Thursday, April 10, 2014

Pacquiao-Bradley II: Keys to the Fight

The highly anticipated rematch between Manny Pacquiao (55-5-2, 38 KOs) and Tim Bradley (31-0, 12 KOs) takes place on Saturday at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas. Two years ago, Bradley was awarded a split decision victory; however, most boxing observers had Pacquiao winning comfortably. Since their first fight, Pacquiao was knocked out by his nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez. After a long time off, he came back to beat Brandon Rios decisively. Bradley had a triumphant 2013, squeaking by Ruslan Provodnikov in a tremendous fight and winning a split decision over Marquez. 

But what is the conventional wisdom for Saturday's rematch? Pacquiao is still seen as a favorite by the bookies (though a slight one) and Bradley doesn't seem to possess the power to knock out Pacquiao (he's had only one KO since 2007). How much has Bradley improved since their first fight and to what degree has Pacquiao declined from his peak? Does Pacquiao still have his finishing instincts? Are the intangibles all on Bradley's side? Read below for the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article. 

1. What have they learned from their first fight?

In 2012, Bradley started off trying to outbox Pacquiao in the pocket and he got beaten up pretty badly through the first six rounds. With that strategy unsuccessful, he made some significant adjustments. In the last third of the fight, he started to box off of the back foot and had some moments of success by potshotting and throwing quick two-punch combinations. 

However, was that success a mirage? Did Pacquiao think that he was so far ahead that he took his foot off the gas, or was he genuinely flummoxed by Bradley's technical ability away from the pocket? This answer is pivotal to understanding how the rematch will play out. Although almost everyone in boxing circles thinks of Pacquiao as a fantastic aggressive fighter, most of his greatest triumphs have been against straight-line or older fighters. Bradley's combination of athleticism and movement may have significantly thwarted Pacquiao’s preferred way of attacking. Or maybe not. Perhaps Pacquiao just played it too safe closing out the fight. 

Has Pacquiao learned not to let up? He did face cramping issues in the first match and he certainly didn't attack Bradley in the last three rounds with the same type of zeal that he had earlier in the fight. Was it a conditioning problem? Bradley's style? A lack of killer instinct? Pacquiao knows that he has to fight three minutes a round for 12 rounds to win the rematch. There were too many gaps in the first bout and numerous times where he took breaks. Although I believe that he won fairly comfortably two years ago, he could have done more. 

2. Vulnerabilities since their last fight.

Both Pacquiao and Bradley have experienced rough moments since their match in 2012. Pacquiao was practically knocked back to the Philippines by Marquez while Bradley was only seconds away from getting KO'ed by Provodnikov. But what if anything can be learned from those fights for Saturday's rematch?

Personally, I think that Bradley could take a lot more from Pacquiao's fight with Rios than he could from the Pacquiao-Marquez IV result. I know that may sound strange but hear me out. Bradley isn't Marquez. He doesn't possess one-punch knockout power. He won't be gunning for the single-shot KO like Marquez was. With the exception of those two knockdowns by Marquez, Pacquiao was fighting at a very high level. There isn't a whole lot Bradley can incorporate from that fight other than if he possessed significantly greater power, he would have a chance to knock out Pacquiao.

However, I believe that there are certain takeaways from Pacquiao's (lack of) work during the Rios fight that can be exploited by Bradley. Most importantly, when tied up or at very close range, Pacquiao didn't want to work on the inside. Bradley can be very good fighting in close quarters, having success beating Devon Alexander and Lamont Peterson in that matter. If Bradley can successfully tie-up Pacquiao or half-clinch, where he would have a free hand, he could do some real damage. In addition, Pacquiao rarely throws his uppercut during inside scrums. Bradley could use his physicality to gain real edges. Rios also had some good moments when he backed up Pacquiao to the ropes. Bradley certainly has that skill set too. But, like Rios, he will have to take a lot of punishment to get there. 

Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, was in Provodnikov’s corner against Bradley and surely saw a number of things that helped his fighter throughout the match – Bradley made some strategic mistakes. One in particular was Bradley's willingness to be dragged into a brawl. But that wasn't just a one-time folly. Bradley also decided to stand right in front of Pacquiao during their first fight, perhaps the worst place to be in the ring. Although Bradley engaged in a disciplined fight against Juan Manuel Marquez, he can still be susceptible to admiring his work (not getting out fast enough after exchanges), especially when having success. 

