The first question: Can Manny Pacquiao beat Timothy Bradley when the two face in a rematch on Saturday Night in Las Vegas?
Unfortunately, the second question, reprised from 11 months ago: How in the hell did the judges come to the conclusion he lost the first fight?
But that leads us to the third, fourth and fifth questions: Will Pacquiao be motivated to go for a knockout this time around? Can he even knock out Bradley? And how would he go about doing so?
Bradley himself may have provided the motivation for Pacquiao to chase a knockout, as trainer Freddie Roach told Gareth A Davies of The Telegraph:
"What helped me a lot, was Bradley saying [in a televised interview] is that Manny does not have the 'Eye of the Tiger' any more, that he no longer has hunger to win," Roach said. "Bradley has motivated Manny. Manny feels embarrassed by those comments and he's ready to go."
To be fair, Pacquiao hasn't stopped a fight since earning a TKO against Miguel Cotto in 2009, and as Roach noted, Bradley doesn't think he has the killer instinct to stop this one, either. But Pacman begs to differ, as he told Santos A. Perez of the Miami Herald:
The more he says it, the more it inspires me to show the hunger and the killer instinct he is talking about. I am not angry or disappointed about what he says to me, but I’m happy that he has told me that because it inspires me to train hard and to focus in the gym on my game plan and focus on the fight. It is a benefit for me.
Added Pacquiao, “I do not think Bradley will fight toe-to-toe with me either, so I will have to hunt him down. I am prepared for that. I am not going for a knockout, but if the opportunity presents itself I am going for it this time.”
Will the opportunity present itself?
Perhaps, but Bradley is likely to be cagier against Pacquiao than he was against Ruslan Provodnikov, when he chose to brawl and nearly paid the price for it in 2013's Fight of the Year. He was more elusive and slippery against Juan Manuel Marquez, and was awarded a controversial decision in that contest.
You would expect Bradley to approach the Pacman fight similarly to how he fought Marquez, though of course Pacquiao is the aggressor in his fights, whereas Marquez has made a living as a counter-puncher. And that means the early rounds will be extremely important.
If Pacquiao clearly wins the majority of the early rounds and Bradley is put into a position where he feels he needs a knockout to win, he'll brawl. He's shown in the past that he's not afraid to go that route, though it really isn't his strength. And if he tries to brawl with Pacman, well, he'll leave himself open to laying on the canvas himself.
Remember, Pacquiao was chasing a knockout himself when Marquez caught him with the fateful punch that caused him to take a nearly year-long hiatus. He's not afraid to seek the killer blow, but Marquez certainly taught him a lesson.
Of course, Marquez throws heavier punches than Bradley, so if Pacman feels he has Bradley in a brawl, he may go for the jugular.
Bradley is in a tricky position in this fight. He knows he can't directly replicate his style from the first fight, and he knows anything close on the cards will probably go to Pacquiao this time around. At some point, dipping and dodging and jabbing probably won't be enough to win the fight.
If Bradley chooses to brawl in spurts, to carefully pick his spots to go toe-to-toe, he may never enter full desperation mode. In that fight, it's hard to imagine Pacquiao knocking him out.
Expect Pacquiao to be busy in this fight. Expect him to be the aggressor, to really attack the early rounds and force Bradley to fight rather than box in the later rounds to turn the fight in his favor. He'd be wise to steer Bradley toward the ropes and corners as much as possible to cut off his mobility and neutralize his quickness.
Speed needs space. Pacman shouldn't give Bradley any. The more pressure Pacquiao keeps Bradley under early, the more he can dictate the terms of the fight later.
Whether Pacman wants a knockout is irrelevant, really, since his fight strategy should be the same regardless. But the only way he's likely to get a knockout is to force Bradley to turn on brawl mode. It just so happens that's the exact mode that boxing fans would love to see, as, if nothing else, it would make for an exciting bout.
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