Manny Pacquiao is one of the most accomplished boxers of all time. An eight-division world champion, he's become one of the sport's most enduring stars. Famous across seven continents, he's a bona fide celebrity, a near-deity in his homeland the Philippines and a budding political leader.
There's nothing left for Pacquiao to prove, except, strangely enough, inside the ring where it all started. His rematch with Timothy Bradley on Saturday, and every subsequent fight as well, will be about one thing: whether Manny still has "it."
Age opened the door for doubt. It walked right in when the now-35-year-old fighter was left lying, knocked unconscious by a Juan Manuel Marquez right hand in 2012.
As announcer Roy Jones shouted, "He's not getting up, Jim!" Pacquiao lay face down on the mat for more than two minutes before being revived. He looked like a finished fighter.
Pacquiao attempted to right the ship last year against Brandon Rios, a tailor-made opponent coming off a loss. He was a man selected to be the perfect fall guy, to revive the public's faith in Manny—and perhaps his own, too. Instead, Pacquiao failed to finish Rios, cruising to a unanimous-decision win.
While Pacquiao declared the win meant he had earned his place back among the elite, others weren't so sure.
"Manny didn't look the same against Rios. He didn't have his usual killer instinct. That's the first thing I noticed," Bradley told the press. "I don't think he has the hunger anymore, and it’s never coming back. He no longer has his killer instinct. That’s the first thing I noticed in the Rios fight. Every time he backed Rios into a corner, Manny stepped back instead of going for it. He didn’t even try to put Rios away. That spoke volumes to me."
Statistics support Bradley's point. Pacquiao, in fact, hasn't scored a knockout since a 2009 fight with Miguel Cotto. Bradley's trainer, Joel Diaz, believes that the key to beating Pacquiao is brains, not brawn, telling The Ring Magazine (subscription required):
Tim needs to take more risks and get in there and exchange. Manny, if you make him think, he doesn't know how to fight. But if you just come straight to him, he's going to demolish you...when you make him think, and you've got footwork, he gets lost every time.
Bradley, who won a controversial decision over Pacquiao in June 2012, returns to the scene of the crime at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. He'll find a game Manny there, looking to avenge a loss he still doesn't accept.
I won at least 10 rounds against Tim Bradley the first time we fought. I intend to win all the rounds against him this time regardless of the length of the fight. He said I have lost my hunger and that my time is over. Everything I am doing in training camp is aimed at proving to him just how wrong he is. I have all the respect for Bradley and what he has accomplished but I have no fear of him.
Should Pacquiao fear Bradley? Isn't taking him lightly what led to trouble the first time the two met? Let's explore the fight, the athletes and the odds and find out.