Bradley Vs. Pacquiao II: TQBR Roundtable, Royal Rumble Edition

So continues our marathon coverage of one of the biggest bouts of 2014, Timothy Bradley vs. Manny Pacquiao II, on April 12 on HBO Pay-Per-View. Previously: a primer on the rematch; a Bradley-Pacquiao edition of TQBR Radiokeys to the fight; the undercard, previewed. Next: a final preview and prediction.

You know, I quite like watching guys fight. I’m excited for Tim Bradley vs. Manny Pacquiao II. But a whole lot of European guys fighting each other in teams? Not really my bag. Not really my bag at all. Now that you’ve seen the worst thing ever, let’s get down to a decent discussion of this week’s big fight.

In this TQBR Roundtable (which is metaphorical, since the TQBR team lives all around the world) we discuss many elements of the upcoming welterweight pay-per-view. I think it’d be fair to say that the two years since the first fight have actually made this fight more intriguing, if not more appealing at the box office.

Joining us for this edition of the Roundtable we’re joined the whole gang: Tim Starks, Andrew Harrison, Sam Sheppard, Jeff Pryor, Matthew Swain and Patrick Connor.

Against Juan Manuel Marquez, Bradley managed to counterpunch a counterpuncher. Does he have the ability to counterpunch Manny Pacquiao for 12 rounds, or will he employ some other gameplan?

Patrick Connor: I’m of the opinion that Tim Bradley’s hand speed is a bit underrated, and in terms of speed, he’s able to match Pacquiao better than most. The issue, as I see it, is that he’s not particularly patient. In the first fight, Pacquiao was able to force him to fight more than he seemed to want to, as Marquez did in spots. Part of Bradley’s pre-fight talk has to be about riling Pacquiao up, of course, but I have a feeling he may actually try to test Manny’s chin at some point.

Alex McClintock: I don’t think anyone fighting Pacquiao can draw their game plan from Marquez. That guy just knows Pacquiao and has his number. If Bradley wants to be successful, his plan will have to be a little more complex, a combination of counterpunching from the outside, winning the battle of the jabs, and tying/roughing Pacquiao up.

Jeff Pryor: He has the ability to TRY and counterpunch all night, but he doesn’t have the speed advantage he had with Marquez. Has Bradley learned something since their first bout? Yes, plenty, but none of that really helps him overcome Pacquiao, who is more powerful, faster, and too dynamic. Marquez could close the athletic gap through sheer skill and timing against Pacquiao. However, Bradley is just close enough to Pacquiao athletically to get fooled into thinking he can match him on speed and athletics. He will get tricked into a reflex game that he can’t win. If he’s focused on timing he’ll be more competitive.

Sam Sheppard: Bradley wants Pacquiao to come right at him. That’s what all the pre-fight bravado and sensationalist comments have been about. He wants to get under Pacquiao’s skin, to have him enter the ring in a reckless frame of mind and with a point to prove. That’s really the narrative of the fight: whether or not Pacquiao still has it in him to finish off a top-level opponent.

I believe Bradley will therefore look to use Pacquiao’s aggression against him. He’ll attempt to dart in and out in much the same way as prime, typhoon-era (TM) Pac once did. If he gets tagged and hurt early, as in the fight against Provodnikov, then it could turn into a war. But otherwise I expect him to attempt to lay traps for his opponent, following the blueprint that Marquez has set four times before.

Matthew Swain:  Bradley has the ability to counterpunch Pacquiao, and I expect him to do that, but it won’t be the same plan he employed against Marquez. Against Marquez, Bradley forcedhim to lead, which is Marquez’ kryptonite. Against Pacquiao, he will need to move more. His game plan for this fight should largely be based on the last half of the first Pacquiao fight. He was moving well and making Pacquiao miss when he threw in combination, but he didn’t throw enough punches in return. He will need to be busier to win rounds in this fight. He won’t be able to eke them out based on him doing better than expected — he’s going to need to win rounds clearly and he has to land telling blows to do that.

Andrew Harrison: Counterpunching a counterpuncher? What’s that called?

It would be highly optimistic on Bradley’s part if he’s planning to merely counterpunch Pacquiao for 12 rounds in the expectation he’ll be awarded a decision (despite the contentious verdict in the first fight). Pacquiao is such a kinetic and offensive fighter, he’s (usually) easier for judges to side with; his work is less subtle — which can help curry favour with officials tasked with the often arbitrary finger-in-the-air job that constitutes scoring a boxing match (and who are under increasing pressure to see the fight in line with the worldwide armchair-scoring consensus). Bradley, lest we forget, has also been stigmatised to a degree from the supposed gift he received; like football referees in the wake of a controversial decision, ringside judges can exhibit unconscious bias towards the allegedly wronged party.

