In a matter of 12 rounds, two elite fighters saw their immediate futures take a drastic change. Manny Pacquiao has gone from a man many doubted could still produce on a world-class level to a man on the cusp of reestablishing himself as one of the two best fighters in the world.
Timothy Bradley's defeat has removed him from the doorstep of elite status in the eyes of casual fans. He's now again just a really good fighter to most, but nothing really special.
That's quite the change for both men.
Pacquiao's Second Life
Pacquiao's unanimous-decision win over Bradley on Saturday has restored some relevance to a potential superfight with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
We're not exactly where we were in 2009, but defeating Bradley certainly did wonders for Pacquiao's reputation.
Pacquiao's previous win over Brandon Rios didn't excite anyone. In what looked like a glorified sparring session, Pacquiao slapped Rios around the ring with little effort. Though the bout was far from competitive, Pacquiao's performance seemed a bit empty in some ways.
Though he was in control the entire way, Pacquiao failed to finish an opponent who seemed to be there for the taking. He still hasn't stopped anyone since 2009. It was perhaps the most unimpressive win of Pacquiao's career.
Coming off two straight losses, it wasn't exactly what he needed to restore the shine to his reputation.
The same can't be said after Saturday night's fight. Pacquiao couldn't stop Bradley, or even put him in danger, but he did exhibit solid boxing skills and the same solid defense he showed against Rios.
He has seemingly reinvented himself after consecutive losses to Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez.
No longer is he the reckless slugger who simply gambles that he can hit you harder than you'll hit him. He's finally using his head in the ring and keeping control of his emotions.
That makes him even more dangerous to Floyd Mayweather. At this point, I'd still pick Mayweather to win by a comfortable decision, but a composed Pacquiao could give him more to think about.
We'll see if Pacquiao can show that poise against a man he has a real axe to grind with. Pacquiao seemed to have no ill will toward Rios or Bradley. Thus, it made it easier to stick to the game plan.
What happens when—and if—the juices get flowing against Marquez? That's a man who rocked the Filipino legend physically and emotionally in 2012.
Likewise, it seems Pacquiao has some degree of disdain for Mayweather. Would he be able to keep it together in the ring with a boxing genius and a master of the mental aspect of the fight game?
If Pacquiao can get a chance to avenge his knockout loss to Marquez, and Mayweather continues to win, it'll open up the possibility for the megafight to finally happen.
All involved know that there's probably a very small window remaining to make the fight and have it be fought at a world-class level.
I've always felt that there's too much money to be made from the matchup for even the greediest, most bitter rivals to resist working out a deal.
After Saturday's bout, Pacquiao's promoter, Bob Arum, said he's open to working out a Mayweather-Pacquiao deal.
Arum says he is ready "anytime" to negotiate a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight.— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) April 13, 2014
We'll take that with a grain of salt. But you can certainly believe he's open to making the fortune he'll get from the pay-per-view buys.
Hard to Earn
As for Bradley, it'll be easy for fans to forget about him after this loss.
Most believe he lost the first meeting with Pacquiao, so the man who got hardly any respect will get even less. That's a shame, because Bradley is an elite fighter.
He could have beaten Pacquiao on Saturday had he not reached for a knockout that his modest power couldn't produce. His emotions got the best of him, and he stepped outside of himself.
His former opponent and former Pacquiao sparring partner, Ruslan Provodnikov, said this midway through Saturday's bout:
It was pretty clear to see.
The truth is, Bradley would defeat just about every 140- or 147-pound fighter in the world not named Pacquiao or Mayweather. There's honor in that, but there may not be much fame and fan appreciation in it.
Before the second bout with Pacquiao—and even during the fight—Bradley made it clear he craves the adulation from the fans.
Sadly, he may not get that respect until he's already hung up the gloves. That's just an unfortunate reality of the sport.
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