The eyes of the globe turn to Las Vegas on April 12 as Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley hook up for a sequel to one of the most controversial decisions in boxing history.
Now almost two years removed from the historic outcome that sent both men on wildly different paths, Pacquiao and Bradley are out to prove themselves in what is sure to be a career-defining bout.
Pacquiao lost the last encounter and then ate the canvas in his fourth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. He then took care of slugger Brandon Rios to salvage his career. WBO welterweight title in hand, Bradley then scored victories over both Ruslan Provodnikov and JMM to solidify his status as a top pound-for-pound fighter.
In a rematch that means so much for both, the two will likely enter with set strategies that will require tinkering as the bout progresses through the rounds. Here is a look at the three most critical rounds of all as two master technicians enter the squared circle for a second time.
Believe it or not, the opening round is key as both fighters will feel each other out in what will amount to tense minutes of cautious foreplay that have a massive ripple effect on the rest of the bout.
There are differing opinions on how each fighter will approach the other, but conventional wisdom says Pacquiao will enter in an aggressive manner. He's been without a knockout for quite some time despite it being a highlight of his repertoire for many years, and now he is challenging for a title he lost.
He wrote on ESPN about how this new perspective will impact his game plan:
I am inspired. I am the challenger. I know I will need to outbox and outspeed Bradley. And that is what I will do. This is the first time I have challenged for a world title that I lost. Do I want it back? You bet I do. And I want it back from Tim Bradley.
The validity of this statement will be apparent in the opening round, and Bradley himself also has some adjustments to make. He can learn from the hooks JMM employed to knock out an aggressive Pacquiao, so watch for how both technicians move in the early going.
More than halfway into the fight is where things start to get great, with both men having now shown their hand.
Just don't expect a knockout anytime soon.
There seems to be a widely held notion that both fighters will enter the bout on the hunt for a knockout in order to prove the world wrong and that a victory via decision would be a "letdown," but both fighters are smart enough to not bite off more than they can chew and lose through over-ambitious barrages.
Bradley wrote about this and his similar approach in that he does not have to go headhunting to record another win:
I am in a slightly different position than Marquez was. I have already beat Pacquiao once, and that was on my first try. I don't think I have to knock him out to get a definite result, but, if the knockout presents itself, I will take advantage of it.
Conditioning has never been an issue for either fighter, and even a foot-on-the-pedal approach from Pacquiao at this point doesn't doom Bradley, who excels at keeping opponents at a distance and landing critical counters when the opportunities presents themselves.
Look for Pacquiao to attempt to pin Bradley in the corner at this point, but the slippery American won't get caught.
Fatigue, a strong familiarity with each other and the desire to put away the opponent emphatically rather than leaving things in the hands of a third party will reign supreme in the closing round.
Depending on how the fight progresses to this point, one man may be in desperation mode. Perhaps it's Bradley, who won't be given the benefit of the doubt in any rounds by the judges after their debacle in the first bout. Maybe it's Pacquiao, who tried to do too much throughout the fight and was continually tagged by counters.
Regardless, the final round won't decide the fight unless one contestant hits the canvas for the count. Given the extreme physical toll of the prior 11 rounds, it's much more likely in the closing moments.
Don't blink, as history will be made in the final round, if not shortly thereafter.
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