It’s not often that the winner of a fight is the one with more to prove in the rematch, but that’s the situation we have before us in the second installment of Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley Jr. The general consensus after their first bout in 2012 was that Pac-Man was robbed, but the Filipino superstar still has plenty at stake in the first big fight of 2014.
Pacquiao entered their last encounter on an unbeaten streak of 15 matches over seven years. Even though most analysts feel he won that fight against Bradley, it was officially a loss—a defeat which has him stepping into the ring on Saturday night after losing two of his last three bouts.
His loss to “Desert Storm” and the shocking knockout at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez have taken some of the luster off Pac-Man’s legendary resume, and the questions about his age and “killer instinct” haven’t stopped despite a dominant win over Brandon Rios in November of 2013.
Bradley made it one of the bigger talking points of the fight when he explicitly questioned Pacquiao’s fire (to his face) during HBO’s Face Off with Max Kellerman special (h/t to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com):
"That hunger that he's looking for, that's no longer there and he can't get it back. It's gone," Bradley said. "It's gone. It is, Manny. It's gone. It's not there anymore. I truly believe that. The killer instinct, that's what I'm saying. He's not the same as far as that."
Part of that statement was Bradley being Bradley. He’s an outspoken fighter who isn’t afraid to talk a little trash. But there is evidence to support his claim—a notion that is fairly common among some of the sport’s foremost analysts.
Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated had this to say about the matter in his preview and prediction for the fight:
Pacquiao isn't the same fighter he was in 2012, either. The killer instinct is gone, pushed out by age and a more compassionate side of Pacquiao that has emerged the last few years. Pacquiao has not scored a knockout since 2009 and didn't come close to stopping an overmatched Rios last year. He still possesses good speed and throws punches from awkward angles, but the relentless pressure that defined him in his prime is gone.
That’s not to say that Pacquiao has to knock Bradley out—although that would silence some of the doubters—but it’s the “compassion” that Mannix discusses that can’t be on display against Bradley.
The captivating Pac-Man who forced his way into the consciousness of the casual fan did so on the back of his frenzied and brutal attacks. He unleashed a barrage of blows and showed no mercy as he eventually went for the jugular and scored knockouts—38 of them to be exact.
But that fighter hasn’t been seen for quite a while now. In his first match against Bradley, he took his foot off the gas instead of changing gears and increasing the pace.
Rios was completely out of his depth in November and unable to match Pacquiao’s quickness, but Pac-Man was very reserved in his approach. It never looked like he was trying to knock “Bam Bam” out, opting to settle for a unanimous victory on the scorecards that failed him against Bradley in 2012.
Being overaggressive is a tactical no-no, but the inability to end a fight when the moment arises is just as dangerous. At 35 years old, Pacquiao needs to put forth a convincing performance against Bradley, or the volume of voices calling for his retirement will increase.
Furthermore, a loss will shut the door (that is barely cracked open as it is) on the megafight we have all been waiting for: Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather.
Bradley is out for revenge because of the way he was vilified after the controversial decision in 2012, but he is still undefeated and coming off an impressive 2013 that featured victories over Ruslan Provodnikov and Juan Manuel Marquez.
Pacquiao is the one with more on the line when they face off in the MGM Grand on Saturday night.