So, it’s on again.
Having signed a contract extension that keeps him with Top Rank (and thus likely ruled himself out of having a bout with Mayweather for the forseeable future) Timothy Bradley and Manny Pacquiao will meet up once more.
To say the result of the first bout was controversial would be an understatement. I’m one of the few who considered the eventual result (a narrow split decision for Bradley) to be correct although I’d have been happy with any score between the eventual 115-113 Bradley to 116-112 Pacquiao. The bout was close with a number of close rounds and I think in the hyperbole about the decision it was often forgotten that neither Bradley nor Pacquiao was spectacular.
Both men come into this contest with something to prove. Bradley wants to prove the first contest was neither a fluke nor a robbery and that he is Pacquiao’s better. Pacquiao wants to prove he’s back to his best after some underwhelming performances and his chilling knockout loss to Marquez. In the pair’s last bouts they each took a step towards that, Bradley asserting himself as one of the best welterweights in the world with a crafty but comfortable decision win over Marquez while Pacquiao showed he wasn’t shot by utterly outclassing the hapless Brandon Rios.
So what points should we consider going into this rematch?
First, I think Pacquiao’s workrate has to be examined. One of the major reasons I gave Bradley rounds (and even in rounds which I scored for Pacquiao it was close) was that Pacquiao often spent the first two minutes (if not more) of each round doing virtually nothing, only coming to life in the last minute to 30 seconds. That’s fine if in those 30 seconds he utterly dominated and did enough good work to make up for the earlier inactivity but too often Bradley was able to negate Pacquiao’s offence in that period. If Pacquiao had boxed the entirety of each round like he did the last minute he’d have likely won… but he didn’t.
Pacquiao went the other way in his next bout against Marquez, ramping up the aggression and the workrate. That led to a lot of success and I had Pacquiao ahead prior to the stoppage… but it also lef to him leaving himself open and Marquez brutally demonstrated the risks of doing so. What I most liked about Pacquiao’s victory over Rios was his balancing of these two approaches. He boxed throughout the round but boxed in spurts, content to take the initiative for a 30 second period then step onto the back foot for the next 30 seconds. If he is to find success against Bradley I think he has to do the same again.
Bradley has always been an adaptable fighter who can box in a number of ways and switch between them as he needs to. For much of his career he was a rough-housing brawler, leaping in (often with his head) and breaking down boxers on the inside but in recent years he’s found more success being and out-and-out boxer and using his underrated jab. The first Pacquiao bout is a good example of this; early on Bradley tried to fight Pacquiao and struggled somewhat but it was later on when he put more focus on outboxing him when he was able to find success.
This will be the first rematch of Bradley’s career. He’s always been good at adapting during a bout… how will he perform when he’s already had 12 rounds to gauge Pacquiao? He’s experienced how fast and powerful Pacquiao is already and so won’t be taken by surprise. He can base his gameplan on how Pacquiao actually is in a bout, not merely how he imagines Pacquiao is.
One also has to consider the mindset of both boxers going into this. Bradley came out of the first Pacquiao bout with a point to prove and ended up brawling with Ruslan Provodnikov. That gave us a fight of the year contender, but it also gave Bradley pretty serious head trauma and very nearly a loss. He managed to box a controlled contest against Marquez… but with Pacquiao across the ring from him will his machismo take over?
The same applies to Pacquiao. Against Marquez he was ultra-aggressive… but paid the price. Against Rios he was sensible and controlled… but will he be content to do that against Bradley or will he want to make a statement? And while Bradley likely lacks the power to hurt Pacquiao like Marquez did if Pacquiao comes in too wildly will Pacquiao leave himself open to Bradley outboxing him?
I don’t expect it to be a great fight in terms of all out action; I suspect both will box cautiously, at least to begin with, Bradley wanting to win rounds behind his strong jab while Pacquiao looks to use his speed of foot and hand to get in and out on Bradley. It will only be once one lands something telling that the bout will start to come to life and even then I expect it to resemble the exchanges in Bradley’s bout with Marquez; a high paced but technical chess match characterised by frequent short engagements by both boxers. That said it’s a bout between two boxers who deserve to be near the top of a pound for pound list and with a lot on the line… Bradley may be a highly skilled fighter but he’s not a loved one and a loss here would see him fall a long way while Pacquiao’s entire career may be on the line with a loss.