The lead-up to Manny Pacquiao's fight with Timothy Bradley has been odd, to say the least. An absurd amount of focus has been placed on Manny's new devotion to God and his Bible studies while Bradley actually emerged as an engaging and interesting personality. Pacquiao's disinterest in playing the game with Bradley was summed up quite well during their post-weigh-in staredown. With Tim eyeing Manny down with evil intentions in his eyes, looking to create an intense moment, Pacquiao started to smile. A smile, he would later explain, that comes from "having God with him" and "being happy."
(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
It's difficult to say if the new devotion is, in part at least, due to Pacquiao's legal troubles and the fact that they (being Top Rank and Manny) seem determined to explain away a less-than-stellar showing against Juan Manuel Marquez last November.
The Marquez fight was supposed to be something easy for Manny. Given the way Marquez had looked against Floyd Mayweather the expectation was for Pacquiao to destroy his smaller rival, finally moving past their controversial first two fights. Instead, more controversy followed as Marquez gave as well as he took, if not better, and made a very solid case as having won the fight.
We've since heard that Pacquiao was having marital problems that extended to getting to the arena late that night, we've heard that it is the mysterious calf issues that seem to pop up whenever things get rough among a host of other excuses. And the truth probably lies in some combination of it all.
But, the way the Marquez fight went combined with Miguel Cotto choosing to fight Mayweather instead of Pacquiao lead us to tonight, when Manny steps into the cage for a truly dangerous test against an undefeated and hungry Bradley.
The Generation Gap
Pacquiao has fought eight different men since 2008, with the retirements of Shane Mosley and Antonio Margarito over the past few weeks, five of those men are no longer fighting (Mosley, Margarito, De La Hoya, Diaz and Hatton). Add in an old (even if great) Juan Manuel Marquez who probably deserved wins in their two fights during that timeframe, a disinterested Joshua Clottey and Miguel Cotto who was forced to go down to 145 for the bout and it's not hard to see how Bradley is a different breed from Pacquiao's other opponents since becoming a superstar.
For Bradley, this is his shot. Yes, he's coming up maybe a weight class higher than he'd ideally fight but he's also at his athletic peak and has yet to taste defeat. While this is his first chance to fight on a stage this level, he's been in with top shelf talents already with wins over guys like Lamont Peterson and Devon Alexander.
You can't tell with absolute certainty how a fighter is going to react once the opening bell rings, but the fact that Bradley is who he is means that we're not going to see Pacquiao get the walk he got against Mosley or Clottey nor is he going to be able to run circles around him like he did the plodding Margarito.
Pacquiao is absolutely capable of handling Bradley despite that he's fast becoming one of the last of his era, but he's going to have to be ready for a different fight than he's been in for quite some time.
Cranium Collisions and Conditioning Coaches
Timothy Bradley fights involve headbutts. That's just a fact of life. Since this fight was announced, we've heard plenty of concern over what will happen when southpaw Pacquiao and orthodox Bradley get inside. Bradley claims that he doesn't headbutt, he just keeps his chin tucked and when guys try to get inside on him, clashes happen.
The concern is two parts. One, if Bradley's head does crack Pacquiao, will it bother Manny? Two, is there a chance of a nasty cut that forces an early end to the bout?
Headbutts aside, Pacquiao has also seen his camp have a fair amount of infighting, with his strength and conditioning coach, Alex Ariza, briefly kicked out of camp and now back with the team even if his role is diminished and Bob Arum (Manny's promoter), Miguel Diaz (Manny's cutman) and Freddie Roach (Manny's trainer) all seeming to feud with him at some point. It's yet another distraction for Manny as he tries to dodge marital strife, muscle issues, Bradley's headbutts and the simple risks of getting older as a boxer.
Pacquiao didn't accidentally become one of the best fighters on planet Earth. He has climbed up in weight and now, at 147 pounds, handles bigger men than himself with relative ease. But he also struggled against the smaller Marquez and, as pointed out earlier, his opposition hasn't exactly been athletically peaking.
Bradley isn't without issues. He doesn't hit particularly had, despite what his camp has said in public about his ability to get a stoppage. He also isn't quite as fast as Manny. In terms of purely who is a better fighter when at their absolute best? It's Manny all day.
But this isn't the best Manny Pacquiao. This is an aging fighter who is clearly distracted and also doesn't seem to have the "fire" that he had when at his absolute best.
I think that a young, determined Bradley, capable of making fantastic mid-fight adjustments, will be able to simply outwork a fighter whose legs have been failing him over the past couple years. Bradley is going to make it a little dirty and he's going to be able to do things that Manny can't keep up with at this point in his career.
I know it sounds like hedging and I don't mean it to, but there's a real chance I'm completely wrong and Manny either stops Bradley with ease or simply proves to be too high of a quality over twelve rounds. But I'm going to stick with what I've said since the fight was announced and say that I'll take Timothy Bradley by unanimous decision in an upset.