After all the pre-fight talk about what he could and could not do, welterweight Manny Pacquiao entered the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas last night and did what he always does: he let his hands go, winning a unanimous decision over Timothy Bradley in the process.
No one did more talking in the build up to the fight than Bradley. He questioned Pacquiao’s zest for combat and turned the knife by adding that Pacquiao would need a stoppage to win—a feat Pacquiao could not accomplish against a hobbled Bradley in June of 2012, and one he had not managed since 2009. Bradley complimented this dismissive talk by promising to gun for Pacquiao’s head Saturday night; a move which, considering Bradley’s reputation for feather dusting, was like a slap hitter digging in and pointing his bat toward the center field fence. But Bradley, Palm Springs, California, is never more motivated than when he perceives he is being doubted—and Bradley is never short on motivation. He swore Pacquiao was past it, promised to tear him up, and, to his credit, Bradley answered the opening bell trying to make good on his word.
For the first six rounds, Bradley walked the talk. He set his feet and launched crisp rights, he worked both hands to Pacquiao’s body, and countered Pacquiao’s flashier combinations by finishing their exchanges. As he had in his twelve rounds of reckoning with Ruslan Provodnikov, Bradley was fulfilling his promise of bad intentions. Unlike the Provodnikov fight, however, Bradley exhibited a healthy respect for return fire. He changed angles after combinations, and rather than languish at the end of Pacquiao’s punches, used his quick feet to move beyond range or leap into Pacquiao’s chest, where he could grind away while absorbing punches on his shoulders and arms. This is not to say that Bradley was having his way with Pacquiao, because he was not. What Bradley was doing however was something akin to the impossible: outgunned, he was nevertheless bringing the fight to Pacquiao, warring with a far more destructive force on even terms.
There are penalties for such daring, and Bradley would succumb to them over the second half of the fight. Never in less than impeccable shape, Bradley, 145 1/2, has ridden his conditioning to victory before, relying on it to help him outlast bigger punchers and survive their bigger punches. Yet against Pacquiao, Bradley began to fatigue noticeably by the fifth round, a consequence not so much of the number of punches he had thrown, but of their caliber. What Bradley gained from sitting down on his shots was exceeded by what he lost in missing. Yes, he was scoring better than he had in their first fight, but Bradley also whiffed plenty, and those blows, so innocuous to his opponent, were exacerbating Bradley’s fatigue. There was also the penalty delivered by Pacquiao, who did not even need to set his feet to out-bomb his opponent.
The writing was on the wall in the seventh round, when Pacquiao, General Santos City, Philippines, caught Bradley with a flurry along the ropes. Bradley managed to weather the assault, but could muster only histrionics in response, shaking his head and waving Pacquiao in. Pacquiao obliged, and while he was unable to build on the damage of seconds earlier, the dynamics of the fight had changed. Bradley remained stout, and despite his obvious exhaustion never seemed in danger of being stopped; but he could not maintain the strategy that had clouded the fight’s outcome. Pacquiao, 145, took center ring over the second half of the fight, and carried the action. In it to the final bell, Bradley was nevertheless unable to the make up ground on a generational fighter still winning the race against the setting sun and its creeping shadows. Scores read 116-112 twice and 118-110 for Pacquiao.
There is nothing left for Pacquiao to accomplish, nothing left to prove; a level of achievement reflected in the dwindling list of names promoter Top Rank can cull future opponents from. And yet, the story is not so much about what Pacquiao has done as about what he can still do, which is an incredible shift in perspective considering “Pac Man” is 35, and began his career at flyweight over 19 years ago. There was much talk of Pacquiao’s slippage after Juan Manuel Marquez deboned him in December of 2012, and rightfully so; as Pacquiao, 56-5-2 (38), continues to put space between himself and that night, however, the focus should shift not from how the current Pacquiao stacks up against his apex, but how this version matches up with the field. That field includes Bradley, the winner—and loser—of the upcoming match between Juan Manuel Marquez and Mike Alvarado, and Wild Card stablemate Ruslan Provodnikov. Opponents may be hard to come by for Pacquiao, and promotional acrimony plays a hand in that, but the dearth of serviceable foes is first and foremost a testament to whom and how Pacquiao fought. A missing name or two on his ledger will hardly haunt him.
As for Bradley’s ledger, it now bears its lone defeat, albeit a forgivable one. He was pragmatic about the loss, and despite being unable to resist mentioning a calf injury in his post fight interview, Bradley, 31-1 (12), heaped praise upon his conqueror. And really, why be anything but gracious when you still number amongst the field?
For the best deals on boxing tickets visit TiqIQ.com