Elemental: Pacquiao Vs Bradley 3

Make a checklist of the elements of a great fight, and out of context, Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley sounds terrific. Both have delivered their fair share of blistering action. They’re the two best welterweights in the world, which means when they meet they’ll crown a new, authentic champion — and give Pacquiao a chance to be boxing’s first-ever five-division champ. They’re pound-for-pound caliber, maybe two of the best five fighters in the world today. And it’s Pacquiao’s avowed final professional bout, meaning it could be the swan song of one of his generation’s best couple runs alongside Floyd Mayweather.

But Pacquiao vs Bradley 3 isn’t happening in a void — the context is that there was a 1 and a 2, and Pacquiao won both clearly, even if the judges mis-scored the first meeting badly enough for senators to introduce legislation in response to it. And there’s the pall hanging over this Pacquiao-Bradley of Pacquiao’s disturbing anti-gay comments, not to mention the pall of Pacquiao’s disappointingly tepid showing against Mayweather when the two finally faced off last year. Both of those palls are especially unsavory to the casual fans who would otherwise be revving this HBO Pay-Per-View Saturday to at least a medium-sized buzz, with the redundancy of Pacquiao-Bradleys past keeping it from getting to a roar.

It’s a cliche for boxing fans to convince themselves they like a fight as it draws near, at least more than when it was announced. There is, though, a bit of context that makes it so things might be different this time. Since last they met, Bradley has forged himself in the metaphorical, spittle-flecked fire of new trainer Teddy Atlas. Pacquiao has instead “healed” himself in the salty ocean and with prayer, and this will be his first bout since rehabbing an (allegedly) injured shoulder suffered during training for Mayweather.

Few thought Bradley would beat Pacquiao either time. But it says here that he will.

Bradley, in his debut with Atlas, was formidable. He was simultaneously smarter and more aggressive. Sure, he was up against a faded Brandon Rios. But by the time Bradley fought Pacquiao the second time in 2014, Bradley was already in the midst of a passive aggressive rebellion against trainer Joel Diaz. Suffering an injury in the second Pacquiao fight, he opted to slug it out with Pacquiao in a strategy that wasn’t going to win. Now, Bradley and Atlas are a super-intense match made in heaven, with Bradley apparently getting sincerely pumped up by Atlas’ corny “We’re firemen!” speech between Rios rounds. Bradley, then, looks like a genuinely revitalized force in the ring.

Pacquiao, when he first faced Bradley in 2012, was near the beginning of his present decline. The violent tornado of old had become a threatening thunderstorm. He probably remains something like that. Even after the Juan Manuel Marquez knockout loss, Pacquiao showed enough of his old self — speed, power, unpredictable movement — to remain near the top of the boxing world. But who knows how much of that remains. He had flashes against Mayweather, who figured to be a tough style match-up for him even without an injury. Will he be close to whole? And has he checked out entirely on his boxing career, having demonstrated signs of losing interest for years now?

One problem for a Bradley victory: Atlas has been a little too vocal about what he intends to do against Pacquiao, even talking about timing specific punches Pacquiao throws. They are flaws many have noticed before, but putting them in the spotlight only gives Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s coaching mastermind, a chance to adjust. Pacquiao might never have adjusted mid-fight once in his career, but he’s pretty good at picking up new game plans from Roach between fights.

But the basics of the approach — learning from Mayweather and Marquez — are sound. Pacquiao doesn’t deal well with counterpunchers. Bradley has some of the intelligence and athleticism he’ll need to implement the approach, although he doesn’t have the intelligence of Marquez and neither the intelligence nor athleticism of Mayweather.

By itself, that’s probably not enough for Bradley to win. It takes the other side, too: Pacquiao not being up to snuff. His heart doesn’t seem to be into it, and his body might not be ready for the task, either.

Bradley should get the win he always wanted. And the long sour note on which Pacquiao’s career has been ending will conclude with a bitter decrescendo.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.