LAS VEGAS, NV — It’s still up for debate if Manny Pacquiao has recaptured the magic of his 2003-2009 run. But what isn’t in question is whether he defeated Timothy Bradley last night. Since most don’t debate that Pacquiao was on the wrong side of a bad unanimous decision when he faced Bradley in 2012, this fight was billed as an internal struggle for Manny. It was less about if he could and more about if he would do it impressively. And while this will likely not go down as a top career highlight for Pacquiao, he did comfortably beat a consensus Top 3 welterweight, and with relative ease over the second half the fight.
A TALE OF TWO BRADLEYS OR A PACQUIAO ADJUSTMENT???: The first six rounds of this fight were highly competitive — a draw or 1-2 round lead for either fighter were all within reason. Pacquiao’s energy level was much higher this time around. He stayed with constant pressure, firing heat with his lethal straight left and mixing up his combinations with hard right hooks. Bradley did his best countering to the body, when Pacquiao would venture too close with a few wild, head-hunting shots. His most telling shot would be a counter right hand in the fourth that had Pacquiao briefly wobbled and in retreat. Bradley’s upper body movement, combined with nimble footwork, made him an elusive target for Manny to land clean on. In the sixth, a late Pacquiao volley was rendered useless by Bradley’s defense.
Starting in the seventh, Pacquiao began putting together longer and more explosive combinations. This, combined with Bradley’s stamina weakening, made the champion a more stationary target, and many times on the ropes. Pacquiao’s right hands would smash into Bradley’s guard while the Filipino star’s lopping lefts crashed home.
By the eighth, Bradley was at times in full retreat. Pacquiao’s right jabs would put him on his heels, and the successive left hands scored to the head and body. The most telling sign that Bradley was clueless on how to counter these assaults was Bradley dropping his gloves to taunt and show the blows weren’t hurting him.
Outside of a solid right hand or two every round, this trend continued for the rest of the fight (with Bradley nearly going down in the 9th) to secure a clear(er) Pacquiao victory.
While many have already chastised Bradley for “not fighting” in the second half, not enough credit was given to Pacquiao, who’s speed was the main factor in allowing him to turn the fight from a tense chess match to a “fight or flight” bout where Bradley’s power deficit left him ill-equipped. Juan Manuel Marquez didn’t have the speed to break Bradley’s counter-punching rhythm. Manny had it in spades last night.
ANOTHER INJURY?!: Before it was two messed ankles. Now, Bradley put the word out that he injured his left calf muscle in the first round. As the fight progressed, the injury got worse and allegedly made him a more stationary target. I’m not denying the injury — Bradley has always been an honest fighter so there’s no reason to believe he’s lying. But the question remains — what about fighting Pacquiao makes his legs and ankles turn to glass? Maybe we need to credit Manny’s mother, whose ringside prayer routines looked more like demonic hexes being spewed Bradley’s way.
IS PACQUIAO BACK?: Let’s be clear — the Manny Pacquiao that was the Filipino wrecking ball we last saw in 2009 isn’t coming back and it has nothing to do with his “desire.” The reason is this little pesky thing known as “aging” (all you younger readers will learn about that soon enough). The athletic things you could do in your early 20s become a struggle by your mid 30s. And that’s just regular people. Pacquiao turned pro in the mid 90s and has taken thousands of punches and endured countless hours of intense training. It’s a marvel that he remains as good as what we saw last night.
DON’T EVEN BOTHER WITH MORE MAYWEATHER DEBATES: It’s not happening. Yes, it’s quite pathetic that the #1 and #2 welterweights and two best fighters of the past 10 years won’t fight each other. Yes, it’ll be something that stains their legacies and will be a proverbial dark cloud over both their careers for slightly different reasons. But there’s enough good fights to focus on rather than one that’ll never happen.
WHAT’S NEXT: Now that Pacquiao’s back in the win column, who can he fight? Most people should be burned out on Pacquiao-Marquez fights, but don’t put it past Bob Arum to make it. Bradley hasn’t seemed keen on a Provodnikov rematch, but that he’s best money fight unless Arum pits the Siberian slugger in with Brandon Rios (Top Rank’s best potential action fight). Point is, the cupboards appear dry on the surface and Top Rank will have to get very creative to keep fan attention.
UNDERCARD: For a Top Rank card, the undercard was fairly decent. There were no Tor Hamer-type fighters roaming about and stealing money. Bryan Vasquez had an early shootout with Jose Felix Jr before taking over and bullying the younger man to a 12-round unanimous decision defeat. Jessie Vargas won another close and debatable decision, this time over rugged Khabib Allakhverdiev. And Ray Beltran didn’t have to worry about a robbery here as he defeated last-replacement and game Arash Usmanee by a 12-round unanimous decision.