So continues our marathon coverage of one of the biggest bouts of 2014, Timothy Bradley vs. Manny Pacquiao II, on April 12 on HBO Pay-Per-View. Previously: a primer on the rematch; a Bradley-Pacquiao edition of TQBR Radio. Next: the undercard, previewed.
Mind. Matter. How do Manny Pacquiao and Tim Bradley stack up in those categories? Here, we examine both the more mental and more physical attributes of the two combatants.
(The Key[& Peele]s to the fight.)
Size. When last they met, Pacquiao was the firmly established welterweight and Bradley the nascent one. Bradley had faced just one welterweight before Pacquiao, Luis Carlos Abregu, and despite winning definitively, he was a touch on the shaky side. Since facing Pacquiao, himself something of a natural junior welterweight despite having firmly established himself at 147, Bradley has fought two more welterweights who are comfortable at the weight that is less than optimal for them: Ruslan Provodnikov and Juan Manuel Marquez. Pacquiao has fought above 147 once, against Antonio Margarito, and did damage there. There is little to differentiate them dimension-wise, with Pacquiao holding a half-inch height advantage and Bradley holding a two inch reach advantage. What that means is that the size differential that separated them in their first meeting persists, for the most part, but that Bradley has probably gotten more comfortable at the bigger size since. Pacquiao still “wins” this category, just by less than the first time. Edge: Pacquiao
Speed. What I originally thought would be an edge for Pacquiao but less of one than usual ended up being the usual mismatch for Pacquiao here in the first meeting with Bradley. Certainly, Bradley was a notch or more above a number of Pacquiao opponents like the aforementioned Margarito or Joshua Clottey or others. That theoretically could’ve given him trouble. But Pacquaio was just way too fast of hand and foot for Bradley. Having viewed Bradley’s fights before and since, it does strike me as better than some obvious excuse that Bradley did have a foot and/or leg injury issue(s) in their fight. He’s nimbler and quicker there than he showed against Pacquiao. But he’s not in Pacquiao’s class, not even a little, even when healthy. That said, this is another category where the difference we saw in the first fight won’t be the same in this one, with Pacquiao at 35 having potentially slowed down since 2012 and Bradley likely being better here than last time. Edge: Pacquiao
Power. The power outage we’ve seen from Pacquiao since his peak 135-147 pound knockout binge in 2008 and 2009 can be attributed to any number of factors: A. He has taken on guys that just don’t get knocked out as often; B. Opponents have adjusted and fought him more cautiously, wary of that power; and C. He isn’t interested in separating men from their consciousness anymore, having amped up his religiosity and what with God hating knockouts or something, even when it’s healthier for the opponents to be cleanly KO’d then take tons of punches more. It’s probably all of the above. When you watch him against Brandon Rios, you see a fighter who isn’t sitting down on his shots as much, like he’s just content to make hard contact rather than go for the kill. But, look, either way, Bradley is nowhere near even a cautious, punch-pulling Pacquiao here. He might have semi-stunned Marquez once or twice when they met, but so has fluff-fisted Juan Diaz. Everyone hurts Marquez. Bradley isn’t a puncher, and Pacquiao is, even when he’s not trying to be. Edge: Pacquiao
Condition. We can break “condition” down into two categories: wear and tear, and conditioning. Both men have ridiculous stamina, one of their main weapons. In the first meeting, Bradley finished a touch stronger late than Pacquiao, who started coasting, but it does point to Bradley being a bit more dedicated on this count. Pacquiao physically looks a bit softer at 147, whereas Bradley still looks like an H.R. Giger piece in his midsection. We hear that Pacquiao has had his best camp “in years,” as opposed to the lackluster camp for the first Bradley fight, although we’ve also heard that before. Bottom line: I’ll bet on Bradley being in better shape, if anyone. As for wear and tear, since part I, Bradley, five years younger than Pacquiao, has had a life-and-death war with Provodnikov, while Pacquiao has had an “Is he literally dead?” knockout loss to Marquez. Both men rebounded well in their next fights, with Bradley decisioning Marquez and Pacquiao decisioning Rios, with Marquez landing more on Bradley than the upward-moving 140-pounder Rios did on Marquez. The lower body injuries Bradley suffered against Pacquiao are an anomaly, with Pacquiao having leg cramps repeatedly for a long period. Both men have suffered cuts before, although usually it’s Bradley and his gigantic head that has come out on the right end of various head butts and the damage done. Overall, stamina, age and cumulative damage sustained during wars suggests… Edge: Bradley
Chin. Bradley had been down his share prior to Pacquiao, and went down a couple times more against Provodnikov. He has, however, always risen, always. And there was no real threat of him getting dropped against Pacquiao or Marquez, two fights where he fought intelligently rather than the foolish manner in which he slugged with Provodnikov, who since has proven himself a murderous puncher against top-10 fighters rather than just on Friday Night Fights. Pacquiao, of course, was absolutely wrecked by Marquez. He had been buzzed here and there by Marquez before, and was hurt to the body by Margarito, and acknowledged that Rios hurt him at one point, perhaps the 5th. It’s not an easy call, but I’ll side with the guy who hasn’t been blasted like Pacquiao was against Marquez over the guy who has never been starched. Chin: Bradley
