I didn’t go to Pacquiao-Bradley III, which was contested at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday night. It was an intriguing match-up. But I’ve been to eleven Manny Pacquiao fights, including five when I was privileged to be in Manny’s dressing room before and after the bout. I’ve had similar experiences with Tim Bradley. So when it came time to deal with a nagging cataract in my left eye, I decided to schedule the procedure now, get it over with, and watch the fight on television.
Trilogies in boxing usually occur because the first fight was great and bout number two was good enough to warrant a third. Here, neither Pacquiao-Bradley I or II was particularly scintillating. But economic rivalries and political considerations dictated that Pacquiao-Bradley III happen.
“I never thought Pacquiao would fight me again,” Bradley said at the January 21 kick-off press conference in New York. “Then [Top Rank president] Todd duBoef called, and I said, ‘Wow! Okay!’”
Pacquiao is in the twilight of a ring career that has captured the imagination of fight fans around the world and elevated him to iconic status in his native Philippines.
Bradley hasn’t enjoyed Pacquiao’s fame. But he has crafted an admirable record that includes victories over Juan Manuel Marquez, Lamont Peterson, Ruslan Provodnikov, Devon Alexander, and Pacquiao (on a controversial split decision in 2012). Two years later, Pacquiao evened the score in a rematch.
“Everyone has their own opinion regarding the first fight,” Bradley says. “I thought I won. The second fight, Pacquiao definitely won that fight, hands down.”
“It was a good fight,” Bradley says, continuing his thoughts on the rematch. “I did as well as I could, but I knew he beat me. I was sad. I was pissed off. I don’t like to lose. How I was able to deal with that loss was, I realized that defeats do happen. Just because you get defeated doesn’t mean your legacy ends. When you get defeated, it’s how you rebound, how you come back from a defeat, that makes you.”
Bradley gives everything that boxing can ask of a fighter. He’s always in shape. Once the bell rings, he pours what he has into the war. He’s courteous and accessible to the media and fans. He’s a good role model.
“Just because you can get away with something,” Tim says, “that doesn’t make it right.”
Boxing politics are part of the sweet science. With Pacquiao-Bradley III, politics of a different kind intruded.
In February, Pacquiao put his foot in his mouth with a string of homophobic remarks. During a March 16 media conference call, Bradley was asked about the conundrum that Manny found himself in and responded, “I don’t want to get into any of that stuff. It’s pretty much irrelevant to boxing and what we’re here to talk about. You can ask Pacquiao about that. But if you ask me a question about gay people; I love all people for what they are. I respect people for what they are. I judge people by their heart. That’s the most important thing. I have a gay uncle that passed away. He had the biggest heart out of all of my uncles, and I miss him to death. I still miss him today, right now.”
Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, a self-described “proud liberal” (who supported John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008 and was promoting Pacquiao-Bradley III), took issue with Manny’s remarks. But Arum then delved further into the political arena in an effort to engender pay-per-view buys for the fight by capitalizing on anti-Hispanic comments made by Donald Trump.
Branding Trump “an opportunist,” Arum proclaimed that Pacquiao-Bradley III would have a “No Trump” undercard featuring Gilberto Ramirez, Jose Ramirez, and Oscar Valdez, and that buying the pay-per-view would be an ideal way for people to register their opposition to Trump’s bigotry and prejudice.
“I’m standing up for my Hispanic neighbors and all the Hispanic kids who fight for me,” Arum declared. “Somebody has to stand up to this crap.”
That left unresolved the issue of whether abstention from buying the pay-per-view would be a good way to register opposition to Pacquiao’s homophobic comments. Nor was there any word on whether Arum’s position helped or hurt Trump’s approval rating among Republican primary voters.
The promotion also sought to market Pacquiao-Bradley III as a confrontation between the fighters’ respective trainers: Teddy Atlas and Freddie Roach.
Roach and Pacquiao have been together for 32 fights over the course of fifteen years. The Bradley-Atlas union is more recent. Bradley had been trained by Joel Diaz throughout his career. But after surviving a twelfth-round crisis against Jesse Vargas last year, Tim decided that a change was necessary.
