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Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley: Top Storylines as Showdown Looms

Kevin McRaeFeatured ColumnistApril 6, 2014

Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley: Top Storylines as Showdown Looms

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    Kathy Willens

    It's fight week!

    Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley are under a week away from their hotly anticipated rematch, and we'll set you up right with all the info and storylines you'll need to know for the big night.

    Bradley will defend his WBO Welterweight Championship against Pacquiao on Saturday night (9 p.m. ET, HBO pay-per-view), and both men have a lot to prove coming out of their highly controversial first fight.

    Pacquiao (55-5-2, 38 KO) was once considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing. But he suffered consecutive losses—controversially against Bradley and decisively against Juan Manuel Marquez—in 2012, before returning for an easy unanimous-decision win over Brandon Rios last November.

    He's looking to settle the score.

    Bradley (31-0, 12 KO) rebounded from his win over Pacquiao—which was widely discredited by fans and media—to win the 2013 Fight of the Year against Ruslan Provodnikov and then defeat Marquez later in the year. 

    He's looking to prove his first win was no fluke.

    So consider yourself armed. All you'll need to know about Pacquiao vs. Bradley 2 is contained within. Here we ask questions, make speculations and give you the top storylines for Saturday night's huge main event!

Does Manny Still Have the Fire?

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    Nicky Loh/Getty Images

    Pacquiao was not even a blip on the radar screen for most American fight fans when he stepped through the ropes to challenge Lehlo Ledwaba for the IBF Super Bantamweight Championship on the undercard of De La Hoya vs. Castillejo way back in 2001. 

    He had a 32-2 record—all fights taking place in Asia—and there was no indication he would be able to become the biggest star in boxing just a few short years later.

    Pacquiao blitzed Ledwaba, knocking him out in Round 6, and showing a buzzsaw-like aggression that would become the calling card of his rise to the top. 

    From the Lebwaba fight to his 2009 showdown with Miguel Cotto, Pacquiao would accumulate a record of 18-1-2 with 15 knockouts. You can count on one hand how many of those fights were even competitive, much less close.

    But then something changed in Pacquiao. His trademark aggression has been tempered in his most recent fights, and he seems reluctant to go after an opponent, even when he has them in some trouble.

    Since the Cotto fight, Pacquiao is 5-2 without a knockout victory. He battered Antonio Margarito over 12 brutally one-sided rounds, but he didn't finish him. Ditto for Shane Mosley, and most recently, Rios. 

    Bradley has taken every available opportunity to use this lack of any recent stoppage victories to call out Pacquiao for losing his killer instinct in the ring. Looking at those results, and even more so, the fights themselves, you can see he has a point.

    But Bradley doesn’t feel his foe isn’t still talented, just that he isn’t the same.

    "Don’t get it twisted when I say he doesn’t have the fire or the passion. He used to be like a storm man. When I used to watch Manny Pacquiao, he used to come in blazing and just knock guys off, knock them out. He didn’t mess around," Bradley told Bleacher Report.

    Pacquiao has definitely taken his foot off the gas recently when he had his opponent in trouble. That much is beyond dispute. The question for the Filipino icon is: Can he get that aggression and killer instinct back for this fight?

    Can he become the "Old Pacquiao" once again?

Can Bradley Shock the World...Again?

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    The word shock is definitely a fair one to use when describing Bradley's split-decision victory over Pacquiao in June 2012. Almost nobody—fans, media, fellow fighters—scored the bout for the "Desert Storm," and there were lots of particularly nasty words—fixed, corrupt, incompetent—being thrown around in the aftermath.

    Bradley captured the WBO Welterweight Championship on that night, but most didn't, and some still don't, consider him the true champion.

    That level of disrespect, and refusal to give credit, is what motivates Bradley to leave no doubt about the outcome this time around. 