Offense. Pacquiao is far and away the more effective offensive fighter, in that he hits harder, connects more, throws more. And he has a diverse arsenal and is no longer the one-fisted southpaw dynamo of old. Yet Bradley is the fighter of the two more comfortable with a diversity of overall styles. He’s better at boxing than brawling, but he can do both. He can deal with brawlers and boxers approximately equally well. Pacquiao is better offensively against come-forward types but struggles against counterpunchers. Pacquiao is the crisper puncher, the more accurate one. When Bradley traded with him in the first meeting, Pacquiao did well. Other times, Bradley made it harder by boxing, yet Pacquiao’s overall volume and more powerful punches told the tale. Pacquiao’s best shot in the first fight was a straight left, followed by the occasional right hook and general Pacquiao-blitz combos. Bradley’s best shot was a tie between the straight right and counter left hook, followed by the jab and body shots in clinches (much as Rios, early, scored so frequently because Pacquiao has a quizzical inability to effectively tie up to prevent his opponent from working with a free hand). Edge: Pacquiao
Defense. Bradley, even with his tendency to get ragged, nonetheless struck me as the better defensive fighter prior to their original clash. His instincts were more in that direction. Pacquiao at his best just tries to drown people in his offense, with his defense secondary to setting up said offense. With Bradley, defense is a bit more intrinsic. Yet, watching the first fight again, and maybe in part because Bradley was less mobile than usual thanks to the injury(ies), it’s Pacquiao who was more effective at hitting and not getting hit. But perhaps it’s not an isolated incident; Bradley got blasted by Provodnikov for several rounds, and Marquez connected a fair amount on Bradley, too. Against Marquez, we’re talking about a version of Bradley that was more defensive-minded than in his last several. Oddly enough, this category goes in the opposite direction this time. Edge: Pacquiao
Intelligence. Bradley is a crafty fighter, one who has adapted in the ring well to a variety of opponent styles. Pacquiao, as much as he has evolved into a two-fisted fighter capable of defense, still is basically Pacquiao, overwhelming opponents with his sheer Pacquiao-ness. The consensus seems to be that Bradley, by mocking Pacquiao’s lack of hunger and lost tiger eye, is trying to goad Pacquiao into a wild fight where he gets reckless a la the last Marquez fight. Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach, who deserves credit for his masterpiece of molding Pacquiao into more than a one-dimensional KO machine, says Pacquiao is genuinely pissed, so maybe it’ll work. Roach, who has a knack for savvy game plans for Pac’s fights, has a formidable foe in the opposite corner, as Joel Diaz has over the last couple years put his name into the elite class of trainers. As well-evolved as Pacquiao has become, Bradley is the fighter more equipped to adapt. Edge: Bradley
Willpower. There’s no way Pacquiao gets to the level he’s gotten to without top-notch determination. Yet by the standard of an elite boxer, his focus waxes and wanes, his attention being frequently diverted elsewhere to various meteorological phenomena in his home country, or his marriage woes, or his role as a Filipino government official. Bradley, meanwhile, exists as a top-notch boxer almost entirely based on willpower. He is a good athlete, for sure, and his genetic makeup and its resulting physique point toward a natural specimen. But what MAKES Pacquiao is his gift. What MAKES Bradley is his raw desire. And he’s used to being booed by now, so that’s not going to affect anything. There’s the slightest chance that Bradley will be overeager to win this fight and therefore handicapped, as he brawled too willingly early on against Pacquiao and almost the whole fight against Provodnikov, but one suspects he has learned what it takes on this level, against this opponent, now. Edge: Bradley
The Rest. We’ve mostly blended this category into the others by this point, but the one standout category that has nothing to do with either man’s abilities is the judging. Top Rank’s Bob Arum has openly declared that he hopes Pacquiao wins against Bradley in the style he won against Ricky Hatton. For the conspiracy-minded, Arum’s elated immediate reaction to the Bradley win last time pointed to a fighter who was happy to have an American successor to his fading Asian superstar — which could explain (again, for the conspiracy-minded) why the underdog and less financially viable fighter got the benefit of the doubt on the scorecards last time. This time, there will be, at minimum, more subconscious pressure in the opposite direction. That means that Bradley will have to win rounds convincingly, and to do so he’ll have to throw more punches, which also means he’ll have to open himself up to more punches in return. As if Pacquiao needed any more advantages… Edge: Pacquiao