An argument could be made that Manny Pacquiao didn't even lose his first fight to Timothy Bradley on June 9, 2012, when Pac-Man was stripped of his WBO welterweight title via a polarizing split decision.
With a recent return to his elite form in the ring and a massive vengeance factor at play for Saturday's rematch, Pacquiao is poised to make amends and put the first dent in Bradley's perfect 31-0 record.
Bob Arum, who promotes both fighters, did not agree with the first decision at all.
"I'll make a lot of money off the rematch, but this was outrageous," said Arum, per ESPN.com news services.
The 55-5-2 mark that Pacquiao sports entering this bout at MGM Grand in Las Vegas looked far better preceding his loss to Bradley. That was followed by a knockout defeat to longtime rival Juan Manuel Marquez, marking the first two-fight losing streak of Pacquiao's storied career.
Even a dominant performance versus Brandon Rios in his last appearance in Macau hasn't totally silenced the detractors. A similar effort versus Bradley should erase any doubt that Pacquiao has plenty of boxing left in him, though—or that he's otherwise more engaged with other commitments, such as being a congressman in his native Philippines.
Bradley seems to think Pacquiao has gone soft and lacks the impassioned aggression that used to make him so dangerous, according to a special article he wrote for ESPN.com on Tuesday:
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. I think his skill set is still there, but he just cannot turn it on like he used to anymore.
In the Brandon Rios fight, I saw he had Rios up against the ropes and then he stopped throwing his punches. He took a couple steps back and let Rios out.
It wouldn't be wise to galvanize Pacquiao in that manner, unless of course Bradley has a legitimate point. That shows how confident the unbeaten American is in his abilities and how he believes he wants to win more. It's a bold strategy indeed from the man dubbed "Desert Storm," who defeated Marquez by split decision to improve to 31-0.
Former prolific British boxer Paul Jones noted how Bradley has improved since his last encounter with Pacquiao, whom he implies has a lot of mileage on his body:
I think mentally more so than anything @Timbradleyjr is a whole new animal to the guy Pacquiao fought in 2012.— Paul Silky Jones (@1silkyjones) March 30, 2014
Pacquiao has had allot of wear and tear on the body and been in allot of wars, it goes without saying he is not the man he was in 08,09.— Paul Silky Jones (@1silkyjones) March 30, 2014
But calling out Pacquiao and questioning his desire is just about the worst thing Bradley could have done. Check out what Pac-Man said to the Los Angeles Times' Houston Mitchell, which seems almost like a direct rebuttal:
There is something different in this training camp. There are a lot of people who doubt I can fight the same way I fought when I knocked out Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera. I want to prove to them that I am the best. 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.
If Pacquiao was lacking intrinsic motivation to knock Bradley to the canvas for good on Saturday night, the best move for Bradley would have been not to project a brash bravado and question his opponent's will. Now the chip that still exists on Pacquiao's shoulder to prove himself has grown even more.
How do you rate Bradley's chances to beat Pacquiao?
Pacquiao was clearly the better fighter in the Rios bout, so if he did let "Bam Bam" go, perhaps it was more to gain quality reps in the ring than a sign of mercy. That alternative assessment of the situation is pure speculation, but so is Bradley's analysis. He would have benefited by refraining from remarking on what Pacquiao did previously, because it was still good enough to win with ease.
A win for Bradley, especially after this type of talk, would confirm Jones' notion that he is indeed a different man and should be considered a bona fide superstar, if he isn't already. However, it just won't happen, because there's too much at stake for Pacquiao and his style matches up too well not to get the job done.
The dream fight featuring Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. is still a possibility on the horizon, and Pacquiao has all the fuel to his fire that he needs to knock Bradley out after his comments. Decisively triumphing over Bradley would make the Pacquiao vs. Mayweather clash more feasible in the future in addition to dismissing Bradley's rhetoric as baseless, harming Desert Storm's hopes of becoming the next household name in boxing.