The universe was knocked off kilter on June 9, 2012. An injustice was done, a man wronged.
Timothy Bradley (31-0, 12 KOs) robbed Manny Pacquiao (55-5-2, 38 KOs) of something special on that night. A panel of citizens, chosen specifically for their wisdom and judgement, helped him do it.
|Pacquiao-Bradley: By the Numbers|
|Pacquiao||190/493 (39%)||253/751 (34%)|
|Bradley||108/390 (285)||159/839 (19%)|
Bradley, as stunned as the other 14,206 souls in the MGM Grand Garden Arena and the millions watching around the world, had his hand raised high. The legendary Pacquiao, dumbfounded by his fate, left the arena with a bemused look on his face. Despite landing 94 more punches than his opponent, many of them power shots, he had been declared the loser.
While worse things have happened to better people, there has rarely been a worse decision in a major boxing match. Judges C.J. Ross and Duane Ford, who both scored the fight 115-113, were alone on an island of incompetence. Of 56 major media outlets, just three agreed with the professional judges and had the bout for Bradley. Few saw it as remotely close.
And yet, history has been written. Bradley's record remains unblemished. Pacquiao has another check in the loss column, a mark against him when the chips are counted at the end of his career.
While that would mean little in most sports, boxing is one of the few athletic pursuits that cherishes its past. Ask an NBA fan about Connie Hawkins and you're likely to be met with blank stares. But ask a boxing fan about Joe Louis or Ray Robinson. You'll get an opinion in return, maybe even a story, passed down from his or her father or grandfather.
These things matter in boxing.
It's the potential to right this great wrong that makes a rematch between the two men such a compelling fight. Scheduled for April 12 in the same arena his mojo was cavalierly stolen, Pacquiao will be paid at least $20 million to take back what is his. Bradley will get $6 million and a second chance to earn his place in the record books, to walk away not just with his hand but head held high.
As strange as it sounds, Bradley too was a victim of that first fight. Yes, he got death threats and catcalls. But more than that, there was a gnawing feeling in his stomach. He didn't want something he hadn't earned. When I talked to him prior to his fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, more than a year after the Pacquiao fight, it was still a sensitive subject.
"It was a hard time in my life. It was a hard time for my family. A hard time for my trainer. It was hard walking down the street feeling like we stole something from somebody," he told Bleacher Report. "Life isn't fair, man. You can sit there and you can dwell and feel sorry for yourself or you can bounce back. Use it to make you stronger."
It's a rare opportunity—not everyone gets a chance to set wrongs right. Bradley and Pacquiao will each have that chance this April.
They've been in the ring together for 47 long minutes, bared to waist, only a single official standing between them and unfettered violence. You learn a lot about another man in that span, an intimate knowledge earned in a cauldron of violence and fear.
These two started a dance that evening in June. This April, almost two years later, the band will finally finish its tune. One will walk away with a victory. One, despite a lifetime preparing for the moment, will find himself wanting.
Both fighters are rich beyond reckoning. Both are famous too. That leaves them with the most powerful motivation of all.