Pacquiao isn't usually cagey and doesn't set a lot of traps, but I wonder if Roach has worked with him in this area for the rematch. I think that Bradley can be walked into a shot. Here are two examples: 

1. Bradley starts to get overconfident pushing Pacquiao back to the ropes. Pacquiao counters a lazy jab (which Bradley sometimes throws) with a right hook/straight left hand combination. 

2. Pacquiao counters a right "arm punch" from close range with two pulverizing straight left hands, putting Bradley immediately on the defensive. 

As good as Bradley can technically be, he will make these mistakes from time to time and Pacquiao needs to capitalize on them. 

3. For Bradley, anywhere but the pocket. 

Bradley had a rude awakening in the first fight when he realized that he couldn't match Pacquiao's hand speed in the pocket. Standing at mid-range, Pacquiao battered him. But as the fight progressed, he had success making Pacquiao stalk him. 

Taking the lessons from Pacquiao-Rios and his own fight with Marquez, where he used his boxing ability and movement to win, Bradley may have a number of ways to win rounds. I'd like to see him mug Pacquiao at close range or use the ring to pick spots and test Pacquiao's legs and stamina. Either of these tactics could conceivably work (and hopefully he mixes it up throughout the fight) but he must not stay in the pocket for any prolonged period of time. If Bradley has fully internalized this lesson, he is in a far better position than he was going into their first fight. 

4. Power. 

By all measures, Pacquiao has a decided power advantage over Bradley. However, Pacquiao hit Bradley with so many of his best shots in their first fight yet Bradley never went down. And although Bradley might not possess knockout power, his shots had enough on them to make Roach contemplate stopping the Provodnikov fight; in addition, he certainly staggered Marquez in their fight. Bradley can be a very accurate puncher and throws an array of shots. His punch placement and variety help make up for a lack of raw power. 

Pacquiao will do much better on Saturday if it's a dogfight. He needs to sell out with power shots early and make Bradley fight ragged, where he can be more susceptible to making mistakes. When Bradley is hurt, his impulse is to fire back wildly. Here Pacquiao needs to use his power and punch volume to get Bradley on the canvas. It may not be easy to knock Bradley out, but he can certainly be sent down to the ground. Pacquiao needs to press his advantages to shoot for 10-8 rounds whenever possible. 

Bradley has to land enough power shots to avoid getting steamrolled. He has every punch in the book and it will be important for him to mix in his left hook, right uppercut and looping right to keep Pacquiao honest and more tentative. Pacquiao is not necessarily a thinking’s man fighter, and when he doesn't know where the shots are coming from, he becomes far less aggressive. 

Bradley is also very good at cutting his opponents (it may not be a legitimate "skill," but let's not pretend it doesn't exist either). Pacquiao can be cut and if this scenario happens, Bradley will need to work on the cut like a seasoned veteran. This again may be more of a question of punch placement rather than sheer power. Bradley will have to set up shots to exploit this opportunity if it arises. 

5. The championship rounds.

We know one thing: Bradley won't fade. His conditioning is superb and his will, desire and self-belief give him the intangibles to pull out victories. Pacquiao has more of a mixed record in closing out fights. Marquez bested him in many of the late rounds in their first two fights but Pacquiao had a wonderful 12th in their third match. Pacquiao has also struggled to close against Clottey, Margarito and Bradley, although he was excellent finishing against Cotto, Morales in their second match and Barrera in their first battle. 

If the fight is close, which Pacquiao will show up on Saturday, the one who is the finisher or the one who lets up? If Bradley is down in the fight, he will put himself on the line to try and get the win. Will this make him more susceptible to knockdowns? Can he responsibly win rounds late in a close fight? He did so against Marquez. He was less successful against Provodnikov. His will is certainly unequaled but that doesn't mean he always makes the right decisions. Will his desire affect his better judgment?


I look at this fight the following way: Pacquiao throws the harder, flashier punches and he most likely will throw more of them. Bradley will have to win with savvy, guile and his ability to neutralize his opponent. Again, I wouldn't be surprised if Bradley decided to bring it to Pacquiao on the inside, rough him up a little and take him out of his comfort zone. But I'm not sure if that will be enough. Bradley will have to switch up tactics throughout the fight and stay clearheaded and purposeful with his approach in the ring. I think that he will have moments of the fight where he clearly gets the better of Pacquiao but ultimately, I'll take the guy whose punches are more impactful and galvanize the crowd. It will be a competitive fight, but Pacquiao's work rate and superior power shots will take the day. 

Manny Pacquiao defeats Tim Bradley 116-112, or 8 rounds to 4. 

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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1 comment:

  1. I think the Pacman needs a Knockout to beat Bradley...