Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley: Ranking Pacquiao's 10 Most Important Fights

Percy Dinozo@PercyDinozoCorrespondent IJune 6, 2012

Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley: Ranking Pacquiao's 10 Most Important Fights

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    Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley are just days away from their June 9 PPV fight.  Bradley is a sizable underdog to Pacquiao and, while many might be tempted to look past Bradley towards Pacquiao's next matchup, I find it beneficial to look back at Manny's prior fights to understand how he came to this point.

    When did he first fight in front of an American audience?

    How did he transition from being a puncher into being a pound-for-pound king?

    Each of the following fights was a turning point of sorts in Manny's career: heightened viewership, overcoming challenges, evolving as a fighter, and learning from losses — all things that have helped shape Manny Pacquiao into one of the greatest boxers of all time.

    These are his 10 most important fights, and by examining them we can find answers to these and other questions about Manny Pacquiao.

Honorable Mention: Pacquiao vs. Mosley

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    Let us be clear: this is NOT one of the greatest fights Pacquiao has ever taken part in.  In fact, other than his non-fight with Joshua Clottey, this might rank as one of the worst fights he has ever been associated with.

    But on May 7, 2011, Manny Pacquiao needed only two punches to sap all the fight out of a once-great fighter in Shane Mosley.

    As Mosley backed away in the third round, Pacquiao hit him with a quick right jab-straight left that dropped him.

    Mosley made it back to his feet, but for the last minute of the third round he resembled a newborn foal as it tried to steady itself.

    Of course, baby horses don't typically have to avoid punches to the face as they try to stand, but Mosley made it to the bell and a much-needed rest.

    He then spent the remainder of the fight running from Pacquiao.

    The greatest take-away from this fight may just be what Mosley had to say in his post-fight interview: "I fought the best fighter in the world.  He has exceptional power, power that I've never been hit like this before."

    Mosley had spent more than a decade fighting at 147 pounds or higher, and had faced Floyd Mayweather, Antonio Margarito, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Fernando Vargas, and Winky Wright, among others.

    To say that Pacquiao, who started his career at 107 pounds, was stronger than all of them, is a testament to how far he has come.

No. 10: Pacquiao vs. Ledwaba

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    Two things are historically significant about Manny Pacquiao's June 23, 2001 fight with Lehlohonolo Ledwaba, and neither one relates to Pacquiao's opponent:

    1. This was Manny's first fight in front of a US audience, as part of the undercard of an Oscar De La Hoya fight in Las Vegas, televised on HBO.  Manny scored an electrifying sixth-round victory via TKO after rocking Ledwaba repeatedly.  Manny walked away with his second title but, more importantly, he put himself on the radar of many US boxing fans with his performance.

    2. This was his first fight working with his new trainer, Freddie Roach.  Roach has since proven himself to be one of the great boxing minds of all time, providing the fine-tuning to the raw talent that Pacquiao brought to the table. 

    As a Filipino-American boxing fan, I thought a young Manny Pacquiao would fill the void left when Luisito Espinosa's skills had diminished; it would not be until years later that I would realize what an underestimation this would be.

No. 9: Erik Morales I

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    On March 19, 2005, an up-and-coming Manny Pacquiao met up with Erik Morales, who at that point held 47 victories with only two defeats (a majority decision and a close unanimous decision) to the same man: Marco Antonio Barrera.

    Pacquiao had previously defeated Barrera in 2003 and looked impressive in a draw against Juan Manuel Marquez in 2004, so expectations were high for the fighter who would become the pride of the Philippines.

    The Manny of 2005 was not nearly the boxer that we have seen in more recent years, as his head movement was at times non-existent and his footwork often left him open to attack.  Against a prime Morales, his deficiencies were exposed as Morales consistently caught Pacquiao with clean head shots.  Still, Pacman was relentless in his pursuit of Morales and their warrior mentalities made for a crowd-pleasing 12-round event.

    In the end, Pacquiao came up short on all three cards by a score of 115-113. Yet for many fans, this fight established Pacquiao as a a fighter to keep close tabs on.

No. 8: Erik Morales III

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    Pacquiao-Morales II was a signal to me that Pacquiao was transitioning from an exciting, one-handed slugger into a pound-for-pound contender.

    Once the third fight was announced, I saw it as my last opportunity to see Pacquiao fight live before ticket prices for his matches would skyrocket.

    $100 seats bought me the last row on the first level of the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, and I was able to bring my dad - a fight fan and a Filipino - to see Pacquiao before he became a superstar.

    In front of a predominantly Mexican crowd on November 18, 2006, Pacquiao put a convincing end to a great trilogy, knocking out Morales in the third round.

    Manny had both silenced the majority who came to see Morales and earned their respect, all in less than nine minutes of work.

    It would be just over two years after this when he would face Oscar De La Hoya in a fight that would see his popularity transcend mere boxing circles.

No. 7: Juan Manuel Marquez I

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    On May 8, 2004, Manny Pacquiao faced Juan Manuel Marquez in their first fight.  At the time, Marquez was generally regarded as the least formidable of the three major Mexican stars in the lower weight divisions, behind Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera.

    When Pacquiao opened the fight with three stunning knockdowns in the first round alone, it looked as if the general consensus was spot-on.

    However, Marquez would maintain his composure and box his way back into the fight, securing a draw.

