Pacquiao wants payback; Bradley seeks redemption
• Pacquiao remains a slight favorite
• But Bradley is much improved, younger, hungrier
• Fight still a “toss up”
By Jun Medina
FilAm Star/INQUIRER.net News Partner
SAN FRANCISCO, California — Boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao wants payback for being on the wrong side of a controversial decision, while unbeaten American champ Timothy Bradley seeks redemption in their rematch Saturday night at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas.
Although Pacquiao, 35, remains a slight favorite over the younger and prime Bradley, the narrative of Pacquiao-Bradley II has changed since the first fight.
Bradley is coming off two impressive victories, his only fights after Pacquiao.
First, the 30-year-old Palm Springs, California, native survived an uncharacteristic slugfest with Pacquiao’s hard-hitting sparring partner and now light welterweight champ, Ruslan Provodnikov.
He then outboxed and outworked Pacquiao rival Juan Manuel Marquez, who knocked out Pacquiao cold in December 2012 in his fourth fight with the Mexican counterpuncher.
Pacquiao, who was trying to finish off the bloodied Marquez, was floored face-first by a perfect counter right hand to the jaw with barely a second left in the sixth round, one the biggest knockouts in boxing.
Pacquiao returned to the ring last November and dominated Mexican American slugger Brandon Rios, a former world lightweight champ, in a trailblazing promotion in Macau, China by Top Rank Inc.
“It’s commendable that Manny has come back after, and I say this with the utmost respect, such a traumatic and devastating loss to Juan Manuel Marquez,” said boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard, one of the best welterweights of all time.
“It’s seldom that a fighter will ever recover from a defeat like that. [Roberto] Duran came back after a similar knockout to Tommy [Hearns] but Duran was all about heart and his head was totally in the game,” Leonard was quoted in a RingTV.com exclusive by Tom Gray.
Respected boxing commentator Larry Merchant thinks Pacquiao-Bradley II is “a virtual toss-up.”
Merchant said Pacquiao’s dominant victory over Rios showed that Filipino icon has recovered from the Marquez loss and even showed that he can box and “reinvent himself like a pure boxer.”
This is much unlike the “tsunami who attacked and swarmed his foes,” Merchant added, which has made Pacman a global icon.
But Merchant said Pacquiao can’t hope to beat the much-improved Bradley by trying to outbox him.
‘Box and bang’
“[Pacquiao] has to assert himself. He has to box and bang at the same time,” said Merchant by phone Tuesday night from his home in Santa Monica, California. “He has to seize control of the fight — be relentless but not careless.”
Merchant, who is expected to do the international coverage for the rematch, thinks Bradley deserves credit for his superb performances against Provodnikov and Marquez.
“Bradley is still in his prime and is hungry. He has dramatically shown in his two previous fights that he is a fighter to be reckoned with,” Merchant said.
“Bradley had two outstanding fights and proved himself a warrior against a hard-punching brawler like Provodnikov. He later outwitted and outboxed a great counterpuncher like Marquez.
You have to give him the highest credit for that,” Merchant explained.
Hungrier, more confident
Award-winning veteran boxing writer Tim Smith thinks that Bradley is very dangerous opponent because he’s “hungry for respect and fighting with a chip in shoulder.”
Smith thinks that although Pacquiao is the favorite based on his speed, power and overall ring experience, Bradley remains a bigger threat to Pacman now than he was two years ago because he is hungrier, younger and has gained more confidence.
Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum promised that Saturday’s rematch would be much better than the first because both Pacquiao and Bradley want the win badly.
He said by phone that the rematch was “crucial fight” for Pacquiao in the sense that it would determine the bankability and staying power of Pacquiao as one of the sport’s biggest draws.
For Bradley, a clear win would erase the stigma of the first fight, which boxing golden boy Oscar De La Hoya and the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard thought Pacquiao clearly won.
De La Hoya was so bothered by the scoring fiasco that he suggested it would have been good for Bradley to “return” the championship belt to Pacquiao as a sublime gesture of sportsmanship.
No longer bad idea
Two years ago, Saturday night’s seemed like a bad idea.
Bradley actually offered Pacquiao the rematch as he was being booed in his post-fight interview by irate fans who, like most boxing experts — former world champions and sportswriters covering the event — thought Bradley did not deserve the split decision victory.
Pacquiao, then the acknowledged best fighter in the world pound-for-found, took the decision calmly as “part of the game” but wanted no part to rematch because it was like rewarding Bradley with another big payday he did not deserve.
Arum, who promotes both Pacquiao and Bradley, bluntly rejected an immediate sequel to Pacquiao vs. Bradley from a marketing point of view — boxing fans were in no mood to shell out pay-per-view dollars again to watch Pacquiao regain a title the fans thought Pacman did not lose it at all.
In that fight, Bradley, who was seemingly beaten clearly by a dominant Pacquiao, had his hands raised by split decision. Duane Ford and C.J. Ross, both of whom have since resigned as professional boxing judges, saw Bradley winning 115-113. Jerry Roth scored the fight 115-113 for Pacquiao.
Reacting to the negative public reaction to the judging, the WBO as sanctioning body held an independent review of the video by five of the most respected boxing judges. All the judges saw Pacquiao winning.
By all accounts, both Pacquiao and Bradley are coming to their rematch in great shape. They may have different motivations going into the big fight: payback for Pacman and redemption for Desert Storm.
For fight fans who may have felt shortchanged by the outcome of the first fight, the rematch Saturday night live on HBO pay-per-view will hopefully settle scores once and for all.
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