In a rematch of a fight from 2012 that really needed no introduction, Manny Pacquiao and Tim Bradley met in a contest between two truly elite fighters that oozed class from the opening bell. Bradley entered the ring decked out in camouflage, and it was clear from the outset that this was not merely a sartorial affectation. Despite the 1st round being marked by tentative counterpunching and a twitchy battle for position in which both fighters had their moments with early flurries, it was not long before a war broke out.
It became clear early on that the story was not Pacquiao’s compassion, but rather Bradley’s relentlessness, singular, unyielding fixation on knocking out his opponent.
With Bradley’s trainer, Joel Diaz, urging his fighter to “be smart”, both fighters went well and truly toe-to-toe in the third, which saw Pacquiao made to work for the full three minutes by his American opponent, who marched relentlessly forward, eating some titanic punches in the process. A pattern was quickly emerging, in which Pacquiao worked almost exclusively upstairs while his opponent pounded away to the Filipino’s body, although that’s not to say Bradley didn’t catch his opponent’s jaw, most notably with a right that lifted him clean off his feet in the 4th round.
However, the midway point saw a tangible lull in Bradley’s output, who had failed to significantly hurt his opponent despite putting everything he had into dozens of home run shots. Responding to this, Pacquiao began to flurry with his trademark variety, pinning Bradley against the ropes on a number of occasions, watching his opponent drop his hands and beckon him in. This set-up became a recurring theme, with the American shaking his knees and clowning on several occasions. However, Pacquiao appeared to legitimately hurt him in the 9th, when Bradley wobbled in a manner similar to the infamous moment of the ankle injury in their first meeting.
Bradley was still swinging for the fences at the start of the 10th, but his opponent’s hand speed was beginning to tell. He would have done well to revert to boxing, but you got the impression the adrenaline rushing through him made that all but impossible. By the 11th, he was visibly tired but still putting everything he had into his punches, while the 12th saw him eat a bundle of straight lefts that brought back fleeting memories of the halcyon days when a one-armed Pacquiao laid waste to entire divisions.
Predictably, the greatest level of tension was saved for the moments between the final bell and the moment Michael Buffer announced the tallies of the ringside judges. When two scores of 116-112 were read out, history momentarily seemed to be repeating itself, but this time there would be no real controversy. The 118-110 card was a little wide, but Bradley’s reduced output in the latter stages and relatively one-dimensional tactics ensured Pacquiao was able to pull away towards the end. Both were total gentlemen in the aftermath (although Bradley did sneak in a reference to an injured calf muscle) and a third fight will be nothing to sniff at.
Quite simply, these are two of the highest level operators in the sport today, and a unanimous decision over Timothy Bradley would be a career-making victory for almost any other fighter. If it feels somehow underwhelming tonight, then that just goes to show how extraordinary Manny Pacquiao really is.
(Photo credit: Chris Farina, Top Rank)