When Manny Pacquiao and Tim Bradley faced each other back in June of 2012, the boxing world witnessed what is now recognised as one of the worst decisions in this era of boxing. After what appeared to most observers, as a near shutout victory for Manny Pacquiao, judges Dwaine Ford and CJ Ross, somehow scored the bout 113-115 in favour of Tim Bradley, making him the winner by spit decision and the new WBO 147 lb. champion. On Saturday night we will finally get to see the rematch.
It has been almost two years since their first fight, and in that time, public opinion on these two fighters has changed a lot. Before facing Bradley, Pacquiao’s light was already starting to fade, after lackluster performances against Shane Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez in 2011. In 2012 things only got worse for Pacquiao when he suffered back-to-back losses for the first time in his career, and he was brutally knocked-out by Marquez in their fourth fight. The image Pacquiao once had as an invincible boxing god has almost completely evaporated, and there are a lot of people who doubt his ability to perform at an elite level.
While Pacquiao’s stock dived, Bradley’s went up. After facing a lot of criticism for his controversial win over Pacquiao, Bradley managed to win over a lot of fans with a stellar 2013. He ground out a tough win against Ruslan Provodnikov, in what most boxing writers considered to be the 2013 FOTY. He then went on to solidify himself as a genuine pound-for pound star, by soundly outpointing Marquez later in the year.
Because of the way 2013 unfolded, this match up is a lot more interesting than their first fight, and since it was announced, I have flip-flopped on my pick several times. There are a few factors in this fight that make it extremely difficult for me to be confident in my pick, no matter which way I go. Personally, I don't think Pacquiao's capabilities have slipped since their first fight, and while I do think Bradley has improved since their first fight, I’m not convinced that he has improved as much as a lot of people are suggesting.
It would be very interesting to know how badly Bradley's ankles were actually injured in the first bout. I don't think he just made it up, but I have the feeling that he did milk it a quite a bit. His head was virtually a magnet for Pacquiao's left cross all night. However, if his injuries were as bad as he says, he would have been far less mobile and would have been a much easier target, compared to an uninjured version of himself. If that wheelchair we saw him in was actually necessary, the ankle injures would have been a massive factor in the first fight, so I am very eager to see how a healthy Bradley fairs against Pacquiao.
While Bradley’s fight with Provodnikov certainly was exciting and helped raise his popularity, he still showed a complete lack of discipline by choosing to go toe-to-toe with Provodnikov. He was so blinded by emotion and by his desire to gain the respect of fans, that he completely threw the game plan out the window, and went to war with a knockout artist. In my opinion Bradley lost that fight, but regardless of the decision, what he displayed that night was immaturity and utter stupidity, he was lucky just to make it out of the fight on his feet. This wasn’t the first time he has shown that type of stupidity either; he fought excellently against Luis Abregu, right up until the last minute of the final round. Then for some reason, in the last minute of a fight he was clearly winning, he decided to engage in a brawl with his much bigger and stronger opponent.
Bradley is completely aware that there are only two people on this planet besides himself and his team, who think he actually won the first fight with Pacquiao. So it is quite clear that Bradley will enter the ring with a lot to prove. After seeing him fight such a stupid fight against Provodnikov, then come back with such a disciplined performance against Marquez, to outsmart one of the best thinkers in the game, it will be interesting to see whether he can keep his composure and stick to a game plan, or if he will let his emotions take over and feel the need to prove himself again.
Although some people are saying Bradley is the faster man, I disagree. I think Pacquiao has the faster hand speed and is much faster on his feet. I know Rios is slow and somewhat one dimensional, but as I wrote last year, I was still very impressed with Pacquiao’s brilliant display of boxing skill in that fight. Instead of loading up on every shot and trying to be ultra aggressive, he showed a lot of discipline by sticking to a game plan, focusing on speed and movement, while putting together blistering five punch plus combinations to outbox Rios for 12 rounds.
After Pacquiao was knocked-out by Marquez, we were all wondering how well he would be able to take a punch. Given the fact that Rios was never able to get his punches off, that question is still yet to be answered. Both Pacquiao and Bradley have been down before, but it is Pacquiao who has been knocked-out three times. I know Bradley isn’t known as a huge puncher, but I do think his power is somewhat underrated. He hurt Abregu, he had Nate Campbell backing up after a barrage of punches, and he stunned Marquez several times. He also has very good timing, which still appears to be getting better and better. I’m sure a lot of people are dismissing Bradley’s ability to hurt Pacquiao, but we need to remember that Marquez was never known as a one-punch KO artist either, so if Pacquiao gets careless, his chin could become a factor.
I think the keys to victory for Bradley, will be to rough Pacquiao up, frustrate him, and throw him off his game plan. I really can’t see Bradley having success on the outside, or out-boxing Pacquiao in any way. As I mentioned earlier, Pacquiao really couldn’t miss with the left in their last outing, so Bradley needs to find a way to get away from it this time. He will need to use a lot more movement while on the outside, but I feel the real key will be to keep low and use that big head of his and try to get Pacquiao on the ropes. The fact that he is fighting a southpaw means head clashes will be expected, so as long as he uses a bit of tact he should get away with it. In the past, Pacquiao has shown vulnerability on the inside, and that was still evident in his last fight against Rios. From early on, Bradley should come in with his head, tie Pacquiao up and do some good work from the clinch. If Bradley can make this fight rough and physical, I think we would see Pacquiao get frustrated and resort to reckless aggression that could be exploited by Bradley later in the fight.
For Pacquiao, I think that he should employ a similar game plan to the one he used in the Rios fight. I am fully aware that Rios and Bradley are two very different beasts, but I think that game plan will still be very effective against Bradley. Pacquiao needs to forget about loading up his shots to chase the KO and being more aggressive, you don't find the knockout when you're trying to force it. He hasn’t had a stoppage win since Cotto, way back in 2009, and I feel that him constantly trying to be more aggressive and load up has been to his detriment. The key here will be to focus on speed and movement, and to have a high punch output. If he can be fast on his feet, come from different angles and land combinations to keep Bradley on the outside, he will have a lot of success. Unlike in the Rios fight, Pacquiao won't have to be as cautious of Bradley's power. I think as Pacquiao builds momentum he will be able to add a few more power shots into his attack and possibly get a late stoppage.
There are a lot of variables in this fight and at the end of the day it will come down to what game plan each fighter uses, and how well they can stick to it. This is one of very few fights where I see a decision by either guy, a stoppage buy either guy and even a draw, all as very realistic outcomes. After losing money betting against Bradley a few times now, I’ve found myself very reluctant to pick against him, but I’m going to do it again. I think Pacquiao will keep his foot on the gas for the whole 12 rounds and be keep Bradley on the outside by landing fast combinations from different angles. I see Pacquiao winning a clear UD in fight that is more exciting than their first outing was.