Sunday, June 10, 2012

Opinions and Observations: Pacquiao-Bradley

In close rounds, I score fights for the boxer who landed the harder punches. There are those who select the "aggressor" or the more active fighter over the course of the three minutes, but I score for the clean blows. To me, Manny Pacquiao undoubtedly landed the more damaging shots from rounds 1-5. Although he fought in spurts throughout these rounds, he had the more impressive landed shots. Timothy Bradley's work in these rounds just wasn't persuasive enough for me. I thought Pacquiao had Bradley hurt in rounds three, four and five. Bradley threw a number of punches, but they didn't really cause any damage or effectively change the tenor of the fight.

Round 6 and rounds 10-12 were clearly Bradley's. In the sixth, Pacquiao tried to flurry in the last minute, as he had in previous rounds, but he didn't land anything too convincing to my eyes. In the final three rounds, it appeared that Bradley really found something. Instead of standing and trading with Pacquiao, which resulted in him eating a ton of left hands, Bradley threw quick two-punch combinations and used his lateral movement to get out of the pocket. This selective engagement is what worked very well for Juan Manuel Marquez in his last fight against Pacquiao.

You could certainly make a case that Pacquiao took his foot off the gas in the fight's last third. He and his team believed that they were comfortably ahead. In an ironic outcome, Pacquiao's lack of activity in the last three rounds handed the fight – on the official scorecards – to Bradley, just as Juan Manuel Marquez's passivity in the final few rounds helped swing his last bout to Pacquiao.

In my opinion, Pacquiao was well ahead in the final rounds. My 116-112 card for Pacquiao credited the good work that was done by Bradley in the last three rounds, but didn't reward him for getting outslugged throughout the first half of the fight.

Obviously, I have significant disagreements with the scorecards handed in by Duane Ford and C.J. Ross, who believed that Bradley won the fight 115-113. Even with the good work and solid ring generalship by Bradley in the final rounds, I struggle to think of four additional frames where Bradley was the victor. I gave Bradley the sixth and perhaps a case could be made for the first, but the other rounds Pacquiao won with his damaging power shots.

It was a very good performance from Pacquiao, but not flawless. His hand speed looked excellent. His power, whether from his straight left hand or left uppercut, moved Bradley around the ring all night. He looked very crisp in exchanges.

Clearly, Pacquiao didn't fight three minutes of each round. Because of age, conditioning or want, Pacquiao didn't feel compelled to press Bradley throughout the whole fight. This was a different fighter last night from vintage Pacquiao, the ball of energy who used to throw 80 punches in a round. However, this was also a different Pacquiao from the Marquez and Mosley fights. Pacquiao looked comfortable in the ring. He accomplished what he set out to do, which was impose his will and get the better of Bradley in exchanges.

In addition, let's not fall into the trap of giving Bradley credit for what Pacquiao didn't do. Pacquiao chose not to fight three minutes of each round, not because he was busy defending himself from Bradley's offensive forays, but because that is how he decided to engage. Bradley was marginally busier in these periods, but he wasn't all that effective. In fact, throughout the fight, Pacquiao's defense was excellent, blocking numerous punches with his arms and evading many of Bradley's power shots.

When Bradley did land, his left hooks and straight right hands weren't enough to cause real damage. Pacquiao took the blows and continued with his agenda. It was only later in the fight, when Bradley decided to use his legs more, that he had sustained success.

I believe that Bradley engaged in the wrong type of fight during the first half. Standing at medium range, he attempted to win rounds based on his belief that he had superior hand speed and at least similar power to Pacquiao. Instead of rushing in aggressively and forcing Pacquiao into a dogfight, he backed off and fired ineffectual jabs and power shots. When Pacquiao decided to engage, Bradley was overwhelmed.

