When Timothy Bradley became the first boxer to defeat Manny Pacquiao in more than seven years, the reaction was not based on praise but rather controversy. Now the undefeated American is heading into the rematch with hopes of proving the first win was not a fluke.
Bradley enters the second meeting with Pac-Man sporting an unblemished record, which was supposed to get validated if he defeated the eight-division world champion back in 2012. Since the controversial decision overshadowed the actual result, it never happened.
Now the California native gets another chance at a statement win. The fight comes after Pacquiao got back on track with a convincing performance against Brandon Rios, which made it a perfect time for both sides to schedule the rematch.
While it's certainly fair to debate whether the right decision was made when the fighters first met, Bradley deserves credit for keeping it close enough to force the judges to make a tough call. Few Pacquiao opponents were able to do that when the Filipino star was at his best. Most were dominated.
One thing he doesn't lack heading into the rematch is confidence. He made that clear in a piece for ESPN in which he talked about Pacquiao losing the fire it takes to reign over the boxing world:
Manny Pacquiao has always been a great fighter and from what I have heard he is a great person, but I think in the last two years Manny has become a more compassionate fighter. I think he lost the fire that made him the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
That killer instinct that made Oscar De La Hoya quit on his stool and the fire that knocked out Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton and badly damaged Antonio Margarito are just no longer there.
The mission for Bradley is to prove that while also showcasing why he belongs in the conversation among the upper echelon of fighters. He couldn't do it in the first fight, but he's being given a second chance to leave no doubts.
Make no mistake, anything less than a dominant performance of his own will leave Bradley in the same exact position. Another narrow split decision isn't going to give him the boost he needs. It must be clear he's the better fighter in the ring on Saturday night.
Bradley definitely has the talent necessary to make it happen. He showed that at times in the first bout. Whether he can put together a memorable showing from start to finish against an elite opponent is yet to be seen, though.
He can expect a stronger effort from Pacquiao. Steve Kim of MaxBoxing.com notes Pac-Man looked in good form during his training leading up to the rematch:
When talking about a road to redemption, the focus is normally on a fighter looking to rebound from a loss. For Bradley, it means he's hoping to make a statement after picking up a win that many didn't think he deserved.
His wins over Ruslan Provodnikov and Juan Manuel Marquez were helpful to his résumé, but the rematch represents his chance to get out from behind the shadow of that controversial win. Of course, a loss would be a major step back.
It's time for Bradley to rise to the occasion and make a definitive statement if he wants to be considered among the best.