Almost two years removed from the fight that drastically altered the course of their careers, Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley are set to dance once more on April 12 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Like the inaugural bout, neither fighter will be the same once a winner has his hand raised.
Both were victims the first time around. Pacquiao was hit with the equivalent of an armed robbery by the judges. He lost a controversial decision after a fight that by all accounts he dominated, which sent his career on a downward path worthy of a Rocky silver-screen affair.
Bradley seized his fleeting shot at greatness, stood tall and was given a decision that also put the WBO welterweight strap around his waist—along with the collective animosity of boxing purists around the globe.
To some, the loss was the end of the line for Pacquiao. A knockout at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez in their fourth meeting shortly thereafter seemingly sealed the coffin. A rebound victory against the overmatched Brandon Rios did little to quell the cloud following Pacquiao's career trajectory.
Despite the general distaste over a decision that Bradley had no say in, he continued his ascension to the top of the sport with smooth victories over Ruslan Provodnikov and Marquez, the latter of which only added fuel to the fire.
Despite unanimous praise as one of the world's top pound-for-pound fighters, such as his No. 3 rank by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, Bradley has been unable to secure a bout with a name like Floyd Mayweather or—more importantly—shake the stigma that his run was the result of a judging miscalculation.
Believe it or not, a loss for Bradley in his shot at redemption would not be the end of the world. Defeat at the hands of Pacquiao is nothing to scoff at, and knowing the technical, versatile approach he employs, Bradley would at a minimum lose in a noble manner.
Losing the strap hurts, but it's not like a win over Pacquiao is going to suddenly solidify a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity against Mayweather while the cold war between Top Rank and Golden Boy continues. Bradley is only 30 years old, and a 1-1 mark against Pacquiao is nothing more than a bump in the road with so many years of dominant boxing left in his gloves.
The same can't be said for the 35-year-old Pacquiao. He knows it, and Bradley knows it as well. He has said as much to the media in a conference call, via Michelle Rosado of Fight Hype: "If Pacquiao loses this fight, he knows his career is probably over."
Indeed, a loss for one of the sport's most beloved figures would end an era. Two losses to one of the top fighters, especially if no shenanigans occur in the rematch (they shouldn't), would be an insurmountable level of evidence that suggests Pacquiao is no longer one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
It's the simple nature of the beast that age and diminishing skill eventually result in a passing-of-the-torch moment in an intimate sport like boxing, and a Pacquiao loss in the rematch would be viewed as such.
A 0-2 mark against Bradley would not mean Pacquiao falls off the face of the earth. Quite the contrary—he's still a massive draw who can eke out quality pay-per-view numbers against a name like Rios. But his opportunities against top talent would significantly dwindle, if not evaporate outright.
The fabled Pacquiao vs. Mayweather dance would officially be put to rest.
With the watchful eyes of the globe at attention on April 12, a new chapter will be etched into the annals of boxing lore as a legend fades to black or a rising star comes crashing down.