Sometimes a great fighter can lose a fight, or a decision can go against him that most everyone felt that he won...and it can be a blessing in disguise.
That was exactly the case on March 8, 1971, when "Smokin" Joe Frazier beat Muhammad Ali conclusively via a 15-round unanimous decision in the "Fight Of The Century" when both were undefeated with the undisputed heavyweight title on the line.
The March 15th edition of Sports Illustrated had on its cover a picture of Ali falling to the canvas in the 15th round, with the caption "End Of The Ali Legend."
And to this day it can be said with impunity that Ali, the most important boxer who has yet lived, actually lost the biggest and most widely anticipated sporting event, not fight, in history.
At the time many Ali fans were in tears and depressed immediately after Frazier defeated him. Yet, as history would unfold and now all these years looking back, the best thing to ever happen to Ali in the ring is that Joe Frazier beat him fair and square when they met the first time. Had Ali beaten Frazier by unanimous decision he may not be considered the greatest heavyweight ever as he is today, by many. Frazier's defeat of Ali solidified Joe as an all-time great fighter and gave Ali something to prove since he really never had to overcome adversity before. However, before Ali got a chance to settle the score with Frazier, young George Foreman knocked Joe out for the undisputed title in two rounds. Foreman beating Frazier, who recently beat Ali, propelled him to the top of the food chain and provided Ali with two legitimate greats who stood in his way, two fighters that he would have to eventually defeat if he ever were to gain the title again.
As we saw Ali came back and beat Frazier in their rematch and then knocked out the undefeated Foreman nine months later to become only the second fighter in history to lose and regain the undisputed heavyweight title. After making three defenses of the title Ali stopped Frazier in their rubber match, "The Thrilla In Manila," to retain the title. In short it's Ali's victories over Frazier and Foreman that are a monumental reason why he's the icon and legend he is today. So remember, had he defeated Frazier the first time that wouldn't have been possible and we probably would've never found out that Foreman was one of the greats as well. In essence, Ali losing the "Fight Of The Century" was really the best thing that ever happened to him. Today, the Sport Illustrated cover would show the same picture of Ali going down with the caption "Beginning Of The Ali Legend."
Almost exactly 22 months ago to the day former WBO welterweight title holder Manny Pacquiao 55-5-2 (38) lost his title via a 12-round split decision to Timothy Bradley 31-0 (12). When the decision was announced favoring Bradley, Pacquiao and the boxing world were stunned. Virtually everyone who saw the fight live or on PPV-TV saw Pacquiao as the overwhelming winner. Even Bradley said he had to go home and watch the tape to see if he won. Since the decision in their first fight was rendered that's all we've heard discussed regarding these two fighters.
Everybody has been in an uproar over what so many perceive as an unjust decision and view the winner of the fight as the loser, and the loser as the winner. Well, it just so happens that the decision that went against Pacquiao against Bradley in their first fight just may be the best thing that he has going for him when they meet in a rematch this coming Saturday night.
The stories surrounding Pacquiao since the fight, which only started after the decision was read, have been focused on what he needs to do to win this time and how he must re-discover his aggression and so-called eye of the tiger that he carried to the ring when he stopped Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto in consecutive fights circa 2008/2009. But that's a little misleading... because if Manny really did handle Bradley the first time, which he did, then why does he have to practically reinvent himself this time? Really, he doesn't.The last time they fought Manny was aggressive, but Bradley's hand and foot-speed along with his unorthodoxy stymied Pacquiao a little bit. But as we saw, it wasn't enough so that Bradley actually bettered him. What it did was basically help Bradley extend the fight and it forced Pacquiao to rush him, sometimes carelessly, which afforded a couple easy openings and counters for Bradley. However, this time that won't be enough to carry Bradley to the decision and he and his trainer Joel Diaz know it.
Because of the decision in the last fight it's Bradley who has to change and be better this time, not so much Pacquiao. In the rematch Saturday night Bradley has to try and win two fights in one and must prove that he really did deserve the decision in the first one. I've seen where so many, including myself, are picking Pacquiao to win this time because we feel that the bout will go the distance. Subconsciously, we believe that as long as the fight is relatively competitive and close, Pacquiao will get the makeup call, the decision, because he's still the star and the draw in the fight. Plus, it makes for better business.. and if Manny wins the dream of a faux Super Fight with Floyd Mayweather lives on.
And guess what? Team Bradley is very cognizant of this too.
Since getting the decision over Pacquiao, Bradley has faced and legitimately beaten a beast named Ruslan Provodnikov and the other active boxing professor aside from Mayweather, Juan Manuel Marquez. There's no way in the world that Bradley and his brain trust want to waste three consecutive big wins because they were tentative and didn't do enough to convince the judges again that Timothy beat Manny. No, Bradley wants to put Pacquiao behind him and start campaigning for Mayweather. Bradley knows that the sentiment with the judges this time is going to lead them to look for every reason in the world to give the fight to Pacquiao if it comes down to a decision. Which means he's really going to have to make a statement against Pacquiao in this fight. But how does he do that? He survived the last fight a lot because he kept it from becoming a war and an all out fight. This time Bradley will have to land as many memorable shots as Pacquiao and he may actually have to beat him up a little, something he didn't do the last time. Well, Bradley cannot do that by simply trying to box and pick his spots. He'll have to at different times during the bout take a chance and try to stand his ground against Manny and win the exchange with an exclamation point. And guess what, if Bradley fights like that and with a mindset that he really has to win it beyond a doubt this time, that works to Pacquiao's advantage in a big way.
The best thing for Pacquiao would be to have in front of him is a Bradley who is willing to fight and trade, and not box. And say Bradley tries to fight Pacquiao straight up a few times during the fight and realizes it's too risky and dangerous and reverts back to moving and boxing and only looking to react after he's sure it's safe. You know what, he'll look like he's running and trying to avoid fighting. Is there even a morsel of a doubt as to how that will look to the judges and fans? Of course not, and Pacquiao will have to get the decision.
Let's play it from the other end and say Bradley actually engages with Pacquiao and does better this time than he did in their last fight, but still loses the decision. Then he'll say afterwards that "he did better this time and should've won." So as you can see the decision that went against Pacquiao the last time is the biggest thing he has going for him this time because Bradley is a victim of it and his hand is actually forced strategically in a way that it wasn't the first time. No, it won't hurt Pacquiao if he can fight with the urgency he used to have when he was knocking everybody out. But it's obvious that he's not the same fighter in 2014 that he was in 2009 and that tireless non-stop punching machine is gone forever. However, he may not have to be quite the supernova he was then because Bradley has to bring it a little more himself this time and he knows that. And that serves Pacquiao really well for the rematch.
The decision that went against Pacquiao the last time he fought Bradley will be a big plus for him on Saturday night, April 12, 2014, both in how the fight unfolds strategically in the ring and how it's scored by the officials.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com.