It seems that Bradley's trainer, Joel Diaz, was so concerned about Bradley running into a shot on the way in that he restricted one of his fighter's best attributes: aggressive infighting. At no point, surprisingly, did Bradley try and rough up Pacquiao on the inside. Only at the end of the match, with Bradley fighting in a hit-and-run mode, did Bradley start to control the action of the fight. I think that Diaz and Bradley left some things at the gym that could have been very helpful last night.

Nevertheless, Bradley acquitted himself well. He clearly fought through a foot injury and never stopped trying. His superb conditioning was illustrated by his ability to take many of Pacquiao's bombs. His lack of punching power was obvious as the fight progressed, but he made wise tactical adjustments in the later rounds. It wasn't enough in my view to win the fight, but he showed tremendous heart, adaptability and intelligence.  It's clear from last night's performance why Bradley has been such a successful fighter.  

Bradley is a realist. He heard the boos in the crowd after the decision was announced. Even if he believed that he had won the fight, he knows that it wasn't a convincing performance. I'm sure he will review the tape and focus on the things that worked well for him in the last few rounds of the fight. He certainly has some positives going into the rematch.

For Pacquiao, last night was not evidence of further decline or an obvious statement that his time in the sport should be waning. There were many who predicted that Pacquiao's rededication to religion and his family would mark the end of his reign as a top prizefighter; clearly that reality did not manifest last night. He looked fresh in his bursts of action. He fought intelligently and his punching power looked excellent.

After the scores were announced, there was no anger on the faces of Manny Pacquiao or Freddie Roach. They know that they had won the fight and there's not a damn thing that two Las Vegas judges could claim that would convince them otherwise.

Mike Jones was patiently boxing his way to a ho-hum decision victory and his first world title. He engaged very selectively with his jab, a few right hands and some hooks sprinkled in. His opponent, Randall Bailey, an older veteran fighting for his last shot at the big time, followed Jones around the ring and seemed reticent to throw his massive right hand. It was a painful scene to watch, with one fighter doing barely enough to win rounds, while the other seemed unwilling to let his hands go.

In the 10th round, the whole fight changed. Jones landed a couple of impressive flurries and believed that he had caused some damage. He pursued Bailey throughout the round, and for his troubles, he was dropped by a massive straight right hand. In the 11th, Jones went back to boxing but Bailey landed an absolutely perfect right uppercut which sent Jones sprawling onto the canvas. Jones' nose started to bleed instantly and he struggled to get up. Jones couldn't make it to his feet and the 37-year-old Bailey pulled out an improbably come-from-behind victory.

Bailey illustrated the axiom, "a puncher's chance" last night. Having one of the best right hands in the sport, Bailey can never be counted out in a fight. Nevertheless, with his advanced age and limited overall set of skills, Bailey could be ripe for the taking by other aspiring welterweights. Of course, they are going to have to avoid and/or neutralize his right hand. Bailey is now a mere one-trick pony, but it's a hell of a trick.

Guillermo Rigondeaux demonstrated last night why other top junior featherweights won't want to fight him any time soon. Dismantling a functional Teon Kennedy, Rigondeaux knocked him down five times in five rounds to pick up the stoppage. Rigondeaux, the decorated Cuban amateur star, is a counterpuncher with real power. He throws punches very selectively, but his punch placement is superb and he has an awesome mix of physical gifts and ring intelligence. Rigondeaux landed his straight left hand, left uppercut and a left hook at will. He featured his right hand, whether his jab or hook, sparingly, but it wasn't needed.

I'm quite sure that Bob Arum will keep Rigondeaux away from stablemate and star Nonito Donaire. Rigondeaux poses many challenges for the young, dynamic fighter who can sometimes lose focus in the ring.

However, Rigondeaux isn't unbeatable. By keeping things tight and short, an accurate puncher could score with quick jabs and two-punch combinations while Rigondeaux waits to land his counter bombs. Of course, this is all theoretical, but Rigondeaux's low punch output and unwillingness to lead can give opponents some opportunities. Nevertheless, it was a great performance from him last night and he has made great strides in making himself a more TV-friendly fighter. He'll be back soon.

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