Bradley needs to make Pacquiao miss — something he did well enough first time around — but, crucially, make him pay. While he timed Pacquiao nicely last time, Bradley didn’t throw enough punches to be deemed a worthy winner. He needs to land more readily on this, his second attempt.

Tim Starks: I think it’s just counterpuncher², Andrew.

Overall, I lean toward Matthew’s strategy here as the best one for Bradley in this fight. He wasn’t able to move as much against Pacquiao as he was against Marquez, which you can chalk up in part to the injured tootsies, and as well to Pacquiao being quicker-footed than Marquez. He will have to thrive on countering but mix in the occasional attack so he’s not docked on the cards for not being the aggressor. If I were him I’d get that jab to the head and body going and figure out ways to mix in rights, and then live on the counter left and tie Manny up in close and work in clinches, rough him up. I do think a recklessly angry Manny donates to Bradley’s cause, as Sam pointed out, and it’s weird to see his promoter Bob Arum denying that the riling has worked while his trainer Freddie Roach says Manny is pissed.

Did you take much away from Pacquiao’s win over Brandon Rios, or is there still a question mark over him after his knockout loss to Marquez?  Is “compassionate Manny” just a smokescreen for a fighter in physical decline?

Patrick Connor: Pacquiao has always had a “compassionate” type of outlook — at least outwardly. The physical decline is inevitable. The question is whether or not the decline will meet at a crossroads with the fighter Tim Bradley is. I’m not sure how much to take away from the Brandon Rios fight, considering Rios looked to have no business fighting at welterweight in a number of ways. The good sign for Pacquiao was that, despite his apparent size advantage over Rios, he appeared to take Rios’ punching power well. And it’s doubtful Bradley has better overall power.

Alex McClintock: I took a fair bit out of that win. Rios was just a little bit outside boxing’s very top tier, a rough and tough brawler. We knew he was basic, but he’d never been embarrassed before. Pacquiao embarrassed him. But since Rios hardly laid a hand on Pacquiao, I think there’s it’s still fair to question whether the Filipino’s chin has recovered from the Marquez knockout. As for compassionate Pac, I think it’s a little from column A, a little from column B. We all saw him lay off Rios in round 12 of their fight, but it’s clear he’s not physically the same as he once was.

Jeff Pryor: No questions for me. If anyone were going to test his durability or make him look shopworn, Rios would have been that guy. Bradley is not going to put the hurt on Pacquiao. And I don’t think there is a smokescreen going on either — his mindset is different, and his speed is ebbing; it just is what it is.

Sam Sheppard: The Rios match-up was the definition of a get-right fight, and I personally found it ridiculous that Pacquiao was criticised in some quarters for the crime of winning more or less every round. Pacquiao came out of that fight without a scratch on him, which is about as good as it gets against a guy like Rios, who hasn’t even been knocked down in 8 years, let alone knocked out. I don’t see people lamenting Marquez in the same way for taking on Mike Alvarado, the man Rios stopped in seven. Some degree of erosion in his mid-thirties is unavoidable, but from where I’m sitting Pacquiao’s speed looks as devastating as ever.

Matthew Swain: The Rios fight told us that Pacquiao is still much better than a face first slugger with a cast iron chin, and not much more. I’m of the opinion that “compassionate Manny” is a euphemism for “coasting Manny”. Since 2010 (with the exception of the last two Marquez fights), Pacquiao has been able to take off long portions of fights because he was so much better than his competition. It’s worth noting that those six opponents had been stopped a grand total of once when he fought them. It’s also not a coincidence that his KO drought began the same time as his political career and entering his mid thirties. Pacquiao IS in physical decline. His foot speed has dropped off considerably, but he’s so much faster than the welterweights he’s been facing that he still looks quick in comparison.

Andrew Harrison: Pacquiao’s rampage through the weight divisions coincided with his hiring of conditioner Alex Ariza. As their relationship soured (Ariza, if reports are to be believed, found himself increasingly marginalised prior to eventually being moved on) Pac’s physical menace waned. It was something of a long, bemusing goodbye that culminated in the Filipino idol taking that nasty nap at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez.

Pacquiao seems less of a physical specimen than he once was — not just in terms of being an older athlete but also a less bulky and visibly powerful one, too — which perhaps helps explain why he couldn’t rid himself of Rios (whose Tex Cobb skit looked ripe for a Ricky Hatton-style beheading).

Tim Starks: I come down somewhere between Patrick and Jeff on this one. Rios wasn’t much able to test Pacquiao’s durability because he couldn’t hit him, although Pacquiao himself said he was hurt in one round (he thought it was the 5th). Still, we can take away from it that he’s durable enough for this fight, because I don’t see Bradley knocking him out with anything if Rios couldn’t, and of course that he was so unhittable in the Rios fight speaks well of how much elite boxing is left in him, dented chin or no.

