WBO Welterweight Champion of the world, Timothy Bradley, is looking for vindication this weekend in his rematch against Manny Pacquiao. Oddly enough, the exoneration he is looking for is coming off the heels of a victory.
On June 9th 2012, Timothy Bradley took the WBO Welterweight Title from Manny Pacquiao in a Split Decision (115-113, 115-113, 113-115). Pacquiao was controlling controlled most of the fight, the first half in particular, but it was quite clear that he eased off the gas pedal in the last half - he even admits to this. Ultimately it cost him, and in the eyes of the judges assigned to that fight - Bradley eked out a victory. Bradley wasn't himself for a majority of the fight not only because of Manny's speed, but also because he injured both feet that night. How you ask? Well, by not wearing socks. There are three people in the world that saw Bradley winning that first bout - the two deciding judges Duane Ford & CJ Ross. And Bradley himself. It's documented that a vast majority of sportswriters (including myself) and experts (I'm no expert) all had Pacquiao winning that bout. It truly was one of the most baffling decisions that I can remember. It was admitted by Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, that when PA announcer Michael Buffer read the scorecards and winner, he immediately thought it was a typo. Here is the link to the full fight - take on honest assessment and score it for yourself.
(Speaking of Bob Arum..... "I'm going to make a lot of money on this rematch, but this was outrageous." That was a quote from Bob immediately after the Bradley win. Am I the only one that cringes when I hear something like that from the guy who is setting up these fights? I mean...he couldn't even say he was outraged first! The fight and decision of Pacquiao-Bradley, was reminiscent of another Top Rank fighter taking away a belt from a champion in 2002. That bout was the controversial Unanimous Decision win of Floyd Mayweather Jr over Jose Luis Castillo. It was without a doubt the closest Floyd has ever come to losing. You can watch that full fight here. Comparisons of Bradley being Bob Arum's "newest version" of Floyd Mayweather Jr have been made ever since he was crowned champion, and under a microscope, the correlation does hold some water - if you want to think conspiracy)
Becoming Champion that night has since been bitter sweet for Timothy Bradley (31-0, 12 KO's). He considers that fateful night as a dark cloud hovering over his head. No one saw him as the true Champion at the time, and it affected him emotionally and physically. In the HBO 24/7 episodes leading up to this weekend's fight, Bradley admits he became a shell of himself after the controversial decision. His trainer, Joel Diaz, says Tim ballooned up to about 180 lbs a month after the Pacquiao fight. Despite how everything has played out with him, you really can't take anything away from Bradley. His last seven fights could be the toughest stretch of competition in boxing - Juan Manuel Marquez, Ruslan Provodnikov, Manny Pacquiao, Joel Casamayor, Devon Alexander, Luis Abregu, and Lamont Peterson - in that order. To point out one fight in particular, the Bradley-Provodnikov bout was one in which I became a fan of Bradley (and Ruslan for that matter). It was without a doubt the "Fight of the Year" in 2013, and one where Bradley made his case as the toughest fighter in the sport. It's a fight I can never get tired of, and you can watch it here. What Bradley showed in that fight was that regardless of how he accomplished his champion status - he proved that he has the heart of a champion. Considering his evaluation of the first fight is tagged with the ultimate bias of judging yourself in a match - Bradley does know that he has something to prove this weekend in the rematch. His mindset is right on point.. He has the utmost confidence in his game, and but still considers himself an underdog. Physically he is in his prime, is always in tip top shape, and has the body of a Greek statue. There isn't one particular thing in Bradley's boxing skills that stand out and blow you away. He doesn't necessarily have heavy hands, his speed is above average but you can argue Pacquiao is a bit faster. He's an overall balanced fighter from a technical boxing perspective and has shown he can take a punch. But what separates him from the rest are is intangibles - there is zero quit in Timothy Bradley.
In the other corner you have one of the biggest stars world wide in Manny Pacquaio (55-5-2, 38 KO's). He graciously took the loss to Bradley like a man, and kept his emotions in check while many (myself included) would be furious to lose their belt in that way. In other words, he knew the nature of the business. Six months after the Bradley fight, Pacquiao went on to face Juan Manuel Marquez for the fourth time. Then this happened. Manny was knocked out cold with a second left in the 6th round, and hints of retirement started to be rumored soon thereafter. Not only is Manny the biggest figure in his native country of the Philippines, but he is also a Congressman. It was quite obvious he needed some time off, and that's just what he did. A year passed, and Pacquiao stepped back into the ring to face Brandon Rios in Macau, China last November. Rios was a bit of a step down in competition when compared to all of Pacquiao's opponents the past six years or so. A dominant performance was expected, and that's exactly what we got. Pacquiao won with ease, and looked back to his former self, but one thing that was missing from Manny's game was the ability to deliver knockout power. Although Rios was getting his ass kicked, he was still smiling at Manny as he walked through his punches. All this said, Manny is still a fantastic fighter, and is a threat at the age of 35. Win or lose, he's still a legend.
If this Saturday night's fight comes to a decision there will be a collective sense of uneasiness within the crowd at the MGM in Las Vegas, and for the people at home watching on HBO PPV. The judges are Glenn Trowbridge (USA), Michael Pernick (USA), and John Keane (UK) **Updated 4/7/14: John Keane falls ill and cannot make the scheduled bout, Craig Metcalfe (Canada) will replace him.** The third man in the ring will be a highly regarded referee in Kenny Bayless. I expect this to be another close fight, and I also think it will come down to a decision. As to who will win this one, is a decision that I haven't made even as I type this sentence. In my opinion, I don't think analyzing the first fight between the two will have any influence on who will win the rematch because I think both guys have changed since then. Pacquiao was put to sleep, and Bradley went through an absolute war with Ruslan Provodnikov - you can't tell me both guys are the same after those two fights.
Losing your belt the way Pacquiao did due to sub-par judges can build a strong case of retribution within a person, but in his mind he knew he won that last fight. He could have faced Bradley in an immediate rematch, but elected not to. Who knows if he would do the same in retrospect. It's not far fetched to say Pacquiao can beat Bradley (Again). As of April 7th, Las Vegas seems to think so as well because they have him as a favorite at (-240), which kind of surprised me when I first heard the line. Bradley has been thinking about this rematch for some time now. Doubters have fueled his willingness to prove everyone wrong. Even though I think he lost against Manny in my eyes the first go around - I think Bradley has become better since then. Regardless of how this one plays out, all we can hope for is that we get a conclusive winner - lucky for us, I believe both fighters also hope for the same, and in turn we will get an extremely competitive fight.
Prediction: Timothy Bradley by Unanimous Decision.
Here is the full card of this Top Rank HBO PPV event.