“The respect was gone,” Bradley said of his parting from Diaz. “I didn’t listen to him anymore. I just did what I wanted to do.”
Atlas wasn’t sure he wanted to work with Bradley. He’d walked away from training fighters a long time ago. But he liked Tim and decided to give it a try. In their first collaborative effort, Bradley stopped an out-of-shape Brandon Rios in the ninth round last November.
“I understand the privilege of this opportunity,” Atlas said at the January 21 kick-off press conference. “But part of me is unhappy being back in this part of the boxing world because I know what some of the people in it are like. I get reminded of why I didn’t like it before and still don’t like it. What brought me back was a good human being. Tim Bradley is a good person. I like this guy. I feel good being with him. Working with Tim, I enjoy this kind of teaching again.”
“Teddy is always on me,” Bradley noted. “He’s a guy that cares. He’s a guy that loves. He’s a guy that knows what he’s doing. He’s a guy that believes in what he’s doing and he’s a guy that believes in me. I trust everything that Teddy is telling me and teaching me. Teddy can instill everything that I need.”
In keeping with those thoughts, one promotional story-line for Pacquiao-Bradley III was the idea that Bradley would be a different fighter this time around because he was being trained by Atlas and would have Teddy in his corner. Atlas fed into that thinking with the observation, “Tim didn’t always connect his mental fortitude and his athleticism in the most effective way possible.” But Atlas also observed, “Tim Bradley was successful for ten years before I came along. He’s a real good athlete and he knew how to win.”
Seeking to further develop the rival trainer theme, the promotion sought to turn it into a fistic version of the Republican party’s presidential debates.
Roach willingly obliged. Talking about Bradley’s knockout of Brandon Rios, Freddie declared, “You have to take into consideration the kind of shape the opponent was in. He really looked bad, overweight. I mean, he looked really fat. I’m not going to give Teddy Atlas credit for that win because that guy wasn’t there to fight.”
Other Roach comments included:
* “I know that ESPN announcer who is coaching Bradley is a good story-teller and likes acting. Let’s see how well they do when we go off-script and hit them with a dose of reality TV.”
* “I’ve never faced Teddy before. I’m not his biggest fan. I don’t have a lot of good things to say. He’s had two champions, I think, in his career; Michael Moorer and the kid from Rhode Island, Pazienza, at the end of his career.”
* “I don’t think Teddy is gonna help anything. He’s a good story-teller between rounds. I don’t know what the f— that has to do with boxing. I mean, firemen and s— like that. It doesn’t impress me, never has. I don’t really think that’s motivating your fighter. I’m not a cheerleader, I don’t tell my fighters stories about firemen. I respect firemen, but what does that have to do with throwing a jab or blocking a punch? Nothing. I would rather give my fighter direction and tell him what he has to do to change to win the fight.”
Atlas then responded:
* “I don’t want to be part of a circus with this Roach bull—-. But I’ll react to it as best I can. Maybe he should have been a cheerleader in Manny’s last fight [against Floyd Mayweather]. Maybe it would have helped a little bit. Maybe it’s called being a motivator.”
* “I didn’t ask for this to come about or to grow into the ways that it has. I made myself a promise, and that was to be as restrained as I could be and, when it was appropriate, to respond. But I didn’t fire the first shot across the bow, and I waited a while before I responded. At the end of the day, if some of those responses help the promotion, that’s a good thing. I started with Cus D’Amato always reminding me to help the promoters in any way you can. But I could tell you now that I would have preferred that it wasn’t initiated.”
* “I don’t care what he thinks. I would need a lot of help if I was influenced by what Roach thinks. He’s going to steer me with the kind of man I am, the kind of trainer I am? Are you kidding me?”
