“It’s the mark of a great fighter when he has character plus skill. Because a fighter with character and skill will often rise and beat a better fighter…Character is that quality upon which you can depend under pressure and other conditions. Character makes the fighter predictable. Character helps him win.” — Cus D’Amato
On April 9 Timothy Bradley will commence Act III of his now infamous series with Manny Pacquiao. As was the case in the previous two bouts, all the attention centers around “Pacman.” The first meeting was about Manny racking up a safe win after the controversy of his third fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. The second was about Manny righting an injustice after the judges awarded Bradley a decision most thought a robbery, if not a travesty. And for this third clash, the chatter has focused on whether this will be the final fight of Pacquiao’s historic career. Make no mistake, like its predecessors, Pacquiao vs Bradley III is all about Manny.
Over the last several weeks, Timothy Bradley has done what must now seem almost routine to him: be the center of calm in the storm that is PacMan-mania. Despite the dignified manner in which he’s conducted himself outside the ring, and his impressive record with wins over Lamont Peterson, Devon Alexander and Juan Manuel Marquez, just to name a few, Bradley remains the supporting actor in this drama; the star is Manny. But no doubt, “Desert Storm” will remain focused and confident as fight night approaches and he prepares for his chance to score perhaps the biggest win of his career. He won’t be discouraged or distracted by all the attention showered on his more famous rival, because Timothy Bradley is a man of determination and inner strength, a man of character.
In their first encounter it was clear from the opening bell that Pacquiao’s speed and vaunted left hand were troublesome for Bradley, but as the match wore on the challenger maintained his composure and with a combination of well-placed counters and determination made it a very competitive battle. The outrage that followed the decision in Bradley’s favor is now almost legendary. But in retrospect, it’s easy to look at Manny’s flashy speed and dynamic fighting style and assert that he definitely won the fight, when in fact a closer look reveals this was not the case. In this writer’s opinion, a draw would have been the fairest verdict as Bradley, in very workmanlike fashion, held his own against the champion.
The second fight saw a very different script play out. This time it was Bradley who assumed control in the early rounds, using his boxing ability to frustrate Pacquiao and even hurting the Filipino with a big right hand in the fourth that almost lifted Manny off his feet. The second half saw Bradley forgo his boxing strategy and opt instead to battle with Pacquaio and pursue a knockout win. This proved a tactical error on Bradley’s part as it played right into Pacquiao’s fast hands and allowed him to use his superior speed, power and combinations to pull away and take a deserved unanimous decision.
Reviewing both fights, a pattern emerges: namely, that for all his skill and the problems he poses for Pacquiao, Bradley just could not sustain a game plan through an entire fight. But could that change for the third confrontation? Does Bradley now have the inner strength, the character, to stay focused for a full 12 rounds? After all, there has been a significant addition to “Team Desert Storm” which could make a big difference in this regard. That addition is named Teddy Atlas.
After his win over Jesse Vargas, Bradley decided to part ways with long-time trainer Joel Diaz. There had been rumors of friction between the two, and Joel had even publicly expressed his frustration with not being in full control of Bradley’s training camps. It’s safe to say this will never be the case with Teddy. If ever there was a “my way or the highway” trainer in boxing, it is Atlas.
Although the merger of Bradley and Atlas is still in its infancy, early returns have looked promising. In their lone outing against Brandon Rios, Bradley used a combination of boxing and tenacity in a brilliant performance that saw him earn a ninth round stoppage victory. It would be easy dismiss it as nothing more than an easy win over a fighter who had clearly seen better days as Rios appeared a shadow of his former self, but Bradley did look impressive. And I maintain that there are now several factors at play which give him a strong chance to finally earn a definitive victory over the legendary Manny Pacquiao.
First, the momentum leading into this fight is clearly in Bradley’s favor. The manner in which he beat Rios, coupled with all the positive feedback surrounding his partnership with Atlas, has his confidence on the rise. Meanwhile, Pacquiao is coming off a dismal performance in a dismal fight against Floyd Mayweather, a bout which saw Manny not only lose but sustain a shoulder injury in the process.
Then there is Manny Pacquiao himself. After a career spanning over 20 years that has seen him move up numerous weight classes and endure many wars, it is clear he is not the same fighter he was six years ago. Bradley has to be viewed as the fresher of the two; plus Timothy does not have the host of outside-the-ring distractions which make demands on Manny’s time and attention.
And finally, there’s Atlas. With an intensity and focus which rivals that of his fighter, Atlas may prove to be the most important factor leading up to this clash. Looking back at his dismantling of Rios, there were moments when Bradley appeared willing to abandon his boxing tactics and turn the match into a brawl. Knowing this could favor Rios, Teddy instructed his fighter to get back to the game plan and Bradley’s compliance resulted in the ninth round stoppage.
In my opinion, Teddy Atlas’s ability to keep his man’s head in the game will be the determining factor in this rubber match, as this will prevent Bradley from repeating past mistakes. I expect to see Bradley utilize lateral movement while staying low. This will allow him to keep his lead foot outside of Manny’s, which will then put him in a better position to avoid the straight left, as well as to counter with his own right hand. And staying low while he circles or pivots out will allow Bradley to avoid Manny’s dangerous right hook.
I also look for “Desert Storm” to make Pacquiao uncomfortable by backing him up and forcing an inside fight. As great as Manny is, he has never been a top-shelf in-fighter; he operates best at mid-range. Taking the battle to the inside will allow Bradley to mix up his attack by working Pacquiao’s body as well as using some roughhouse tactics to physically control the older man. But while I anticipate plenty of action, a knockout is unlikely; I expect this battle to go the distance and I predict Bradley will win a close but clear decision.
As fight night steadily approaches both of these men find themselves at pivotal points in their respective careers. Timothy Bradley is fighting for the respect and recognition he feels he’s never truly been given. Manny Pacquiao is looking to end his historic career on a high note against a fighter who has proven to be a thorn in his side. While I believe Bradley has his best chance at finally earning a victory that is beyond reproach, Pacquiao is still a great boxer, one of the best of our time, and as the saying goes, every great champion has in them one last great performance.
Will this be the night Timothy Bradley finally puts to rest all the memories that have haunted him since their first bout back in 2012? Or will Manny Pacquiao show us he’s still a great fighter? The answers to these questions will remain unknown until fight night. But there is one thing we can all be sure of: win, lose or draw, Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley will once again put all of his skill, will and, most importantly, his character, on full display for the world to see. — Henry Valerio