Manny Pacquiao is the favorite to wrest the World Organization (WBO) welterweight (147 pounds) championship from American Timothy Bradley Jr. in their highly-anticipated rematch on Sunday (Manila time), but the Filipino ring icon is far from being an overwhelming pick because a lot of things have happened since they first met in June 2012.
The seven-year unbeaten run of Pacquiao ended when he dropped a disputed decision to Bradley in their first meeting.While the loss was initially dismissed as an aberration, such was not the case when Pacquiao found himself getting viciously knocked out by Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez six months later. The back-to-back losses sparked speculations that Pacquiao may have reached the end of the road.
Going into the Bradley rematch, Pacquiao (55-5, 38 knockouts) has won only one of his last three fights. In November 2013, he emerged from hibernation with a methodical decision win over American Brandon Rios. Still on the mend, Pacquiao adopted a cautious, more technical approach against Rios.
In stark contrast, Bradley went 2-0 after the big win over Pacquiao. He traded bombs with Russian Ruslan Provodnikov in March 2013 and barely retained the WBO crown with a hard-earned concussion. Seven months later, Bradley cleverly outboxed Marquez, the Mexican who had earlier pulverized Pacquiao.
Bradley received tons of criticisms following the dubious nature of his win over Pacquiao, but the negative feedbacks have transformed the 30-year-old champion into a more dangerous fighter heading into the return bout. Bradley (31-0, 12 knockouts) displayed uncanny resiliency when he overcame knockdowns and a concussion to beat Provodnikov; he then showed that he can go back to being a finesse boxer by outclassing Marquez in his next outing.
Between Bradley and Pacquiao, it is Pacquiao who is under pressure to collar a win. Nobody expected Bradley to win the first time out and the guy is already lucky getting a second match. On the other hand, a loss by Pacquiao will leave him with no other option but to archive the gloves.
For Pacquiao to win, observers agree that the former eight-division champion must cease from displaying the killer instinct of a nun. The Provodnikov fight showed that when Bradley is forced to trade at close range, the latter gets stiff from the waist up, drops his guard and fully exposes his huge head to short hooks and uppercuts. Bradley is very dangerous from a distance, as he utilizes the extra spaced to unload his most potent weapon—a clubbing, overhand right thrown from way out. A southpaw like Pacquiao, who leads with his right jab, is very susceptible to a counter right hand from an adversary who adopts the orthodox stance. Marquez used this very same weapon when he knocked down Pacquiao in the third round of their fourth meeting.
Pacquiao must cut the ring well, hound Bradley like a pesky bill collector and deny him the space he covets. Bradley is likely to test Pacquiao’s chin in the early rounds knowing too well that it has “fragile” written all over it, but expect him to box and move the moment Pacquiao shows that he can still take it. Even with an injured ankle, Bradley was able to outbox Pacquiao at the tail-end of the first fight. Pacquiao, in anticipation of this sudden shift in strategy, included Muay Thai (Thai traditional kickboxing) in his training. The kickboxing regimen focuses on developing leg strength and Pacquiao included it in his training because he has a tendency to develop leg cramps the moment his opponent starts to run.
The rematch figures to be more exciting because the protagonists are bent on settling the score. Both fighters are even talking of a knockout, but it will not come easy. Bradley, for one, is tough to nail with a blizzard of punches because he tends to pull his head too low after taking a punch, making it difficult for the opposing fighter to go full-throttle on offense. Pacquiao must be quick to step back after an assault or risk taking a head-butt from Bradley’s Martian-like chrome.
The rematch will boil down to who wants the victory more. “The hunger that he’s [Pacquiao] looking for? It’s no longer there. It’s gone. It’s gone. He’s a tremendous fighter but I don’t see it,” barked Bradley.
“He who humbles himself will be exalted; he who exalts himself will be humbled,” countered Pacquiao.
From where this writer sits, there is nothing wrong with Pacquiao sounding like a preacher for as long he shows up in the rematch with the killer instinct of Samson and with the clear intention to reduce Bradley into his Delilah.
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