Questions abound surrounding the historic rematch between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley on April 12 in Las Vegas, but the majority of the question marks deal with Pacquiao's weaknesses.
Bradley is a known commodity at this point who has plenty of room to grow. The same can't be said about Pacquiao, who has created more questions than answers in his last three fights—win or lose.
Now 35 years old, Pacquiao's weaknesses are rather obvious at this stage of his career. Here's a look at the three critical issues and how they'll impact the fateful rematch.
Simply put, Pacquiao struggles when he faces a boxer with a similar style.
Boxers who are as patient as he is give Pacquiao fits, as they can do much to avoid his deadly jab and press to one side or another to keep him moving. Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer, put it best before his fourth bout with Juan Manuel Marquez, via ESPN's Kieran Mulvaney:
Well, Manny really loves when people come to him. He's basically a counterpuncher himself. He makes them reach for him and he counters over the top a lot. Marquez is a pure counterpuncher and doesn't come forward too often. He's always fighting off the back foot and looking for the counter. And Manny doesn't do so well with that style, because he has to be the aggressor and he's a little bit out of his comfort zone.
Those were prophetic words from Roach, as Pacquiao hit the canvas hard in the well-known loss thanks to a deadly counter.
This was an apparent issue in his first bout with Bradley, as the American is known as a skilled technician who sits back and picks his spots with brutal counter combos. His responses to Pacquiao in the second half of the fight are what likely pulled him ahead on the controversial scorecards.
Things won't get easier for Pacquiao on Saturday, especially when one takes into account the next issue.
There are two sides to this coin.
One side says Pacquiao can get too aggressive. He gets sloppy when he does so, which leaves him open for exploitation now that he is getting up there in age. This was the case against both Bradley and JMM.
The opposite side says Pacquiao fears being the aggressor at this point in his career. There is some weight to the statement, as he seemed to back off in the first bout with Bradley. It cost him the match before he subsequently was caught being overzealous before his knockout at the hands of Marquez.
In his most recent fight, Pacquiao appeared a tad hesitant once more. Bradley Rios was hand-picked to make him look great, but Pacquiao was timid against such a power-punching threat. While he won, it created more questions.
Will Pacquiao come out with something to prove against Bradley in order to take the decision out of the hands of the judges? It seems like a bold move, but one that leaves him susceptible to a crushing defeat.
Compounding the above issues is Pacquiao's chin.
Like it or not, age means this aspect of his repertoire is not what it used to be. That was apparent against JMM, which may have created the cautious Pacquiao against Rios.
Bradley is by no means a slugger, as he lacks the power of a home run hitter, but his crisp counters add up over the course of the fight. Whether this was the reason Pacquiao took his foot off the pedal or simply because he didn't take Bradley seriously remains to be seen.
To mitigate these issues on Saturday, Pacquiao must strike a balance between action and reaction while using his strong footwork to place him in a position to be the fighter able to counter. Anything short of intelligent ring work and a mostly reactionary style will lead to disaster.