Nearly two years after their controversial first fight, Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley will lock horns once again for the WBO Welterweight Championship in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Unlike the original bout, which seemed like just another roadblock standing in the way of a long-talked-about, never-going-to-happen contest between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Bradley demands to be taken as a serious, elite-level fighter.
In fact, one of the things that makes this second Pacquiao-Bradley fight so intriguing is finding out just how good Bradley really is.
Desert Storm is 31-0, coming off a huge split-decision victory over Juan Manuel Marquez last October, but no one thinks the WBO Championship he got from Pacquiao was deserved.
Fight promoter Bob Arum was quoted as saying after the judges awarded Bradley with the victory that "I'm going to make a lot of money on the rematch, but this was outrageous."
Now, after 22 months of speculation, new challenges and retirement talk, at least from Pacquiao's camp, the boxing world will once and for all figure out which fighter really is better.
Pacman also has to answer questions of whether he can compete with top-tier fighters anymore. His loss to Bradley was the beginning, as the 35-year-old would subsequently get knocked out against Marquez before getting back on track with a win over Brandon Rios.
You can follow along with our round-by-round blog coverage. We also have a breakdown of what both competitors must do to capture victory.
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Pacquiao's Keys to Victory
It sounds strange to say because of how the last fight was scored, but all Pacquiao has to do is fight the way he did in the previous bout.
All you have to do is look at the stats to know that. Pacman overwhelmed Bradley in strikes, power punches and jabs.
|Power Punches Landed||190||108|
It's hard to find a more lopsided result on paper that doesn't get rewarded with a victory. There's also been concern about Pacquiao's level of dedication to boxing in recent years because of his various endeavors, including being a congressman in the Philippines.
Yet for all the discussion about Pacquiao being at the end of his career, he was brilliant at times in the fourth fight with Marquez, even knocking down his longtime rival in the fifth round before eating a huge right at the end of the sixth round.
Speed and ferocity are hallmarks of Pacquiao's style. The speed may not be as fast as it was five years ago, but the 35-year-old is still able to move in and out with the best in the business.
Bradley's weakness is an inability to attack fighters. He's someone who wants to dictate the pace and tempo of the bout, beating an opponent with his mind as much as his punching.
As long as Pacquiao doesn't make the mistake of leaving his face open, like he did against Marquez, he will get sweet redemption against the undefeated champion.
Bradley's Keys to Victory
One of the things that makes Bradley such a great and successful boxer is his mind. The WBO welterweight champion understands that trying to stand and trade punches with Pacquiao or Marquez is going to result in a short fight.
That's why Bradley doesn't generate as much interest as those fighters, because he's trying to get fights to the judges. He's also an athlete who understands his limitations and is willing to admit them.
During a chat with ESPN.com following a victory over Ruslan Provodnikov, Bradley said that defense was an area he needed to get better:
I learned that I have to work on my defense. I have to work on my defense. I learned that I am my own worst enemy. Standing there and trading with a big puncher was an idiotic move. I really don't know what I did it, I really don't. I guess I had to do what I had to do. The gameplan was to box him, but I didn't do it. I wasn't listening to my corner.
In this regard, Bradley has to take a cue from Mayweather and let the fight come to him. That's not saying Desert Storm is anywhere close to Money's level, but what makes the latter so successful is frustrating opponents with his ability to dodge punches.
Bradley didn't do that against Pacquiao in their first fight—though to his credit, Bradley didn't get knocked down once.
Staying out of Pacquiao's power zone, and avoiding those lightning-quick hands, while picking spots to move in is Bradley's best chance to prove that first fight was not indicative of the boxer he is.
Motivation is an overused word in sports. If an athlete has to psych himself up for a game/fight/etc., he's being set up to fail.
However, in both Bradley's and Pacquiao's case, there is so much that can be used to motivate them in this fight.
Pacquiao needs a win over an elite fighter to prove he's not getting by on name value alone anymore. His victory over Rios was a good step in the right direction, but it's not something that demands a lot of thought after it's over.
Bradley did prove how good he can be after the first Pacquiao fight with a victory over Marquez, but the huge asterisk that has been hanging over his head for 22 months is whether he can really beat Pacquiao.
Ultimately, the pressure is equal for both fighters to perform at their very best on this stage Saturday night. Bradley has the advantage of youth, but Pacquiao is a more diverse fighter who can beat you in a number of ways.
It's going to be an upset if Pacman loses to Bradley a second time. Let's just hope the judges don't overshadow the fight again.
Manny Pacquiao wins via unanimous decision.
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