences later.”

Is there a chance those consequences manifest sooner than Bradley expects? Perhaps on October 12th, when he faces Juan Manuel Marquez from the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas? If there is a fighter who will capitalize on any slippage, it is Marquez, whose counterpunching prowess is legendary. In brawling with Provodnikov, Bradley silenced his critics and, hopefully, learned a valuable lesson about his identity as a fighter: namely, that recklessness is his undoing. The question is whether Bradley, he of the two months of slurred speech, will ever be the same. Like Pacquiao, Bradley’s deterioration figures to determine his future. If he remains a quick, strong, and indefatigable fighter, he will give Marquez hell. But if his neurological stitching has come loose, Marquez will unravel him. In the hurt business there are no higher stakes.

It is because of what they have given audiences that Pacquiao and Bradley have such serious questions looming over their return. There is an element of conflicted complicity that gives these questions their gravity: we want both men to live long, healthy lives, and yet we want them to once more deliver the type of violent spectacle that prompts those uncomfortable questions. In this sense, the consequences Bradley speaks of are ours as well. This too, is a reality of the hurt business.

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Topics: Brandon Rios, Juan Manuel Marquez, Manny Pacquiao, Timothy Bradley

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  • repugnicant

    Suspiciously new and improved?? Good Gawd. If you squinted extremely hard, you might see a tiny, minuscule difference in Marquez’s physique between fights 3 and 4, and he was also 5 pounds lighter in 4 than he was in 3. All this delusional Pacmania seems to overlook Pacquiao flying up to welterweight while Marquez took 3 years to build himself up to be a legitimate welter. Its sickening that there’s so much pettiness that some would try to smear a great fighter who ALWAYS tests clean.

    As for Pacquiao/Rios, look no further than Alvarado/Rios 1. Alvarado is an excellent fighter, but he made the mistake of thinking Rios wasn’t good enough, and stood toe to toe with him and got his clock cleaned. Alvarado learned his lesson for the second fight and fought off his back foot, countering and stepping back, barely pulling out the victory. Pacquiao is Alvarado 1. That’s all he knows, so I worry for his safety. Rios isn’t coming to lose.

    • radicalfighter

      ignorant comment! Mr. Re-PUSSY-CUNT!

  • vcsalita

    He’s scared. After fights 1, 2, and 3, Marquez would not shut up about wanting to fight Pacquiao. After fight #2, this guy literally flew to the Philippines and asked Pacquiao for another fight. Pacquiao agreed to fight him again and again. Anyone who watched that 4th fight knows that Marquez got busted up and was losing the fight. He couldn’t even breathe out of his nose and was leaning on the ropes. He lands the luckiest punch of his life then all of a sudden, he avoids Pacquiao altogether. Pac gave him several opportunities to redeem himself, yet Marquez won’t give Pac one rematch. Marquez knows that he was losing that fight, and that he got lucky.

  • Dennis Wise

    Jimmy, tremendous article. Great opening graph. I’m actually not going to watch this fight. I’m not boycotting it for any reason, I simply do not want to watch it. I do think Bradley is damaged goods and there may be the possibility for Marquez to become one of the real bad guys in the history of modern boxing if so.

    • Jimmy Tobin

      Hi Dennis, thanks very much. I’m really looking forward to this fight: this is my “The One”. If both guys are at their best it could be an excellent fight. But that’s a big “if”. We should know within the first few rounds whether Bradley still has it, and if he doesn’t, the rest of the fight could be difficult to watch.

      That’s an interesting point you raise. If Marquez, with Memo again in his team, were to really hurt Bradley, how he is remembered might change. There’s no proof he cheated; there’s tons of smoke but no fire. But the smoke might be enough to condemn him (and already is for two of the people in the comment section.)

      • thenonpareil

        Nice work, JT. I don’t know for sure–I’m not an omniscient blogger–but Bradley may *actually* be damaged goods. As I mentioned to Dennis in another post, I can’t recall a fighter being so forthcoming about his head injury in public. Fighters get concussions often–some guaranteed not to have been diagnosed–but few of them seem to have suffered these after- effects…or at least confessed to them. I remember Jose Basora suffered a fractured skull after one of his fights and he was never the same. His daughter told me that he suffered from headaches for the rest of his life.