LAS VEGAS – Manny Pacquiao avenged a polarizing loss to Timothy Bradley and regained the World Boxing Organization welterweight world title Saturday with a 12-round unanimous decision over the previously unbeaten American.
The Filipino ring icon improved to 56-5 with two drawn and 38 wins inside the distance as he recaptured the title he lost to Bradley on June 9, 2012.
Although he couldn’t get his first knockout win since 2009, Pacquiao lived up to his pre-fight promise to come out with more aggression, denying Bradley’s avowed aim of sending him into retirement with another defeat.
“I think I can go another two years,” said Pacquiao, who had been stung by Bradley’s pre-fight claim that at 35, Pacquiao had lost the fire that had made him one of the most feared fighters in the world.
“I’m so happy to be world champion again,” Pacquiao said. “Tim Bradley was not an easy fight.”
Bradley, who said he fought from the first round with a right calf injury, fell to 31-1, with 12 knockouts.
“Life goes on,” Bradley said of his first pro defeat. “Not a big deal.”
Judge Glenn Trowbridge scored the bout 118-110 for Pacquiao, while both Michael Pernick and Canada’s Craig Metcalf saw it 116-112 for the ‘Pacman,’ whose every move was cheered by the star-studded crowd of 15,601 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
After a tight first round, Pacquiao made his power felt in the second.
The third saw both fighters exchange at a furious rate, Pacquiao again landing the more damaging blows.
But Bradley rocked Pacquiao in the fourth, and Pacquiao said California’s “Desert Storm” was an improved fighter from the one who took that bitterly debated split decision in their first fight.
Even the WBO said upon review that Pacquiao should have won that fight on June 9, 2012.
Instead he saw a 15-fight winning streak end, and went on to be knocked out later that year by Juan Manuel Marquez.
“Bradley is better from the first fight,” Pacquiao said. “He hurt me on the chin.
“I knew I had to do more this time than I did the last time,” he added.
Pacquiao had launched his comeback from the back-to-back 2012 defeats with a lopsided points win over Brandon Rios last November.
That victory was a clinical display of boxing skill. Saturday’s victory showcased more of the old “killer instinct” that Bradley had questioned.
Bradley finished the fight with bruising around his right eye from repeated Pacquiao lefts, but Pacquiao said Bradley was just too tough to go down.
“Many times I hit him hard, but he’s still there,” Pacquiao said.
Trainer Freddie Roach was surprised to see Bradley in search of one big knockout blow himself.
“He was swinging for the fences all night,” Roach said of Bradley, who said he thought it was the only way he could win the fight.
But the American appeared in the later rounds to have punched himself out.
“I tried, I really tried,” said Bradley. “I wanted that knockout. I kept trying to throw something over the top, that’s what the plan was.”
Bradley trainer Joel Diaz said he knew the plan had gone out the window when Bradley came to the corner after the first round saying he thought he had torn his right calf muscle.
The injury was later diagnosed as a strain, and Bradley said he had “no excuses”.
“Manny is a great fighter, one of the best in the world, maybe the best ever,” he said.
After throwing few punches in the 11th, a desperate Bradley swung wildly in the 12th.
Pacquiao finished the fight with a jagged cut over his left eye from a clash of heads late in the final round which required 32 stitches.
Pacquiao’s next opponent could be the winner of the May 17 bout between Mike Alvarado and Marquez.
If Marquez wins, he could meet Pacquiao for the fifth time.
“I have no problem with fighting Marquez again,” he said.