    “I’m a different fighter now. I’m a different beast, a different animal. And this time around I want to prove it to the fans and prove to everybody watching. I got the win, but it felt like I lost because I didn’t get any credit for it from the fans," Bradley told an international media conference call.

    It's easy to discount his chances—even with the first fight now firmly in the rearview mirror and circumstances so drastically changed—but you do that at your own peril.

    Even if Bradley didn't win the belt against Pacquiao, he's still the undefeated, legitimate champion. If you subscribe to the notion that the champ is the man who beat the man, Bradley beat Marquez who beat Pacquiao, and that makes him the real champion. 

    He's a completely different fighter now, more seasoned and more experienced at this level and, if possible, even more motivated to show the world that he can and did beat Pacquiao.

    That’s a dangerous mix.

Who's Fighting for More?

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    Alexis Cuarezma/Getty Images

    The stakes are extremely high for both fighters coming into Saturday night, and Bradley himself probably summed it up best.

    “If he [Pacquiao] loses this fight, think about it, his career might be over with. I really need to win this fight because of the first fight, because of the controversy, because I went around saying I beat him, I beat him, I beat him. So now I have to beat him more decisively.”

    There's nothing you can argue with in that statement.

    Pacquiao has dropped two of his last three fights—controversially against Bradley and decisively against Marquez—and likely cannot sustain another defeat. 

    Bradley has never backed away from his assertion that he, in fact, did win the first fight and now needs to be more decisive in order to show that to the fans. 

    This is one of those true occasions where both fighters need a win to validate themselves.

    If Pacquiao loses, his career could be over.

    If Bradley loses, it lends credence to all the criticism he's faced since that night in June 2012.

    Both fighters’ legacies are on the line.

    Who wants it more?

    The answer to that question will most likely determine the fight.

Will Bradley Rue His Words?

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    Alexis Cuarezma/Getty Images

    "The more he says that, the more it inspires me to show again the hunger and the killer instinct," Pacquiao told Bleacher Report in response to a question about Bradley saying he no longer has the fire to compete in the ring. 

    "It's good for me, but not for him I think."

    That's one of the—if not the—crucial questions for both Pacquiao and Bradley heading into this fight. Can Pacquiao rediscover the aggression and fire that made him the sport's top attraction a few years back.

    And, if he does, will Bradley, as Pacquiao has implied, regret his goading? 

    These are legitimate questions, and neither one is easy to answer. Pacquiao has been searching for his former fighting self for the past couple of years. These aren't new questions, and Bradley isn't the first fighter to call him out on them. 

    The last time Pacquiao showed something close to that legendary aggression, he caught a missile-like right hand from Marquez and went to sleep.

    Bradley clearly doesn't possess anything near the same level of power that Marquez does, but this is boxing, and every guy who steps into the ring can hurt you. All it takes is one shot.

    So even if the aggressive Pacquiao does show up, he'll need to fight with a controlled aggression. If not, he could leave some openings. The worst thing he can do is to go in there, guns blazing, and fight out of control to prove a point.

    Bradley tried that against Provodnikov, and while he won the fight, it very nearly cost him. 

    We'll just have to wait for fight night to see if the "old Pacquiao" can return, and if he does, whether Bradley will pay for waking a sleeping dog.

Is Manny Pacquiao Truly Back?

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    Nicky Loh/Getty Images

    It wasn't all that long ago that Pacquiao sat atop the boxing world. 

    But then he lost two fights in a row, took nearly a year off from the sport and returned with a decisive—but somewhat disappointing—victory over Rios last November. 

    The Rios victory answered some of the lingering questions about Pacquiao's career trajectory post-Marquez knockout—did he still want to fight, would the knockout leave lingering physical effects—but it also raised more than its share of new ones. 

    Did he pull off the gas because he was nervous about getting caught again? 

    Rios wasn't a natural welterweight, but he did carry a pretty significant punch at 140 pounds. And Pacquiao, despite not being able to miss the target, let him hang around, and he never really went in for the kill.

