Pacquiao vs. Bradley II: How the Fight Nobody Wanted Turned into a Blockbuster

Lyle FitzsimmonsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 25, 2014

Manny Pacquiao, left, and Timothy Bradley exchange punches in the 12th round of their WBO world welterweight title fight Saturday, June 9, 2012, in Las Vegas. Bradley won by split decision. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

This just in: It's good to be Bob Arum.

Whether you laud the Top Rank consigliere for a track record of boffo box office or view him as the frostiest participant in boxing’s 21st century "Cold War," it’s already clear age 82 agrees with him.

When word arrived Saturday that all parties agreed on the rematch between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley, the old man had not only laid groundwork for the current leader in the “top fight out there to be made” sweepstakes—but he’d also presided over the greatest turnaround from “ho hum” to “best in show” since Tom Brady took his passing act from Ann Arbor to Foxborough.

Still, notice how we said “presided over” and not “orchestrated.”

Because as much credit as Arum might warrant for elevating Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Pacquiao to above-the-marquee status during an esteemed run at TR, only a full-throated Pollyanna could claim a Pac-Bradley rematch would ever be on anyone’s must-have radar 19 months ago.

Back then, with Pacquiao coming off a controversial third dance with Juan Manuel Marquez and Bradley having won precisely one career fight as a full-bellied welterweight, Arum put the two of them together as a means of giving one a useful name on the resume and the other a fleeting chance at recognition.

No one was begging for it going in. And coming out, after Bradley was awarded a split decision that had the promoter lobbying the Nevada attorney general’s office for formal investigation, even fewer people were clamoring for Pacquiao to waste time avenging a champion nearly unanimously ignored.

There was so little interest, in fact, that Arum inked Pacquiao for a fourth with Marquez rather than a re-do with Bradley, who was instead left to defend against an anonymous Russian, Ruslan Provodnikov.

Little did he know that it was the stuff that genius—or at least remarkably good fortune—is made of.

While Pacquiao’s subsequent slumber against JMM was viewed as a career-ender in December 2012, Bradley’s pier-6’er with his unheralded foil three months later was an integral first step in changing “Desert Storm’s” persona from a feather-fisted slapper to a fan-friendly warrior.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Bradley parlayed the era of good feeling into a title-level showdown with PacMan’s more conclusive conqueror, Marquez; and, upon winning a more-decisive-than-it-was-scored split decision, completed a rapid ascension into the upper echelon of most respected pound-for-pound ranking lists.

Conveniently enough, Pacquiao returned from his post-Marquez hiatus a month later to bang-up reviews, which immediately prompted calls to resume pound-for-pound scalp collecting—with Top Rank stablemate Bradley and Wild Card Gym teammate Provodnikov as the most-available options.

Ironically, it was the putrid decision that put Bradleywho agreed to extend his promotional pact as part of the transaction, per Dan Rafael of ESPN.comover the top…again.

“(He) really established himself and differentiated himself from the pack with the Provodnikov and Marquez wins and he really wanted this rematch. So did Manny,” said Todd duBoef, Top Rank’s president.

“They both wanted the fight. Manny wants to set the record straight about the first fight and Timmy wants to erase the thought that he was given a gift. He thinks he won legitimately the first time and he says he will do it again.”