    It should be noted that one judge had Manny winning while another had Marquez as the victor.  On both cards, the two judges had scored the first round 10-6 in favor of Pacquiao.

    The third and final judge had the fight even at 113-113; however, he had scored the first round 10-7.  Pacquiao should have walked away with a split decision victory.

    This fight showed that Pacquiao still had many holes to fix in his game, but he would not immediately make the necessary improvements.  This fight began what is record-wise, the worst three-fight stretch of Pacquiao's career: he compiled a 1-1-1 record capped by a decision loss in Pacquiao-Morales I.

No. 6: Pacquiao vs. Hatton

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    Ricky Hatton brought a record of 45 wins with only one loss into the ring against Manny Pacquiao.  He had defeated fighters such as Paulie Malignaggi, Juan Urango, Jose Luis Castillo, and Kostya Tszyu while only suffering a 10th round TKO defeat to Floyd Mayweather.

    It took only one punch from Pacquiao on May 2, 2009 to render all of that meaningless, sending the Brit into retirement.

    His performance against Hatton is one that highlights the power differential between Pacquiao and his potential opponent, Floyd Mayweather.

    While Mayweather can score knockouts after landing an accumulation of punches on his opponent, Pacquiao possesses the power to end a fight with one punch — a fact that Timothy Bradley would be wise to keep in mind on June 9, 2012.

No. 5: Marco Antonio Barrera I

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    On November 15, 2003, Pacquiao would enter into the biggest fight of his young career when he faced Mexico's Marco Antonio Barrera in the first of their two matchups.

    Though Barrera was the favorite, he wilted under the barrage put forth by Pacquiao. 

    Barrera had earlier in his career added the only blemish to "Prince" Naseem Hamed's record.  In that fight, Barrera entered as the heavy underdog but was so fully in control of the fight that he began taunting Hamed.

    In this matchup with Pacquiao, the roles were reversed as he was the soon-to-be toppled favorite with an underdog opponent making mocking gestures.

    His corner threw in the towel in the 11th round, thus establishing Pacquiao as the man to beat at 126 pounds.

No. 4: Pacquiao vs. Cotto

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    Manny Pacquiao was (once again) taking on a man who was naturally bigger than him, and this time it would not be a 35 year old fighter on the verge of retirement.

    While the November 14, 2009 fight was much hyped, it turned out to be a very one-sided affair that catapulted Pacquiao higher up the ladder of pound-for-pound rankings.

    This bout saw Manny seemingly taking some punches in the first two rounds, possibly to gauge the strength of Cotto.  Afterward, Pacquiao blitzed Cotto and knocked him down repeatedly throughout the fight, causing visible damage to Cotto's entire face.

    The fight was finally stopped in the 12th round, marking the last early stoppage Manny has engineered in his career.

No. 3: Pacquiao vs. Margarito

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    On November 13, 2010, Manny Pacquiao faced Antonio Margarito, a fighter who was nearly five inches taller and 17 pounds heavier by the opening bell.

    Despite the stigma of the illegal hand wraps incident in his bout with Shane Mosley, no one could deny that Margarito was a tenacious fighter who kept an incredible work rate in the ring.  As a much bigger man, Pacquiao fans had serious cause for concern about the damage their man would sustain in this fight.

    However, Pacquiao used superior footwork and speed to keep Margarito missing; one look at Margarito's face is all anyone would need to know that Pacquiao missed his mark only on rare occasions.

    Pacquiao won a very lopsided decision and Margarito left with a broken orbital bone that required surgery.  The damage was so bad that Freddie Roach wondered if Margarito "may never fight again."

    Considering how easily his eye was reinjured in his next fight against Miguel Cotto, it might have been best for Margarito if he had retired.

No. 2: Erik Morales II

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    After each fighting one fight in between, Pacquiao and Erik Morales met for a second time on January 21, 2006, roughly 10 months after their first bout.

    In the first matchup, Morales exposed Pacquiao's lack of discipline and head movement. Though the end score was close, it was clear that Manny had lost.

    For their rematch, Pacquiao unveiled new wrinkles to his game—most notably improved head movement and a right hand.

    Punches that Morales had landed flush in the first fight now failed to hit a bobbing and weaving Pacquiao, and Pacquiao's right jab helped set up more significant blows to both Morales' body and head.

    Morales succumbed in the 10th round when referee Kenny Bayless called the fight after the second knockdown in 30 seconds.  The win showed that Pacman, for all his success, was still a work in progress.

    Luckily for fight fans, he was a willing pupil under Freddie Roach.

No. 1: Pacquiao vs. De La Hoya

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    "I knew right from the first round I had him."

    Pacquiao was right, and almost everyone in the building and watching on TV knew it.  Almost, because one of the official judges had De La Hoya winning the first round of their fight on December 6, 2008.

    After that moment, though, it was a complete shutout for Pacquiao.

    With Oscar De La Hoya favored nearly two-to-one against the smaller Pacquiao, Manny's performance was a revelation to the casual boxing fan and catapulted him into stardom. 

    He used his far superior hand speed to land power shots, all while using his footwork to evade De La Hoya's best shots.  To avid boxing fans, Pacquiao's demonstration showed that he had completed the evolution from lefty slugger into one of boxing's greatest.

    The Golden Boy retired on his stool and would never fight again, becoming the first (but not the last) fighter to call it quits after an emphatic loss at the hands of Pacquiao.