Socks: is there any more to it than that? In his biggest moment as a professional fighter, Timothy Bradley decided to experiment with his footwear . . . and passed on wearing socks. That June night in 2012, Bradley was awarded a controversial split decision over Manny Pacquiao despite suffering injuries to both feet, injuries he attributes in part to his podiatric gaff. If you believe that a hobbled Bradley was able to outfight “Pacman,” then how much intrigue can their rematch hold for you? When Bradley steps onto the canvas at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night he will be wearing socks. His feet better insulated from injury, Bradley should then beat Pacquiao more convincingly than he did last time. Fine—save your money.
Of course, the story of Pacquiao-Bradley I is not that simple, and it would be hard to find anyone who credits Bradley’s new explanation for exhausting that complexity. Does Bradley even believe it? Or is his sock yarn merely a revenge tactic, a dig at a public that blamed Bradley, 31-0 (12), for more than what transpired between the ropes last June? It smacks very much of a set-up for an especially hearty last laugh. Imagine if Bradley defeats Pacquiao a second time and attributes the victory, in part, to something as banal as wearing socks.
As far as the fight itself is concerned, head games do not matter: Pacquiao, 55-5-2 (38), is too seasoned to be vexed by words, too successful to attribute a fight’s outcome to anything but himself. What does matter is that, where recent history is concerned, Bradley troubled Pacquiao more than anyone not named Marquez. And Bradley, unlike Marquez, paid very little price for his mischief. One need not treat Pacquiao-Bradley I like the Zapruder Film to concede that had Pacquiao actually hit “Desert Storm” as often as Jim Lampley implied, Bradley would have bore the evidence of that leathering. Simply search out images of his inhuman clash with Ruslan Provodnikov for proof that Bradley swells when struck. But his feet fared far worse than his face did against Pacquiao.
Yet there is reason to believe Pacquiao, General Santos City, Philippines, will show a better version of himself on Saturday night. Not physically, mind you—the decline initiated by age permits few backward steps—but psychologically. As proven by his uninspired thrashing of Brandon Rios last November, Pacquiao will be able to play Malakili to welterweight Rancors long after such spectacles lose their appeal. All he has to do is train hard and execute a game plan seared into his muscle memory years ago to tame a plodding monster. Rios was powerless against Pacquiao’s signature tricks and took a beating, one delivered with all the gusto of someone filing their taxes. Pacquiao is hardwired for the hunt; what he needs is a challenge, and Bradley—the stylistic antithesis of men like Antonio Margarito and Rios—provides just that. Pacquiao will have to hunt Bradley, who takes a good shot, has quick feet, and even in close is difficult to hit cleanly. Perhaps this elusive quarry will reignite Pacquiao’s zest for carnage.
You do not walk over a fighter like Bradley, Palm Springs, California, let alone sleepwalk over him, and if Pacquiao has woken from his competitive slumber, his chances for victory improve. Pacquiao remains the superior offensive fighter, and if he can sustain his attacks he should win—or at least give the impression of winning—the majority of the exchanges. And he will succeed at sparking those exchanges. Bradley is quick, but not so quick that Pacquiao will struggle to find him; Bradley is disciplined, but not so disciplined that he will avoid a fight. There is also the issue of the judges, and whether, after the nearly universal censure that met the outcome of the first fight, Pacquiao, 35, will receive the benefit of the doubt in close rounds (of which there could be many).
Bradley has been up against it before however, and has yet to falter. Unlike those wooden challengers Pacquiao so easily lathes, Bradley, 30, is a thinker in the ring. For the first time in his professional career, he is in a rematch, and a fighter with Bradley’s ring I.Q. will put those twelve rounds of prior experience to good use. He must dare to hit Pacquiao more cleanly than he did the first time, and offer more than jabs as retaliation, since Bradley should not expect defensive subtlety to twice carry the day against the Filipino dynamo. Like any Pacquiao opponent, Bradley must avoid getting tagged by left hands, and he should dictate the action during lulls. This is no meager task: despite the talk of decline that will accompany him for the remainder of his career, Pacquiao remains a tall order, one most believe proved too tall for Bradley last time. Still, in the eyes of the judges, Bradley beat Pacquiao once, and should he accomplish that feat again, Bradley, socks and all, will have his hearty last laugh.
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