Almost two years in the making, this rematch needed little build-up as it represented unfinished business for both boxers. The result of their first meeting in June of 2012 had left no one satisfied. Bradley received a decision win which made little sense and the sport of boxing sustained more damage to its floundering reputation. The judges’ verdict was so bad that it killed all appetite for a rematch. Few thought Pacquiao had not clearly established his superiority to “Desert Storm,” so what was the point of a return? The two men parted ways but we always knew that if Bradley could hang on to his dubiously acquired WBO title belt, a rematch at some point was inevitable.
Everyone knows the rest of the story: Pacquiao went on to face Juan Manuel Marquez for a fourth time and fell by shocking, one-punch KO. Bradley barely survived the challenge of “The Siberian Rocky,” Ruslan Provodnikov, and then surprised many by pulling out a close points win over Marquez. Pacquiao took a year off before pounding Brandon Rios into irrelevance over 12 one-sided rounds. And so the stage was set for Pac-Bradley II.
Bradley and Pacquiao are candid and uncomplicated personalities and both made no secret of their strategies before the match. Aware that most thought him the recipient of horrendous officiating, Bradley — while vocally defying the obvious and insisting he won eight rounds in the first bout — made it known he had no illusions about the scorecards going his way this time. “I have to knock out Manny Pacquiao,” stated the champion. The challenger was equally upfront: “I’ll prove I still have the killer instinct,” said Manny, adding he planned to score the knockout too. Considering the attitudes of the combatants and everything that was at stake, Pacquiao vs. Bradley II promised to be an exciting battle.
Round one belonged to Bradley as he immediately asserted himself in a manner he never did in their first fight, using a quick jab and a good counter right hand to do so. He slipped the southpaw’s dangerous left and appeared the sharper man early, landing some heavy body punches in the process. By loading up on his counter right, he showed his pre-fight talk was sincere: he really was trying to render unconscious the “Pacman.” For his part, Manny fought with controlled aggression, blocking punches with his gloves and throwing continual hand and body feints as he searched for openings for the straight left.
It soon became evident that Bradley was banking on drawing his opponent in to land the big counter right, a la Juan Manuel Marquez. Several times he backed to the ropes and looked to counter Pacquiao’s aggression, but he should have known that lightning doesn’t strike the same way twice. The chances of nailing and seriously hurting the Pacman in that manner were slim to none, but that didn’t stop Bradley from trying, as he also mixed heavy uppercuts and body punches into his attack. In the fourth round he connected with some flush right hands, but Manny took them well.
After six rounds of a far more entertaining and eventful battle than their first match, the fight was essentially even but two factors emerged which spelled doom for Bradley. First, “Desert Storm,” having set a grueling pace and thrown volleys of heavy right hands, was getting tired. Second, Manny was warming to his task and only timing Bradley better as the contest went on. Thus the seventh round was the turning point as Pacquiao nailed Bradley with several flush left hands that did serious damage. The champion bought some time with a little false bravado, waving Manny in and again trying to time the counter right, but in truth he was hurting and had little left.
In his corner after the seventh the champion appeared almost finished and in rounds eight and nine he mugged and played possum in order to survive. By the time Bradley had recovered there were three rounds left, Pacquiao was in a groove, and a boxer with a paltry 36% KO percentage needed a knockout to win. In the end, Pacquiao vs Bradley boils down to the fact that while Manny can hurt Timothy, the reverse appears impossible.
The remaining rounds proved largely anti-climactic. Bradley spent most of the eleventh back-pedaling and then ate a series of lefts from an aggressive Pacquiao in the twelfth. Bradley’s best shot was an accidental head butt that opened a cut over Pacquiao’s left eye with twelve seconds left, and at the final bell “Desert Storm” looked grateful to be on his feet. The judges proved competent and Manny Pacquiao received what should have been his two years ago: a unanimous decision win over Timothy Bradley.
It may sound strange to say this about a fighter who just scored a comprehensive win over one of the best boxers, pound-for-pound, in the sport, but Manny Pacquiao is clearly not what he once was. Which should come as no surprise given the fact he is 35-years-old. But the Pacquiao of 2009 would never have let Bradley off the hook in round seven or eaten as many stiff jabs and right hands.
That said, we all know Pacquiao has no plans to retire. We also know he will do whatever Bob Arum thinks is best, and that likely means a fifth meeting with Juan Manuel Marquez in the fall, should “Dinamita” defeat Mike Alvarado next month.
But if Pacquiao’s future is easy to visualize, Bradley’s is more murky. He remains a high-risk, low reward opponent for elite welterweights and while he acquitted himself honorably last night he did nothing to make himself a draw with the public. It likely makes sense for “Desert Storm” to take a rest and wait for the dust to settle from the fights to come, after which matches with fellow Top Rank stablemates Rios or Alvarado may present themselves. (I’m guessing he wants no part of a return with Provodnikov unless a huge payday is involved, but the money just isn’t there.)
Despite the loss, Bradley must be relieved to finally put the debacle of the first clash with Pacquiao behind him. Timothy Bradley did nothing wrong on that strange night in June 2012, and yet the bizarre outcome has hung over him like a dark cloud of shame. His brave and honest effort last night, as well as his admirable sportsmanship following the decision (I’m choosing to pretend he never uttered a word to Max Kellerman about an injured calf muscle) should sweep away all last vestiges of ill will and mark the start of a new chapter in Bradley’s life and career.
— Michael Carbert