By Bill Dwyre *
With the MANNY “Pacman” PACQUIAO – TIMOTHY “Desert Storm” BRADLEY JR. fight on the horizon, doctors who make their living listening to people on couches will have their ears perked.
This may be a boxing match less about fists than minds. Were he alive, Sigmund Freud would become an instant fight fan, just for this one.
These are veteran combatants. They have history in the sport and history against each other. The attempts of their trainers — Freddie Roach for Pacquiao and Teddy Atlas for Bradley — will be to keep the focus on jabs and footwork. But the clouds of the past that will drift overhead in the months ahead, as they train for this April 9 meeting in Las Vegas, will be hard for either to dismiss. That’s especially true because, unlike so many of their peers, Pacquiao and Bradley have retained sharp brain function.
What will end in a boxing “trilogy” in three months began on June 9, 2012.
That was Pacquiao-Bradley I, with the usual expectations that the Filipino hero was there merely to add another notch to his boxing belt and cash another big check. He had won 15 in a row at that point. He WAS boxing. His fights were exciting, often brawling. His opponents had a hard time disliking him or even pretending to diss him, even after he had pounded them to pulp or left them flat on their back, seeing stars.
Manny Pacquiao not only was a winner, but a winner in such a way that made him the ultimate star for a promoter, in this case, Top Rank’s Bob Arum.
Pacquiao was the All-American boy, even though he was from the faraway Philippines and had pulled himself from the streets of poverty to the bright lights of Las Vegas. The massively rich country and the massively manic city where Arum had brought him to win and dazzle, embraced him and his story.
That fight week, even with Pacquiao’s victory a foregone conclusion, had managed to steal some media attention from a huge sports story in the East, the attempt of a California horse, I’ll Have Another, to win a Triple Crown. When I’ll Have Another turned up lame the day before the Belmont, Pacquiao had, once again, stolen the headlines.
For his part, Bradley seemed perfectly cast as a competitive, attractive and articulate number in Pacquiao’s victory rolodex. Bradley was unbeaten in 29 fights, and had won against the decent quality competition provided by the likes of Junior Witter, Lamont Peterson and Devon Alexander. Even his victory prior to the Pacquiao fight, over aging Cuban Joel Casamayor, looked impressive to those who didn’t understand that Casamayor couldn’t break a window pane.
Experts took all this in, pointed to a less-than-impressive 12 knockouts by Bradley in those 29 fights—most of them in nondescript, smaller casino venues—and assumed that this was to be little more than another payday for Pacquiao and a bright-lights debut for Bradley.
Then Bradley won the fight, although in the most controversial boxing decision of this era, and the game changed. So did the careers and thought processes of the two boxers.
The decision was wrong. The world knew. One of the judges, C.J. Ross, whose scorecard was the most outrageous, eventually retired. Many assumed that was under pressure. The decision had been laughable, mind-boggling. But it was official.
If anything, the boxers handled it better than officials and the ranting press.
Pacquiao, ever classy, said he thought he won, but congratulated Bradley and shrugged it off as one of those things. Bradley was in a tougher spot. What was he supposed to say? He had just won a world title, had just beaten the sport’s current king — Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s claim to that at that point notwithstanding. Was Bradley supposed to rip the judges who had just given him that?
What a dilemma. Tim Bradley’s most memorable moment became his biggest nightmare. He was never asked how he won; only how he could justify the decision.
The worm continued to turn for Pacquiao. Later that year, on Dec. 8, in the same MGM ring where the judges had sucker punched Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez, about to succumb himself to a typical Pacquiao barrage, did the same. He caught the Filipino hero flush near the end of a round and knocked him cold.
Suddenly, the bloom was really off the rose for Manny Pacquiao.
Which brings us to 2016, and three months hence.
In the interim, Pacquiao has won Pacquiao-Bradley II in convincing fashion April 12, 2014, but has lost most recently, in somewhat humiliating fashion, to Mayweather. Bradley has only that one loss to Pacquiao on his 33-1-1 record, while turning in entertaining victories over Ruslan Provodnikov, Juan Manuel Marquez, Jessie Vargas and, most recently Brandon Rios, whom he sent into retirement.
Now, for each, the most pertinent question seems to be, rather than how are you training, what are you thinking and feeling? Pacquiao’s time on the psychologist’s couch might produce thoughts such as:
• Am I on the way down and Bradley on the way up?
• Is it possible that the judges were right in the first match?
• I am 37. I have fought 65 professional fights. I have been a Philippine Congressman for two terms and am going to seek a Senate seat in May. What am I doing in the ring again?
• Is this match all about going out on the high I wanted with the Mayweather fight? If I lose to Bradley, will I have to fight again, just to get that career-wrapup high I want, even though I expect to be in the middle of more pressing political duties.
It is no less complicated for Bradley:
• If I lose decisively again, will it take away any joy I can retain from the first match; will that be the final proof of farce?
• If I win and Pacquiao retires, as he says he will, will I then be Top Rank’s star, with the accompanying financial benefits.
• I’m 32. If I lose, if I’m merely cannon fodder for Pacquiao’s grand finale, am I back to Agua Caliente on a Friday night, with Lamont Peterson’s mother screeching from the second row over every punch?
• Have I improved since our second match? Has he slipped?
And so it will go. Three months until the fight. Lots of couch time. Stay tuned.
* This column was not subject to the approval of Top Rank.
Bill Dwyre will be writing a series of weekly columns on the Pacquiao vs. Bradley world championship event. Bill was sports editor of The Los Angeles Times for 25 years, ending in 2006. He was a sports columnist for 9 1/2 years at The Times, ending Nov. 25 with his retirement. Boxing was among his most frequent column topics.
Promoted by Top Rank®, in association with MP Promotions, the Pacquiao vs. Bradley world championship event will take place on Saturday, April 9, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. It will be produced and distributed live by HBO Pay-Per-View® beginning at 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT.