By Graham Houston
After two disappointing performances in a row by Manny Pacquiao, questions are swirling in the boxing industry. Could it be that Pacquiao has peaked? Has the “typhoon blowing across the Pacific”, as HBO’s Larry Merchant once described the Filipino superstar, blown itself out? Perhaps these questions will be answered when Pacquiao defends his WBO welterweight title against Timothy Bradley at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas tonight (HBO PPV).
This is a tough fight for Pacquiao against a young, strong, undefeated opponent. It is a fight he could lose unless he can fan the flames that were burning low in his fights with Shane Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez. In short, Pacquiao needs to rediscover the relentless quality that made him such a formidable fighter.
Pacquiao almost seemed to be carrying Mosley after dropping Sugar Shane with a big left hand from his southpaw stance in the third round. The third installment in Pacquiao’s series with Marquez last November was much too close for comfort. There are many who believe that Marquez won that fight — indeed, a case can be made for the masterful Mexican ring mechanic having won all three bouts with Pacquiao.
There has been a lot on Pacquiao’s mind in the past year or two to divert him from boxing, principally his political career in the Philippines. His marriage to Jinkee hasn’t always been free from strife. Lately he is professing a new devotion to the spiritual side of life, with long sessions studying the Bible.
Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, predicted KO wins for Pacquiao over Mosley and Marquez but looked relieved that Pacquiao simply got out of town with the disputed win in the Marquez fight.
Yet Roach sounds optimistic that we will see a better version of Pacquiao in the Bradley fight, even going so far as to say in an interview with HBO’s Max Kellerman on Friday that Bradley is “made to order” for Pacquiao and won’t win a round.
Bradley, though, sounds supremely confident. “I truly believe it’s going to be an easy fight,” Bradley has told interviewers.
While Pacquiao is, understandably, the clear betting favourite, Bradley has the attributes that could cause an upset. The 28-year-old “Desert Storm” from Palm Springs in California is five years the younger man at 28, he is quick, sturdy, smart and tenacious, and he doesn’t know how to lose, as they say.
Bradley is moving up from the 140lbs division but he has boxed as a welterweight — two years ago he outclassed Luis Abregu, a tall, hard-punching Argentinean 147-pounder who had won 29 bouts in a row.
Although Bradley is built like a little tank he can box and move as well as bore in and bang away.
Bradley has faced no one with Pacquaio’s blend of speed and power, though. If Pacquiao can rediscover his old fire and the fury, he could simply be too much for Bradley.
Still, the nagging thought persists that Pacquiao might be past his best. This is what makes the fight intriguing. Bradley could be in the right place at the right time.
“If the guy who fought Marquez comes, I expect my guy to look just sensational,” Bradley’s manager, Cameron Dunkin, told me in a phone conversation.
The first couple of rounds could tell us a lot. If Bradley makes a positive beginning, starts landing his right hand, makes Pacquiao miss and counters him, then the possibility of an upset will loom large, because if Bradley is allowed to get right into the fight from the outset he will, like a burr in the hair, be very hard to dislodge.
I think that Pacquiao needs to stamp his authority on this fight as quickly as possible. He must come out assertively and let Bradley know that the underdog is in a place more perilous than any he has been in before.
Pacquiao is the puncher in the fight and he has the big-fight experience. Marquez was cagey, calculating and clever, but Bradley figures to be coming to Pacquiao, and this could bring out the best in Pacquiao because, as trainer Roach says, Bradley will “make him fight”.
I don’t see a quick win for Pacquiao and I am thinking more on the lines of a long fight that goes into the late rounds and maybe the full distance, but four of Bradley’s fights have ended prematurely due to his opponent being cut in a collision so one hopes the big event will not be marred by a clash of heads.
Bradley must be respected, but I’m going with Pacquiao. He is a proud fighter who hasn’t lost in seven years. We now know that serious marital discord might have affected Pacquiao’s performance against Marquez. Pacquiao’s spiritual awakening seems a bit sudden, but domestic harmony appears to have been restored and that is all to the good. Pacquiao certainly looked relaxed and composed at the weigh-in; Bradley seemed a bit tightly wound.
This should be an excellent fight, and I have a feeling that Pacquiao will produce the speed of hand and foot, the combinations and the commitment that were lacking in his last two fights. This is a fight that Pacquiao could lose — but I don’t think he will allow himself to lose.
This preview is essentially as it appeared in Boxing Monthly, with some updating. A more wagering-orientated preview is available for subscribers, plus Jones vs Bailey, Rigondeaux vs Kennedy previews.