In boxing, respect is a buzzword. It's often sought after, but hard to come by, and many fighters spend an entire career feeling like they haven't gotten enough—if any—of it.
When Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley come face-to-face in the ring at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on April 12, they'll be fighting for more than Bradley's WBO Welterweight Championship.
They'll be fighting, as much for the last fight as for this one, and they'll be fighting for boxing's ultimate and, oftentimes, most elusive prize.
Bradley was awarded a highly controversial split-decision victory, and the WBO title, over Pacquiao in June of 2012. The decision was met by consternation, bordering on outright sedition, by boxing fans and media alike. It seemed like every fan and athlete with access to a social media platform couldn't help but express their outrage in 140 characters or less.
I dont even know what to say.— Dan Rafael (@danrafaelespn) June 10, 2012
That is horrible. Unreal. Ridiculous. Stupid. Bogus. Etc. That fight wasn't close and I was pulling for Bradley.— Aaron Rodgers (@AaronRodgers12) June 10, 2012
And that's just a small sample of the Internet-shaking fury that resulted from Michael Buffer's saying "and the new" when announcing the result on June 9, 2012.
There were investigations of impropriety, the Nevada Attorney General's office found none, the WBO convened an independent panel of judges to review the verdict—all found in favor of Pacquiao—and Bradley, bringing the affair to an entirely insane level, received death threats.
For two men not known for their trash talking, you'd be hard-pressed to not hear the uncharacteristic edge in their voices as they hit New York City on Thursday afternoon to hype their fight.
And it was Bradley who fired the opening salvo.
"Pacquiao is really talented, but I feel that his hunger is not there," Bradley told Bleacher Report on Thursday, echoing a charge that has seemed to get under his foe's skin.
"He’s mad because I said I feel it’s not there. But I can ask all of you. Does it look like it’s there? Is that the old Pacquiao that you’re seeing? A lot of his own fans will say no you’re right, but be careful Tim what you ask for."
That last line is important.
You'd be hard-pressed to argue that, in recent years, Pacquiao's looked much like the fighter who left a path of destruction in his wake and cut a path directly to the top of the sport.
But Team Pacquiao hasn't taken too kindly to the insinuations that he, well, just doesn't have it anymore.
He took time to respond directly to Bradley's criticism, and he did it with more than a bit of sarcasm and a not-so-veiled warning.
"What Bradley is saying to me is that the killer instinct and the aggressiveness is not anymore. I don’t have that anymore," Pacquiao said on Thursday.
"I think he’s right. Maybe I’m just too kind and nice to my opponent sometimes in the ring. This time around I have to get it back and show that I still have that aggression and killer instinct."
If you expected Bradley to back down in the face of Pacquiao's particularly unsubtle warning, then you don't know the first thing about the undefeated champion from Palm Springs, Calif.
"Bring it on baby. I embrace the challenge," Bradley responded.
"Manny said he’s gonna be the aggressive, destructive Manny Pacquiao of old times. And I get excited because I embrace the challenge. I love challenges and I love when people say that I can’t do something. I love to prove them all wrong like I’ve been doing my whole career."
The words "unfinished business" were frequently dropped at Thursday's press conference. It was a somewhat odd situation, created by the sketchy ending to their first fight, with both guys talking as though they were the one with the most to prove.
The overwhelming consensus was that Pacquiao did more than enough to deserve a victory that was unfairly snatched from him. But, to his credit, he never complained and he doesn't appear ready to start.
He just wants to do better for the fans and give them something decisive.
"We know that there’s a big question mark from our first fight," Pacquiao said.
"I think this time around, we need to answer that question mark in the eyes of the fans. We have something to prove. Both of us."
Bradley would certainly agree with that statement.
There is little doubt that he suffered the majority of the fallout, and received most of the criticism, from his victory in their first fight. While most of the criticism of the decision was justified, some of the ridiculous statements and insinuations made towards Bradley personally were just absurd.
He's never gotten the respect he feels that he's earned. Even after starting out 2013 by getting off the deck to win a war against Ruslan Provodnikov—in the Fight of the Year—and clearly decisioning long-time Pacquiao foe Juan Manuel Marquez in October, Bradley still feels slighted. And that motivates him.
"I’m the champion, but I’m the underdog. That’s amazing to me," Bradley said.
"He just got knocked out by Marquez. I beat Marquez and I’m the underdog? I find that hilarious. Still I have to earn respect from the fans because of the first fight."
Bradley's trainer, Joel Diaz, was one of his most outspoken defenders in the aftermath of that fight. He maintains to this day that his guy won fair and square, but he still feels that both men have a lot to prove.
"I feel there is unfinished business. On April 12 it’s going to be Bradley and Pacquiao in the ring and they’re going to define this," Diaz said.
"They both have something to prove. Manny needs to prove he’s still in the game and he’s still a superstar in boxing. And Bradley needs to maintain that title."
Pacquiao’s trainer, and International Boxing Hall of Famer Freddie Roach, echoed the sentiments.
Unlike the Filipino icon, Roach has never been one to pull his verbal punches. And he seemed a little annoyed at the perception that his man can't hack it anymore.
"We’re in a real big fight," Roach said.
"We got our work cutout for us. Timothy Bradley says that Manny has lost his killer instinct. We will see."
The world will see on April 12. It's an intriguing matchup between two fighters, both of whom felt they were wronged the first time around, who feel that they need to exorcise the demons of that night and put a decisive stamp on the rivalry.
The stakes are obviously higher for Pacquiao, who after back-to-back defeats at the hands of Bradley and Marquez, rebounded to take an easy decision from the tough, but limited, Brandon Rios in November in Macau.
But a loss would likely signal the end of his days as a top-level fighter.
As for Bradley, he's fighting for that one elusive goal, and he plans on rising to the challenge.
"I can’t wait. Oh. I can’t wait," he said.
And neither can we.
Kevin McRae is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained by the writer first-hand.