When Manny Pacquiao steps into the ring with Timothy Bradley for the second time on April 12, don't expect to see just another championship fight in the future Hall of Famer's career; this is the biggest bout of Pac-Man's career when you look at what's at stake and what the future holds.
Whether you think Pacquiao won the first fight with Bradley or not, it's on him to prove this time around that the judges got it wrong. He's one of the biggest stars in the sport, supposed to be one of the two best fighters in the sport and one of the best fighters of all time.
Yet if you have watched Pac-Man fight since the controversial loss to Bradley, something is missing. Juan Manuel Marquez knocked him out cold in December 2012, which led to speculation that Pacquiao might retire.
Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer, said prior to Pac-Man's fight with Brandon Rios that if Pacquiao didn't perform well in the bout, he would tell him to walk away:
It's really hard to say until we see the fight, but I will be the first one to tell him to retire. We have an agreement that as soon as I tell him that, he will retire. I don't see him slipping in the ring at all.
Pacquiao did take care of business against Rios, as expected, but that was a fight where everything set up for him to dominate. Rios was coming off a loss to Mike Alvarado and isn't even part of ESPN's welterweight or junior welterweight top 10 rankings.
If Pacquiao lost that fight, it would have been a clear sign that fighting isn't in his best long-term interests anymore.
But now the Filipino congressman has all the pressure in the world on his shoulders against an undefeated opponent who, oh, by the way, enters the fight carrying the championship belt Pacquiao used to hold.
If you look around the Internet, everything written on the fight so far is about how Bradley is trying to prove his first victory wasn't a fluke or the product of poor judging. He told Chris Mannix of SI.com his life fell apart after defeating Pacquiao:
Look, my life and career went down the drain after the first Pacquiao fight. I didn't want to revisit that dark cloud just yet. I wanted to fight a legend in Juan Manuel Marquez. I wanted to beat the guy who beat Pacquiao. I wanted to prove to the fans that I wanted to fight Pacquiao again.
What should have been the biggest moment of Bradley's career turned into a circus that he's still fighting to get out from under.
Which fighter has more to lose in the rematch?
Meanwhile, Pacquiao has essentially gotten a pass because of his name despite losing to Juan Manuel Marquez. Bradley would defeat Marquez 10 months later, so who has really proved more in the last 16 months?
The onus is on Pacquiao to prove he's the better fighter. Bradley has done everything that's been asked of him, including defeating Marquez, so to punish him for what the judges did is unfair.
It's time for Pacquiao to answer the call and prove he's still capable of fighting at a championship level against the WBO welterweight champion. A victory will erase all doubts about his future, but a loss will signal that two-fight losing streak against Bradley and Marquez was a sign the end is near.
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