Ironically, the similarities between Atlas and Roach are more striking than their differences. Teddy is 59 years old; Freddie is 56. Each man came out of a troubled home and sought refuge in boxing, although Atlas’s ring career was cut short by a chronic back problem before it began. Each man was influenced by a master trainer. Atlas was molded by Cus D’Amato when he was young. Roach was trained by Eddie Futch. And each man takes his fiduciary duty to his fighter seriously, extraordinarily so.
The dictionary defines “extraordinary” as “beyond ordinary, very unusual, remarkable.”
“You have eight weeks to get a guy perfectly ready for one night,” Atlas says. “And if he loses, you blame yourself and ask yourself over and over again, ‘What did I do wrong.’”
“I lay in bed last night, trying to fall asleep,” Freddie acknowledged two days before a recent fight. “I was asking myself, ‘Is he going to try to box us? Bang with us? Will he go to the ropes and try to sucker us in? I ran through every scenario that might happen. And when I’d gone through them all, I fell asleep.”
Pacquiao-Bradley III would be the first time that Roach and Atlas faced off against one another as trainers. However, a trainer can do just so much. Atlas did a very good job of preparing Michael Moorer to fight George Foreman. But when Big George hit Moorer on the chin, all that fine-tuning went out the window. Pacquiao doesn’t hit as hard as Foreman. But neither did Kendall Holt, Ruslan Provodnikov, or Jessie Vargas, each of whom hurt Bradley badly and had him in trouble.
Pacquiao and Bradley both weighed in at 145.5 pounds, comfortably under the 147-pound contract limit. When fight night arrived, Manny was a slightly better than 2-to-1 betting favorite. The announced attendance was 14,665, meaning that more than one thousand tickets were unsold. The buzz that once surrounded Pacquiao has diminished.
The televised “no Trump” undercard had all the excitement of a Martin O’Malley presidential campaign rally.
Then Pacquiao and Bradley took center stage. Round one was tactically and evenly fought. Thereafter, Manny was the aggressor; cautiously at first, more so as the bout progressed. By round four, he was dictating the rhythm of the fight.
Bradley did relatively little offensively. One of the keys to his past success has been the constant grinding aggression that he brings to fights. He doesn’t fight well circling or backing up. But Tim wasn’t grinding on Saturday night. He looked awkward and mechanical, proving again the theory that a new trainer can make adjustments with a veteran fighter but not major changes in his fighting style.
As the bout progressed, Bradley rarely took away what Pacquiao wanted to do or made Pacquiao do what Manny didn’t want to do. And Pacquiao was simply too fast for him.
When the fighters exchanged, more often than not, Pacquiao was the one who got the better of it. He scored a flash knockdown in round seven with a quick right hook that landed awkwardly and caught Bradley off-balance, causing Tim’s glove to touch the canvas. There was a more convincing knockdown in round nine, when a straight left shook Bradley and a follow-up left deposited him on his back.
Last December, Bradley served as an expert analyst for the TruTV telecast of Nonito Donaire vs. Cesar Juarez. Commenting on Juarez’s lack of aggression, Tim observed, “Trying or not trying, either way, he’s going to get hit. So he might as well try.”
On Saturday night, Bradley didn’t try the right things often enough. According to CompuBox, he threw only 25 punches per round, landing an average of eight. That was perfect for Pacquiao, allowing him to dictate the pace of the fight. Equally telling, Bradley landed a total of twelve jabs. That’s one jab per round. Fighters rarely win by landing one jab per round.
By way of comparison, in Pacquiao-Bradley I, Bradley threw 70 punches per round, In Pacquiao-Bradley II, he threw an average of 52.
When Pacquiao-Bradley III was over, Manny had outlanded Tim by a 122-to-92 margin. All three judges scored the contest 116-110 in Pacquiao’s favor.
Prior to the bout, Pacquiao was adamant in saying that Pacquiao-Bradley III would be his last fight. Arum was equally adamant in saying that he wasn’t sure Manny would stick by that pledge.
For now, let’s give the final word on the subject to veteran newspaperman Bill Dwyre, who recently observed, “A boxer’s retirement is like a politician’s campaign promise.”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book – A Hurting Sport – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.