By Sean Crose
So now the word is out: Manny Pacquiao is going to have a rematch this April with Timothy Bradley. Don’t yawn. This is big news. For these are two of the top fighters in the world. And they’re actually meeting. In a ring. To fight. You probably won’t see this level of top competition in boxing again in 2014.
The truth is Bradley and Pacquiao don’t have to face each other. There are lesser opponents out there for them, opponents each man could easily beat. Yet they’ve chosen to battle one another. They’ve chosen to take a risk, and a serious risk at that. How refreshing this is in the age of late-career Mayweather.
While it’s true this fight will most likely be more of a chess match than it will be a free for all, it promises to be a chess match of the highest order. Besides, you never know. Both these dudes have heart. And we all know what Manny can do with his fists. Perhaps a stoppage will actually occur.
Still, the big question is this: Will Bradley beat Pacquiao this time (really beat him)?
Never mind the last fight. Try to even forget the versions of Pacquiao and Bradley that battled that June night in 2012. Both men have changed. Bradley, who was treated like an absolute pariah after the controversial decision was read, went on to emerge victorious over such formidable adversaries as Ruslan Provodnikov and Juan Manuel Marquez. This is his chance to prove he’s now the man to beat rather than the man who got an unfair decision.
As for Pacquiao, things went from bad to worse after the Bradley match. He got floored by Marquez after being tagged by an absolutely beautiful yet brutal shot, then disappeared for close to a year. Yet Pacquiao reappeared last fall looking like a refreshed and, yes, even improved fighter. He not only beat Brandon Rios in November. He blew the man out of the water.
That’s right, I said it. Pacquiao looked like an improved fighter in his last bout. The man was moving around his over-matched opponent like a menacing insect, hitting him with rapid fire shots again and again without consequences. After the bout, Rios asked if he looked like a punching bag in the ring. Everyone knew what the answer was, even if no one had the heart to tell him. Pacquiao may not have knocked Rios out – but he didn’t have to. That fact alone speaks volumes.
So, can Bradley best Pacquiao in an undisputed fashion? The truth is he can…but he probably won’t. Bradley is a good fighter, perhaps a great one, but he doesn’t seem to have one single dominant trait. Pacquiao, on the other hand, has several. He’s fast, awkward, exceedingly mobile and a potent puncher. If the Manny who trounced Rios shows up in April, it’s hard to see Bradley beating him – even if it’s the Bradley who beat Marquez.
Of course, Bradley could go on the offensive and surprise everyone by trying to knock Manny out. The brutal war of attrition he waged against Provodnikov proved that Desert Storm has both the heart and the physicality to engage in a legitimate slug fest. Yet it’s Pacquiao, not Bradley, who’s risen to the top as a puncher. By stepping out of his own comfort zone in order to catch Pacquiao by surprise, Bradley might well damn himself to a quick (albeit exciting) evening.
Still, one never knows how this match will turn out. Bradley gave Pacquiao a good run the first time, after all, and he now knows what it’s like to be in the ring with the man. Bradley also has even more riding on this fight than Pacquiao does. A loss for Manny will be read as a sign of aging. A loss for Bradley, on the other hand, will be an excuse for people to say “I told you so.”
Bradley’s not only aware of this fact, he’s probably going to let his awareness drive him. And that’s what makes this bout so intriguing.