When WBO title holder Timothy Bradley 31-0 (12) and the man he won the title from 22 months ago, Manny Pacquiao 55-5-2 (38), clash this weekend, there will be a lot more on the line than just Bradley's title belt. Forget about the decision in their last fight and who really won it, both fighters have to answer a few questions that have been lingering over them in the eyes of many boxing observers, and this fight will most likely go a long way in providing some definitive answers when it's over.
Let's start with Bradley. Yes, in his last three fights he has officially defeated Pacquiao, Ruslan Provodnikov 23-2 (16) and Juan Manuel Marquez 55-7-1 (40). As it has been discussed ad-nauseam, the decision he was awarded over Pacquiao is controversial to say the least and he's viewed by many as having lost the fight. After facing Pacquiao he fought Provodinkov and won a unanimous decision. However, he endured a massive amount of head trauma during that bout, was knocked down in the 12th and final round and clearly had to hold on for dear life to make it through the round and survive the fight. Seven months later he beat Marquez via a 12-round split decision. He boxed well at times during the fight but had his huge advantage in hand and foot speed not been so much in play, it's doubtful he would've finished ahead in the fight. Also, because Marquez isn't a pressure fighter and never sustained an all-out offensive assault during the bout, we didn't find out if Bradley suffered any repercussions from the battering he absorbed from Provodnikov. So when it comes to Timothy Bradley, he may be in the midst of the most impressive run of his career, but he doesn't come into tomorrows' fight with Pacquiao with a totally clean bill of health. Yes, he looks ripped physically, but those rippling muscles can tell lies.
As for Pacquiao, he lost the fight against Bradley but is viewed as the winner. Then six months later he took on Marquez for the fourth time and was knocking him all over the ring before letting his guard down right before the bell to end the sixth round just as Marquez was launching a right to the chin that was heard around the boxing world, and he was counted out face down on the canvas. After an 11 month hiatus, Manny fought the tough but very limited Brandon Rios 31-2-1 (23). He dominated the fight but never had Rios in serious trouble or looking as if he wanted out. Once he realized Brandon wasn't going anywhere, Manny proceeded to out box and pot-shot Rios from pillar to post. Yes, he looked terrific during the fight but Rios's walk-straight-in and take three-or-four-looking-to-land-one style had a lot to do with that. So in reality, the Rios fight didn't answer much about Pacquiao. He didn't need an all-out wide-open assault to handle Rios to win. Plus, Rios isn't much of a puncher and even the few times he managed to get something in clean, Pacquiao didn't even change the expression on his face because he wasn't the least bit fazed by anything Rios offered him offensively. Once Rios figured out there was no way he was going to beat Pacquiao, he more or less stopped trying to win.
Pacquiao isn't the same non-stop punching buzzsaw he was four years ago. Fighting bigger fighters with the exception of Marquez since shrinking down Miguel Cotto has taken it's toll on him. I not only don't believe that he can turn the intensity on like a switch, I know for a fact that it can't be done once the fighter has passed the point where because of age, wear and tear over a long career, it's no longer there. Or, no longer present at least to the point where it's sustainable for three minutes a round for 12 consecutive rounds.
Yes, there are plenty of questions that remain unanswered as to just how much Pacquiao has left as a fighter, but we do know he's not the fighter he once was: every dollar, pound, and year he adds takes him a little further away.
This all makes it a tough fight to boldly pick the winner, at least for me, in a bout that is as close to must-see as we can hope to get this year. If that weren't enough pressure on both fighters going into the fight, how about the fact that whoever wins it will no doubt jump to the front of the "who is Mayweather's next big fight against?" derby.
For some reason as long as they are both still active, a fight between Mayweather and Pacquiao will be seen as something spectacular and a big deal. Yeah, maybe if it were 2010 and not 2014. For the umpteenth time, if they ever fight which I still believe they will, Mayweather will lose the first round looking Pacquiao over - then literally out-box and out-fight him over the next 11 rounds and win a completely lopsided unanimous decision. It's money in the bank! That said, regardless of what I think, Mayweather-Pacquiao is still a big deal. So if Pacquiao beats Bradley, the fairy tale lives on. And if he doesn't and Bradley out-boxes him Saturday night, Mayweather can cry about Bob Arum being Tim's promoter all he wants. But the reality will be that undefeated Mayweather versus undefeated, fast handed and quick-footed Bradley is the marquee fight in the welterweight division. Sure, Mayweather may wait to see who wins the Cotto vs. Martinez fight in June, but nobody really cares to see him fight Cotto again or wants to see him force Martinez down to 152 and steal the middleweight title.
When Bradley and Pacquiao meet this weekend, both are in a must-win situation because there's so much money out there in front of them for the winner, and at the same time they will have most likely answered their critics regarding what they have left as two of the best pound-for-pound fighters in professional boxing.
Pacquiao-Bradley II is a very compelling fight that will hopefully go a long way in clearing things up between them and also who has the most bragging rights to go after and scream "Floyd Mayweather must fight me next!"
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com