It may not qualify as tradition, but it does seem to happen a lot in boxing.
When one fighting generation fades into another, an identifiable superstar from the outgoing class will oftentimes engage a newcomer in what amounts to a violent torch passing.
Many of the sport’s recognizable icons have taken part—Joe Louis to Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali to Larry Holmes, Julio Cesar Chavez to Oscar De La Hoya and De La Hoya to Floyd Mayweather Jr. among them—changing the guard for their respective weight classes, or for the fiefdom as a whole.
Boxing’s most recent undisputed superstar, Mayweather, had a chance to continue the succession line when he bid farewell in September but chose convenience over competition by engaging a pedestrian Andre Berto rather than hungry lions surnamed Brook, Thurman, Porter and Golovkin.
Still, with Money’s exit, the cognoscenti had hopes with Manny Pacquiao.
The Filipino has long been the popularity winner in a gloved version of a Team Edward/Team Jacob debate, and he had a final chance to stick a thumb in his nemesis’ eye by making a seemingly imminent swan song—tentatively scheduled for April 2016—as much a good fight as a goodbye.
The problem is, by picking Tim Bradley over Terence Crawford and other more formidable contenders—a decision Top Rank boss Bob Arum announced Wednesday, as Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times reported—he continued the wrong tradition.
Lest anyone forget, Crawford is a young, hungry 28-year-old who’s begun cracking respected top-10 lists while boosting a profile that earned him a nod as 2014’s top fighter from the Boxing Writers Association of America. He fights at a weight—140 pounds—that Team Pacquiao has consistently said it prefers, and his allegiance to Bob Arum presumably makes the match no more than a conference call away.
Meanwhile Bradley, an engaging guy and a quality fighter by any measure, has already had two bites at the Pac-Man apple while convincing no one outside of Duane Ford, C.J. Ross and maybe a marginalized cousin that he’d done anything but lose two of every three rounds.
It’s a testament to Arum’s aplomb that he turned the first Manny-Tim nightmare—ranked 2012’s worst decision by Boxing Scene, ESPN and scores more—into a pay-per-view rematch that generated better than 750,000 buys two years later. And that same skill will presumably allow for a compelling storyline that’ll send another half-million or so skittering to their order screens come springtime.
Arum's work has already begun, and he told Mike Coppinger of USA Today, "I think it’s an interesting fight given Bradley’s last performance against [Brandon] Rios, it was a different Tim Bradley from the Bradley we’ve seen before, and the confidence he’s gotten from Teddy Atlas makes it a really interesting fight. This is not the same Tim Bradley that fought Manny Pacquiao twice."
While it’s hard to assail a 37-year-old boxer for choosing a two-time second banana over a potentially live wire, it’s still a letdown given both the availability of realistic alternatives and the rough-and-ready reputation Pacquiao’s been credited with for so long.
A match with Crawford would have given Top Rank and HBO a win-win chance to put the new kid over, either via throne-capturing victory or brave challenge of a legend. And in the aftermath, no Manny spin would have been needed, either. He tames the lion and erases the taste of last May’s disappointment, or he gets devoured but hits the door knowing he, unlike Mayweather, went out in a full-pitched battle.
Sure, Arum told Pugmire that Crawford wasn't a big enough name for the cable and satellite companies. But the Hall of Fame promoter's ability to hype a fight is well-documented, and he still has the sport's most popular active fighter as a primary selling point. It's hard to see how another Bradley bout is more compelling than a test against a true rising star like Crawford.
And if not Crawford, there was Brook. Or Canelo. Or Golovkin.
You know, all the guys Money supposedly sidestepped.
With Bradley, though, no chance at glory exists. For these purposes, he’s Berto 2.0.
And the downside with an exit-ramp stumble is far, far steeper.
Win and you’ve closed out the ho-hum series, 2-1. Lose and the bad taste will seep retroactively back to the Mayweather fight, reshaping that narrative to the point where Pacquiao was already a spent force who used a bum shoulder to wriggle out from the reality that he was in far over his head.
This is boxing, though. So truth likely lies in a corner office to which few have a key.
Maybe Top Rank doesn’t think Crawford’s quite ready for Pacquiao. Maybe it doesn't think Pacquiao’s still ready for him. Maybe it really does believe the April 9 bout would be more lucrative without Crawford involved. Or maybe Bradley 3.0 is just a well-publicized diversion intended solely to rev engines for an arena-christening, register-ringing, Internet-breaking Floyd-Manny return in September.
Those interested in Manny’s near-term legacy might want to go all-in while hoping for that last one.
Because with such attractive choices out there for an April climax at 140 or 154, just another Desert Storm date is going to feel a lot like the same old welterweight cold shower.