Sunday, April 10, 2016

Opinions and Observations: Pacquiao-Bradley III

There's a perfect moment, if a little cruel, that represents Tim Bradley's futile effort to beat Manny Pacquiao throughout their fight trilogy. With five seconds left in Saturday's bout and needing a knockout to win, Bradley found his whole upper body lodged helplessly between the ropes. There would be no final foray, no gallant last stand. And that picture tells the entire story of the Pacquiao-Bradley saga. 

However Bradley tried to best Pacquiao, with whatever tactics or strategy he employed, he lacked the athleticism, poise and grace of the Filipino master. It was the bull vs. the matador, Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, Wile E. Coyote running past the Road Runner and over the cliff.  

Sure, Bradley got close. He probably won four rounds on Saturday, as he did in the second fight. Two judges foolishly thought that he had defeated Pacquiao in the first bout, although the public was appropriately apoplectic with that result. Ultimately, Bradley tried and tried. He boxed from the center of the ring, he loaded up on big shots, he went with recklessness, he experimented with caution, he switched trainers. He did whatever he could...but as three fights have proved, it wasn't enough. 

Pacquiao knocked down Bradley twice on Saturday and both sequences started with punches thrown off the wrong foot from unusual angles. It wasn't that these were the most powerful shots that Bradley had ever been hit with but they were examples of Pacquiao's unique combination of athleticism, power, speed and the untraditional. Throughout the trilogy, Bradley lacked the tools to overcome Pacquiao's myriad physical gifts.

However, Pacquiao didn't just better Bradley by being athletically superior. What struck me throughout Saturday's match was how much calmer he was in the ring than Bradley. Pacquiao fought with no wasted energy and didn't display any outward signs of the big moment getting to him. Bradley was twitchy. Using tons of shoulder and head feints as well as quick steps that didn't lead to punches, Bradley seemed to burn off a lot of energy doing things that weren't helping him win the fight. 

Bradley can be a very good rhythm fighter and against many opponents he's the type of boxer who commands the action in the ring. But against Pacquiao, Bradley had to invest too much energy worrying about incoming fire. He fought like he didn't fully trust his chin. At points, he would let his hands go and throw impressive one-shot leads or counters. In other instances, he worked well off his jab and landed quick combinations. However, his positive moments were just quick asides from the larger narrative. Bradley wasn't able to outbox Pacquiao and he couldn't hurt him enough to change a fight.  

Pacquiao-Bradley will not be remembered as an epic trilogy but in its own way it provided a fascinating glimpse of two boxers trying to think their way through fights, and their careers. Pacquiao started off the first fight in vintage seek-and-destroy mode until about the half-way mark. Then, he either decided to show Bradley mercy or he just tired of fighting in that style. In the second encounter, Pacquiao beat Bradley essentially on punch volume. That was the one fight of the series where he never was able to hurt Bradley. There, Pacquiao just dug down and let his hands go when nothing else was really working. 

On Saturday, Pacquiao fought Bradley as if he was the wise grand master who needed to impart one final lesson on his star pupil. I thought that it was Pacquiao’s most complete performance of the trilogy: He was deadly accurate. His hand and foot speed were excellent. The right hooks he sprinkled in did significant damage. He even countered well with single shots. In short, Saturday's performance was a synopsis of Pacquiao’s career. He was saying: this is what brought me to the mountaintop. It was a summation of all he had learned in his lifetime of pugilism.

Bradley wasn't in bad form on Saturday; he was just outgunned. It's clear that he had been influenced by Floyd Mayweather's performance against Pacquiao. On the surface, Bradley has a number of similarities with Floyd. However, those little differences add up against an opponent of Pacquiao's caliber. Bradley lacks Floyd's hand speed and accuracy. Mayweather is also more decisive in the ring. He ties up when he needs to and gets out of the pocket and evades trouble when it's warranted. But Bradley has that junkyard dog attitude; he likes his fights scrappy. He doesn't want anyone bullying him in the ring. Floyd isn't concerned with such displays of machismo. He'll dance, grapple, hold, foul and clinch, but he'll win. He doesn't let ego get the best of him in the ring. Bradley did many things on Saturday that could've beaten top fighters, just not Pacquiao.

And I'm not denigrating Bradley or his performance in the trilogy. Yes, he doesn't have Floyd's gifts but who does? Bradley gave his best effort. He hurt Pacquiao with some big shots early in the second fight and again in the eighth round on Saturday. But his power just wasn't enough and he'll never be the type of fluid boxer that will be able to outpoint a Pacquiao who is near his best.

Ultimately, Pacquiao's performance on Saturday was a present to boxing fans and one that was a surprise to many. After his listless effort against Mayweather, it certainly seemed that Pacquiao was on the slide. But Saturday wasn't a continuation of a fall from grace. Instead, it was a wonderful reminder of Pacquiao's manifold boxing gifts. And frankly, to witness Bradley defeat a damaged Pacquiao would've been a joyless occasion for all but Bradley and his hardcore supporters. We want to see boxing at its highest level and on Saturday the legend demonstrated that he wasn't ready to receive his gold watch just yet.

Also, I'm not always one to bestow a lot of hosannas upon Freddie Roach but he did a remarkable job with Pacquiao for this fight. So many external stressors – such as Manny's potential retirement, his recovery from injury, his senate seat run, Father Time, etc. – could've been used as legitimate excuses for Pacquiao to be in less than fine form on Saturday. Yet, Roach not only had Pacquiao in great shape for the fight, he also devised a brilliant game plan. After the match, Pacquiao was interviewed and said that the plan was to use caution, limit mistakes and not waste punches that could lead to opportunities for Bradley. This strategy was a concession to an aging fighter who could no longer throw 80 punches a round or knock opponents out. It was also a correction of mistakes that Pacquiao and Roach had made in the past. The recklessness was gone. Manny's boxing intelligence replaced youthful exuberance. There was a certain humility that both had to accept in order to arrive at that game plan. It seems as if Team Pacquiao had learned some important lessons. 

Should Pacquiao retire, his legacy is more than secure. He will be a first ballot Hall-of-Famer. He galvanized millions of boxing fans throughout his career. Yes, he was respected, as all great champions are, but his impact was much more than that; he was loved, even idolized. He and Floyd defined this era. There were other greats from 2000-2015 but Mayweather and Pacquiao will always be the namesake fighters from this epoch of boxing history. 

Selfishly, I wish we could see more nights like Saturday. If Pacquiao can still dismantle a top welterweight like Bradley, why not continue? Yes, all good things must end but must they end now? 

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter, SN Boxing on Facebook
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