Ignore the hype: Pacquiao vs. Bradley

By Alex Mcmillan: In the fall out of his (again) controversial points victory over Juan Manuel Marquez, varying theories surfaced as to why Manny Pacquiao had failed to impose himself as he once did. Firstly, a lot of credit went to Marquez, who fought a solid, thinking fight and was able to diffuse Pacquiao’s much heralded explosiveness with a degree of comfort. Incredulous – again – upon hearing the judge scoring, it’s perhaps fair to say that Marquez emerged from the bout with far more credit than its winner.

Analyzing Pacquiao these days is not an easy task. Clearly, he is not the same Manny as the barnstorming, pocket-rocket who flattened Marquez three times in the opening round of their 2004 bout, coming off a dismantling TKO of legendary Marco Antonio Barrera, going on to drop a decision to Erik Morales before knocking him out twice in spectacular style by the end of 2006. That November 2006 KO of Morales was perhaps the defining moment of Pacquiao’s career. Against a legend of his generation, a master tactician and veteran of wars with the likes of Barrera, Paulie Ayala, Injin Chi and Wayne McCullough, Pacquiao’s speed and power exposed and overwhelmed Morales in incredibly brutal fashion. Who could live with a fighter who moved so quickly? Who threw from such angles? Who landed with so much power and regularity?

The answer was certainly not David Diaz, a decent but ultimately outmatched opponent against whom victory allowed Pacquiao to move up in weight and set up his greatest payday, the 2008 fight with De La Hoya. Fighting at 20 pounds heavier than for the first Marquez contest, Pacquiao’s speed seemed undiminished as he overwhelmed the faded Oscar (who many forget had dropped 3 of his last 6).

Pacquiao’s next victory, a brutal 2nd round KO of the game but ultimately lacking Ricky Hatton would be the last of his more explosive performances. But for his dismantling of Miguel Cotto, whose performance that night, contrasted with his recent showing against Floyd Mayweather, may have owed much to fighting at a catchweight (7 pounds lighter than for last month’s contest), Pacquiao’s subsequent fights have been decision wins over the too-durable Antonio Margarito, very faded Shane Mosley, and last year’s hotly contested Marquez showing.

In assessing the Filipino’s arguable ‘slowing down’ from his dynamic form of 7 years ago the Mosley fight is particularly interesting. The speed was still there, the movement was more skilled, the punches less erratic and more considered. But something was missing. This was no longer the animalistic, furious punching Pacquiao. The desire was in question. It still is. The questions are no longer – as they once were – of his erratic style or reliance on particular punches. His technique has adapted, his style more assured. But what has that - and his many issues external to the ring in recent years - taken from his fury?

Other than Marquez, Timothy Bradley poses arguably Pacquiao’s greatest test in recent years. 28 years old, undefeated, strong and incredibly determined, this seems the perfect timing for a fighter who has been competing – and winning – at world level from some time. That he has remained below the radar of ‘superstar’ does not detract from his achievements. His taking apart of an extremely faded Joel Casamayor in his most recent contest was really a showcasing of his abilities by new promoters Top Rank, but prior to that the victories over Devon Alexander, Lamont Peterson, Kendall Holt (coming off the canvas twice) and Junior Witter were particularly impressive. Spectacular, no. But in each fight what has been mostly apparent as he has progressed has been his overwhelming desire, his strength of mind and body, and his ability to impose his own style on his opponent. In assessing Saturday night’s contest there seems to be two schools of thought: those who believe that Bradley, with his come-forward pressure style, is perfect for Manny to expose and ultimately roll over, and those who believe that, at this stage, Bradley’s pressure and sheer will may take the Filipino to places he no longer wishes to be.

Marquez’ style seems now universally heralded as the game plan to beat Pacquiao. A clever, considered approach designed to out-think him and have him second guessing where and when to throw. But is this style exclusive in countering Manny? Shane Mosley, in his own (controversial) decision wins over De La Hoya, fought to similar counter punching tactics, yet seven years later Pacquiao was able to simply roll over the same opponent making no reference to this ‘blueprint’ to victory. With Bradley, come Saturday, we all know exactly what to expect. He’ll give it all, hold nothing back, and leave nothing behind. This will not be a Joshua Clottey debacle. If Manny desires to show the world he is still capable of turning in such electrifying performances as in the fights with Morales, Barrera and to a lesser degree Hatton he’ll certainly have the opportunity to do it this time out. As ever with Bradley too, head butts will be a factor. What this writer will be watching most keenly for though, should the situation arise, will be Pacquiao’s reaction. Will he shake it off, bang his gloves together and ignite another exchange – as he once would have – or will he complain, take his time, look for a way out. He never has before. But this might, might, be a fading Manny Pacquiao.

In the pre-fight sparring of hype and trash talk, certain quotes often become ironic post fight. It was particularly interesting, for this writer, to hear Freddie Roach ‘dismiss’ Bradley as ‘another Ricky Hatton.’ Interesting on two counts. Firstly, while Hatton was certainly lacking at the very top level, exposed by both Mayweather and Pacquiao, he was a terrific advert for the sport. He excited, he made fights happen, he claimed wins over former and current world champions. Secondly, and most significantly with Saturday night’s bout in mind, was his fantastic victory over Kostya Tszya in 2005. Tszyu was a wrecking ball, far quicker, far more explosive than the Englishman, who traded mostly – as does Bradley – on his desire, his insistence on throwing and backing up his opponent. On that occasion, by the end of the 10th round, Tszyu looked a very old fighter, a shadow of his once great self. While anyone would be crazy to write Pacquiao off in any contest, one wonders if he may just have picked the wrong fight this time.

Article posted on 08.06.2012

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