By Sean Crose
Many people, myself included, thought Pacquiao-Bradley II would be a high-end chess match. We may all have been wrong. Perhaps even Manny Pacquiao and Freddie Roach themselves are mistaken in their assumptions.
Photo: Chris Farina/Top Rank
Talking to a fit, easygoing Roach before the fight’s New York press conference on Thursday, I asked the legendary trainer if he thought Timothy Bradley might actually try to turn the April rematch into a brawl. Roach’s response?
“I hope so.”
Pacquiao, well dressed and very polite, wasn’t as blunt or comical as his trainer. Still his answer to me regarding the question of Bradley potentially brawling was, after a bit of hesitation, quite clear.
“I think he’s going to box,” Pacquiao said.
All of this would have been news to Joel Diaz, the man who trains WBO welterweight champ, Bradley. A smart, engaging guy, Diaz was firm and energetic in his statements. When I went right out and asked if his man was going to actually take it to Pacquiao on April 12th, he couldn’t have been more direct.
“Of course,” he responded. “Tim has to take chances. He can’t move around and leave it to the judges.”
Indeed, the thought of his fighter being robbed of a decision victory is of great concern to Diaz. For the judges, he fears, will be unwilling to award the fight to Bradley on points after the controversial conclusion of Desert Storm’s last bout with Pacquiao.
“We’re not going to win (this time) by moving around,” Diaz continued. “We have to take risks and make it a fight.” So much for the thought of Bradley strategically boxing his way through twelve straight rounds.
Truth be told, however, it’s easy to see where Diaz is coming from. The Las Vegas judges of the last Pacquiao-Bradley fight took such heat for their cumulative decision that it’s hard to imagine the judges of this new matchup wishing to place themselves under the same scorching scrutiny.
Yet while Diaz has become skittish of Las Vegas officials, fans and critics have warmed to the talented professional athlete Diaz trains. The fact of the matter is many people believe Bradley has improved greatly as a fighter since his first controversial encounter with Pacquiao in 2012.
Two massive victories, over such noted nemeses as Ruslan Provodnikov and Juan Manuel Marquez have, quite frankly, earned Bradley the universal nod of approval from the international boxing community. But had Diaz himself, I wondered, noticed a change in his man?
“The last two fights have given him (Bradley) confidence,” Diaz assured me. “He’s matured.”
Diaz should know. The trainer and fighter have a close relationship that both take quite seriously. “He’s like my brother,” Diaz said. “We even love each other’s families.” Still, Diaz, being the professional he is, made it clear there is a world of difference between being in the corner and actually being the man fighting.
“When he (Bradley) fights,” Diaz told me, “he’s on his own.”
And indeed, Bradley will essentially be on his own when he and PacMan square off in the desert to settle old scores and to earn further glories and accolades. Yet Pacquiao will be alone, too. What’s more, many now see the Filipino as being past his prime, even after his decisive victory over Brandon Rios in Macau last November.
Bradley himself has clearly indicated that Pacquiao no longer fights with the deadly intensity he once did. Perhaps that’s why he and Diaz are so eager to go on the attack when the bout takes place in April.
Yet Pacquao is well aware of the charges and accusations being made against him. He may come across as being as calm in person as he does in most interviews, but his final words to me on Thursday were something worth thinking about – especially if you’re Timothy Bradley.
“I’m ready for anything,” he said. “I don’t want to make a prediction, but I’ve got my killer instinct back.”