    For all his obvious strengths, Rios just isn't an opponent who proves a fighter is completely back. He's a notch or two below the truly elite level, and his flaws—he's tough but crude and unrefined—will always confine him to the realm of an exciting—but limited—fighter.

    Bradley is an elite fighter. And this fight should provide a better measuring stick by which to determine Pacquiao's continued ability to be elite himself.

    If you beat an elite fighter, you’re truly back.

How Will Bradley Perform with Two Good Feet?

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    Alexis Cuarezma/Getty Images

    Bradley, foolishly, chose his first fight with Pacquiao to experiment with his footwear. 

    He told HBO's Jim Lampley, per Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, that he chose to emulate legendary heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and not wear socks on fight night. That didn't exactly work out well for him.

    Bradley, who claims the ring was spongy and too soft, suffered a fractured left foot and a twisted right ankle early in the fight, and he claimed those injuries limited his mobility and ability to fight his fight.

    You can definitely see how fighting on two injured legs could limit a fighter, but many in the boxing world dismissed this as just an excuse to justify an underwhelming performance. And, as recently as last week, Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach took the opportunity to needle Bradley at his media workout day.

    Roach sent Bradley a box full of socks, along with a pretty darn hilarious letter:

    I have been reading your recent interviews with great interest, especially your explanation on how your feet were injured during your first fight with Manny Pacquiao. Is it really your feetal position that these injuries occurred because you did not wear socks. Though many members of the media think this excuse sounds like a hose job, I for one do believe you. To me, you are boxing’s No. 1 sox symbol. Please think of me not as your arch nemesis but as your sole supporter. I hope the enclosed gift helps with the heeling process. 

    Sincerely, Freddie Roach

    It's difficult to not see the humor there, but this is still a valid point. Bradley claims to be 100 percent in terms of his health, and it should be interesting to see if he fights differently on Saturday night.

Will There Be Any Controversy?

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Basically everyone with access to a social-media platform expressed their displeasure at the verdict in Pacquiao vs. Bradley in 140 characters or less.

    Nobody expected Michael Buffer, official scorecards in hand, would utter the words "and new" when announcing the verdict, but well, that's how it happened. 

    Bradley received a ton of flack for getting what most perceived to be a gift victory he didn't earn.

    The overwhelming majority of boxing media had the bout for Pacquiao by wide margins, the WBO cobbled together a post-fight panel of five expert judges who all scored the bout for the Filipino by similarly lopsided scores, and the attorney general's office in Nevada conducted an investigation into the matter.

    The Nevada A.G. found no evidence of corruption of any wrongdoing, but that didn't temper any of the outrage.

    None of the officials from the first fight will be in the arena on Saturday night without a ticket—C.J. Ross stepped away from the sport after ridiculously scoring Mayweather vs. Canelo a draw and Duane Ford retired—and we'll have a fresh crop of judges to, hopefully, heap praise upon and not scorn.

    Kenny Bayless, considered by many to be the finest referee in the business, will be the third man in the ring. Veteran judges, Glenn Trowbridge of Nevada, Michael Pernick of Florida and John Keane of Great Britain, will have the distinction of rendering a verdict, should the fight go the full 12 rounds.

    And if it does, you can bet that all eyes will be on those three men.

Does the Rule About Rematches Hold?

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Usually, at least according to an old boxing adage, the winner of the first fight also wins the rematch but more decisively.

    But we have a bit of an odd situation here.

    Bradley won the fight on the official scorecards, but virtually everyone in the world believes that Pacquiao was the real winner.

    What we've seen, is in effect, nullification of the result everywhere but where it matters—the official records.

    So what happens here?

    Pacquiao seemed to win the first fight decisively. The only possible thing he could do here to put a more emphatic stamp on the fight would be a knockout. You can bet that Roach has been saying that to him every single day during training camp. 