Despite Bradley’s motive to rile Pacquiao, I do think it’s true what he said: The eye of the tiger isn’t there anymore. I don’t doubt that he still loves boxing enough to be really good at it, or that at any rate he knows he needs it enough to care to be really good it. But that next level of commitment is missing. He doesn’t seem as willing to sit down on his punches as he used to when he has his opponents wincing in retreat, out of some misguided notion that he’s doing them some favor that way, and there’s some inevitable physical decline, although not enough to knock him off the world class level. It’s just enough, collectively, to mean he’s not the guy he used to be. (This answer sponsored by the word “enough.”)

Bradley is still a big “name” fighter without a significant fan base. Would a win over Pacquiao make him a star? Or just extinguish an existing one?

Patrick Connor: I suppose it’s fair to say that something has to be extinguished to make a true star. Sooner or later, Manny Pacquiao will be extinguished by someone, but whether or not Bradley can be made into a star remains to be seen. However, it’s not a good sign for Bradley that he “beat” Pacquiao the first time, was in a Fight of the Year caliber fight against Ruslan Provodnikov in which he showed supreme guts, then derailed Pacquiao’s ultimate conqueror, and is still a hard sell for fans of boxing.

Alex McClintock: I hope that Bradley becomes a star. I don’t think he needs to beat Pacquiao for that to happen eventually, since I don’t think a loss will discourage him from his generally-winning ways. You keep winning long enough and people will pay attention. That said, beating Pacquiao would give him a real boost and get people talking about him, like Tim says.

Jeff Pryor: Bradley won’t be a star regardless. I love him. I’ve always been impressed with everything about him.  But he doesn’t have star quality. He’s a great fighter, though, and it’s hard not to admire his determination and drive. He just lacks a spark to ignite the imagination. I think he has a chip on his shoulder about not having more fans, but it’s something you can’t force. 

Sam Sheppard: I’ve always felt Bradley to be more of a fighter’s fighter. He’s not brash or compelling enough to win broader mainstream appeal, and I honestly don’t think he cares too much. He’s always seemed more of a Bernard Hopkins than an Oscar De La Hoya; the kind of guy who values the respect of his peers above all else. Whether he likes it or not, a win over Pacquiao on Saturday is always going to be tainted by the result of the first fight. Both men are fighting for redemption, really. And each has a huge amount to lose. The way I see it, even if Pacquiao wins in sensational style, it will be more of a last hurrah than anything else.

Just as a final note, and to borrow a Max Kellerman-ism for the millionth time, with regards to point three Bradley does appear to be less than the sum of his parts. He’s smart, he’s engaging, he’s funny, he has a compelling back story, he’s as clean as anyone in the sport, he’s got a crazy dad, he’s a responsible parent and loving husband, plus he’s an utterly fearless fighter.

And yet there’s still something not quite there. I don’t think it’s purely the lack of KO power. There are plenty of guys who don’t score knockouts yet excite the fans. In the same way that I always felt Oscar was more than the sum of his parts, so too is Bradley a perpetual bundle of underwhelmingness. Maybe he should start using his head again and become a villain.

Matthew Swain: Bradley is shit out of luck. If Pacquiao loses, people will blame getting KO’d by Marquez, or his political career, or leg cramps, etc. Manny Pacquiao is famous enough that there will always be an excuse. Bradley could win by shut out and Pacquiao would still be the bigger star. My prediction is that Bradley is destined to be a guy who makes decent money and is highly respected but never famous or beloved.

Andrew Harrison: It’s interesting that Sam compares Bradley to Hopkins — I’ve long been reminded of Evander Holyfield. Like Holyfield, Bradley’s a maniacal competitor, he’s been largely underappreciated and he isn’t a big draw. Bradley also doesn’t excel in one particular area; he’s a good all-rounder.

Holyfield attained stardom the long way round — eventually celebrated thanks to the manner of his ballsy performances against more high-profile foes. If Bradley can defeat Pacquiao comprehensively (some would suggest legitimately), then I think he takes another step in the right direction. An exciting, knockout victory would surely see his popularity rocket.

It’s a hell of a tough way to make a name, though.

Tim Starks: The Holyfield comparison is a good one, and the hopeful one for Bradley’s fortunes as a potential superstar. Hopkins isn’t a bad comparison either in the specific way Sam used it, but it’s the less favorable of the two for Bradley’s superstar bid. I happen to be a bit more bullish than the crew here on Bradley’s building blocks — he’s smart, he’s charismatic, he’s good-looking (#pause) and he can be in fights that he makes as exciting as he chooses. He’s one of the best three in the world right now and beating Pacquiao would put him in my top two. It would also get casual and non-fans talking about him, in that “Who’s that guy who beat Pacquiao?” way. I don’t think it’ll be as direct a vampiric transference of superstardom as Floyd Mayweather and Pacquiao got out of beating De La Hoya, but it’ll be plenty. I’d think he can settle somewhere above Hopkins (who can still pull nice TV ratings) and below Holyfield on that count.