The stakes are high in Las Vegas on Saturday night at the MGM Grand. I'm not referring to the gambling activity or an amazing De La Soul album.
I'm talking about the rematch between WBO welterweight champion Timothy "Desert Storm" Bradley and Manny "Pac-Man" Pacquiao. The prizes and potential losses are tangible and intangible but very real on both sides.
Bradley wants respect.
That's something he never received after he beat Pacquiao in their first fight. Most people believed Pacquiao deserved the win, thus Bradley became a villain to some.
The slighting hasn't stopped even as Bradley enters the rematch as champion.
T.K. Stewart of The Examiner writes:
With Pacquiao training in the heart of Hollywood, his every move is captured by bloggers, newspapermen and TV camera crews. Meanwhile, Bradley is sequestered away in the California desert at his new gym in Indio.
Bradley feels it and sees all of it. Pacquiao’s name is first on the promotional literature, his face is to the left on the fight poster and the Twitter hashtag for the rematch begins with Pacquiao’s name. It’s why the rematch may be more important for Bradley than it is for Pacquiao.
It's unfair but true.
If Bradley doesn't win on Saturday, he will never get the respect he deserves. He'll also lose the title he took from Pacquiao in the first fight, his spotless record and a potentially huge payday down the road.
For Pacquiao, his very existence in the sport could be on the line. A loss would be his third in his last four fights. An undisputed loss would quiet the cries that the first defeat was unjust.
Pacquiao would have to seriously consider hanging up the gloves.
He is a proud man. It stings him to have lost to Bradley. It'll hurt even more to lose again. Where would another loss leave him? Toiling in mediocrity just doesn't seem right for a future Hall of Famer.
To win, both fighters must avoid falling into bad habits and his opponent's style.
Bradley Must Control His Emotions and Refrain from Brawling
Though Bradley is tough, he is better off avoiding a slugfest with Pacquiao. Despite the fact that Pacquiao hasn't stopped an opponent since 2009, he's still a bigger puncher than Bradley.
The champion has just 12 KOs in his career.
This might be a little easier said than done, though. Bradley has made the mistake of slugging with a puncher in the past. During the 2013 Fight of the Year against Ruslan Provodnikov, Bradley engaged in several ill-advised exchanges with the Siberian slugger.
Though Bradley escaped with the win, he took some big shots and was floored in the 12th round. If he tries to get too macho with Pacquiao, he could find himself in trouble again.
Based on some of the things he's been saying leading up to the fight, there's reason to believe Bradley may not employ the smartest strategy.
Speaking candidly about the concussion he suffered against Provodnikov, and the subsequent symptoms, Bradley told Mitch Abramson of The New York Daily News:
"I think it's a huge advantage because I know I can endure a lot of pain. Everybody thought I'd be damaged goods after the fight [with Provodnikov]. But I wasn't."
Bradley should be focusing on not being hit instead of his pain tolerance. This sounds like a man preparing for all-out war, when he should be plotting a series of carefully timed battles.
We'll see which Bradley shows up. The brilliant boxer who carefully outfought Juan Manuel Marquez, or the reckless brawler who nearly lost a fight to a man far beneath him in pure skill.
Pacquiao Can't Forget His Defense
While the bout with Rios wasn't thrilling, Pacquiao did employ more movement than he has in just about any fight in his career. The action looked like a glorified sparring session.
On one hand, that's a great thing. Put into the proper perspective, I'm not sure there's much that can be drawn from the bout. Through the hype and into the actual fight, Pacquiao never seemed emotionally plugged into the bout.
He really didn't need to be.
He and Rios liked each other. Pacquiao was able to show up in Macao and beat Rios simply because he's a superior athlete and fighter. He wasn't pushed physically or mentally.
When Pacquiao is pushed, he gets angry. When he gets angry, he becomes ferocious. However, when his fire is lit, and he pounds his gloves together, he has a tendency to throw his defense out the window.
That's partially what caused his downfall when he was knocked senseless by Marquez.
If Pacquiao disregards his defense on Saturday, he may not run into a bomb on par with the one Marquez put his lights out with. But a collection of small missiles might still get the job done for Bradley.
The champion is naturally a better boxer, and his hands are a bit faster than Pacquiao's at this stage of the Filipino legend's career.
Because Pacquiao desperately wants to avenge this loss, he's likely to throw caution to the wind in search of the KO. If he doesn't find that, he might just discover another loss on his record.
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