    But he doesn't want his charge to focus exclusively on a knockout. They obviously want one but will go into the ring with a game plan to execute, and if it comes, it comes. 

    "Revenge is great. That's what we have a chance to do here. We have a shot at reversing that bad decision and to get the win this time, and hopefully, if everything goes well and we fight the right fight, then we’ll knock this guy out," Roach said.

    "We're not going in there looking for a knockout. If you try to knock a guy out, you'll be waiting all night."

    But Team Bradley, led by his trainer Joel Diaz, believe that the rematch will bring the same outcome as the first fight, but in a more decisive fashion.

    "He’s [Bradley] very ready to come to Vegas and ruin the party for a lot of people again. This time we’re going to make it very decisive. There’s going to be no doubt."

    Will it be repeat or revenge for Pacquiao and Bradley? 

    A lot of that depends on how you viewed their first fight and its outcome.

What Next for Manny Pacquiao?

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    For Pacquiao, the writing is on the wall, and it's not difficult to read.

    Win this fight and you move on to bigger and better things.

    Lose it, and it could all be over.

    This is Pacquaio's second elimination-game fight in a row, and you can bet that it will be far more challenging than his defeat of Rios in Macau last November. Bradley is hungrier than Rios, has a chip on his shoulder and is fighting for validation.

    Assuming Pacquiao wins, the path seems pretty clear for a fifth fight with his longtime rival, Marquez. The 40-year-old Mexican will face Mike Alvarado on May 17 at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif.

    No disrespect to Alvarado, because anything can happen in boxing, but Marquez should be an overwhelming favorite in that bout, and he should advance to face the winner of Pacquiao vs. Bradley 2 for the WBO Welterweight Championship.

    That’s a fight that the “Pacman” has been pining for since being stunningly put to sleep by Marquez in early December 2012. It would give him a chance to settle an old score and put his own decisive stamp on the long-simmering rivalry.

    A decisive win could also reignite the long-simmering speculation about a superfight with current pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather. But don't hold your breath on that one happening any time in the near or even distant future. We’ve been here too many times before, and like most of you, we have to take an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude toward that fight.

    If Pacquiao loses, and does choose to continue fighting, depending on how he lost, a third fight with Bradley could make some sense. But other than that, the path would appear murky at best.

What Next for Timothy Bradley?

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Bradley never got the credit or career boost that he felt he deserved in the wake of his defeat of Pacquiao in 2012. You'd expect, given the magnitude of that fight, that he'd have immediately been placed back into another significant fight. 

    But that didn't happen. He bore the full brunt, personally and professionally, of a verdict that was deemed bogus by the boxing world. 

    Bradley didn't get the immediate rematch he was hoping for with Pacquiao, and he was forced to stay out of the ring for more than nine months before facing Provodnikov last March. It was only after that win that he got another significant fight, a decision win over Marquez last October.

    So if he had a hard time getting a big fight after a win, how hard would it be for him after a loss?

    Bradley, like Pacquiao, is slated to face the winner of Marquez vs. Alvarado should he win this fight. But, going larger than that, a win here would instantly catapult him into the conversation for a superfight with Mayweather, the pound-for-pound king.

    Now, Bradley has always been clear about his willingness to face Mayweather, but he refuses to chase him. The two men fight on rival networks, and Bradley says the onus is on Mayweather—who maintains that he's his own boss—to make the fight happen if he wants it.

    With so many stumbling blocks—rival networks/promoters, contractual issues and HBO's refusal to work with Mayweather adviser Al Haymon—the fight isn't likely to ever get beyond the "what if" stage. But that doesn't mean people won't talk.

    If Bradley loses, a rematch with Provodnikov—who at the least proved he's a worthy challenger in their first fight—would make a lot of sense. That's the fight that helped pull Bradley off the mat last time—literally—and a rematch is definitely intriguing.

    But, until everything shakes out on fight night, we'll just have to wait and see.

     

    Kevin McRae is a boxing Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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