By Steve Silverman
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Manny Pacquiao is stepping in the ring Saturday night against Timothy Bradley, and this may have escaped your attention because the Yankees are playing the Red Sox, the Rangers are about to embark upon the postseason, the Tigerless Masters is in full flight and the Giants and Jets are preparing for the NFL draft.
Boxing may have become a niche sport, but getting a chance to see Pacquiao (55-5-2, 38 KO) in the ring is worth your time. He is one of the two most compelling figures in the sport over the last decade – Floyd Mayweather being the other – and Pacquiao can complete his redemption with a compelling victory over the undefeated Bradley (31-0-0, 12 KO).
Bradley was unable to get the best of Pacquiao when they met in 2012, but it was one of those moments in boxing that makes you bury your head into your hands and ask what’s wrong with the sport.
Pacquiao got the best of Bradley for nine of 12 rounds, yet Bradley won the split decision. It was an unconscionable decision by the judges.
But, according to the record book, Bradley got the “W” and Pacquiao got the “L.” A few months later, Pacquiao got in the ring with Juan Manuel Marquez for the fifth time and he suffered a brutal knockout in the sixth round.
Pacquiao was ahead at the time, and was going for a big KO shot himself when he got careless and left his chin unprotected. Marquez was more than happy to walk through that opening and send Pacquiao to dreamland.
A lot of boxing observers thought that was it for Pacquiao and that he needed to call it a career. Two straight losses meant he was clearly on the downhill side and he didn’t need to put himself at risk by getting back in the ring.
Pacquiao thought long and hard about his future, but there was no retirement coming. Instead, he took some time off and then went back to work. He got back in the ring against hard-hitting Brandon “Bam-Bam” Rios and dominated him from start to finish last November. Pacquiao did not knock Rios out, but he looked sharp as he landed his two-fisted attack with ease and purpose.
That was the first step in his redemption. Now comes Bradley, who was under the gun himself following the Pacquiao fight because he did get beaten up in that fight even if the judges gave him the nod. The boxing public ridiculed Bradley, saying that he could not come up with an effective offense and that his record was merely the result of some clever matchmaking and not significant ability.
Bradley knew that he was not at his best against Pacquiao and he came up with a redemptive performance of his own against Ruslan Provodnikov last March and he followed that up with a win over Marquez.
Bradley has never been a fighter who could knock opponents out with regularity, but he was sharp in his punches, smart in his strategy and consistent with his defense in both fights. He has risen in the boxing ranks to the point that many consider him the third-best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Bradley has also become a world-class agitator, and he has spent much of his time going after Pacquiao, saying that his opponent no longer has the fire, killer instinct or desire to knock out opponents.
Pacquiao, now 35, has not stopped any fighter since he registered a 12th-round TKO over Miguel Cotto in 2009. He has had seven fights since then, and none of them have ended with an opponent flat on his back.
Pacquiao is motivated to get revenge and pick up an official win over 30-year-old Bradley. Not only would he like to stop him and demonstrate that he is not afraid to hurt his opponent – as Bradley claims – he would like to put himself in prime position for a fight with Mayweather.
That fight could have been made five years ago, but it seemed like Mayweather never wanted to get in the ring with “Pac Man.” Then, just before the public was about to demand such a bout, Pacquiao suffered back-to-back defeats to Bradley and Marquez.
Pacquiao made the first step of his comeback with the win over Rios. A decisive win over Bradley – meaning a full-fledged knockout or stoppage – will mean he is back near the top. That means boxing people will start calling for a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight once again.
It probably won’t happen because Mayweather doesn’t want that fight. But it would capture the public and allow boxing to become mainstream once again, at least for a short time.
Pacquiao-Bradley II looks like a fight that could exceed expectations as both boxers have something to prove. Don’t think for a second that Pacquiao can’t get it done. He’s too skilled and quick for his opponent. If he can muster up some of the nastiness that Bradley says he no longer has, this fight will end in a Pacquiao KO victory.
That’s just what will happen, and you can expect Mayweather to start dancing backwards as soon as the referee counts 10 over Bradley.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy
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