On April 12, Manny Pacquiao embarks on a mission to redeem himself in front of the global boxing community. Billed as a fight for redemption or vindication, Manny attempts to recover prestige and the WBO world welterweight crown which he lost in a highly-unpopular and controversial split decision to the reigning titleholder, the unbeaten Timothy ‘The Desert Storm’ Bradley Jr.
Their paths have taken different trajectories since that incongruous night of June 2012. Manny has had a catastrophic (by his standards) 1 win -1 loss slate, while Bradley’s star would shine even brighter with 2 magnificent performances against topnotch contenders. With that, he has proven that he belongs to boxing’s elite pound-for-pound society.
Believing he had won a moral victory in that bout, Manny did not bother to take an immediate rematch against Bradley. Instead, he opted to pursue what was deemed as a more marketable, yet dangerous bout against arch-rival, Juan Manuel Marquez. The decision proved disastrous, as Manny walked right smack into JuanMa’s right straight counter at the last second of that fateful 6th round, putting him to sleep even before he could hit the canvass.
Taking a year’s absence from the ring after that devastating loss, Manny would successfully return last December to display his dazzling new arsenal of bash-and-dash, give-and-go against Bam Bam Rios, a game but totally outclassed brawler some people would say was tailor-made for Manny’s style. His virtuoso performance in his first foray after the Marquez loss would prove he still had the skills and instincts to compete with the world’s best.
Bradley, on the other hand, almost lost his crown in another exciting, yet controversial decision against the heavy-hitting Ruslan Provodnikov. Despite the win, Tim would suffer 2 significant knockdowns, with a concussion to boot, as he strove to prove that he could change his style, be more exciting, and go toe-to-toe against one of the world’s best brawlers. This slam-bang drama-filled match would clinch the ESPN’s Fight of the Year Award, and cement Tim’s claim as an elite pound-for-pound contender.
Tim followed this up with another Fight of the Year prospect as he outclassed no less than Pacquiao’s conqueror himself, Juan Manuel Marquez, in yet another questionable split decision win. After the bout, JuanMa would taunt Tim as the only unbeaten boxer to have lost 3 consecutive times (to Manny, then Provodnikov, and finally to him). Controversial or not, Tim’s string of close decisions only proved that he was right up there with the best pugilists of this era.
Tim’s skills have indeed improved by leaps and bounds, owing much to the last 3 grueling, fan-friendly duels he’s been through. So if you think that Tim will be no match to a better-prepared Manny, think again. Tim is younger, he has the stamina, and he has a strong enough chin to survive attacks more deadly than the combined ground, sea and air artillery barrage that was the prelude to the Desert Storm. And he has bulked up handsomely since his previous bout with Manny.
To win this bout, I see Tim trying to outpace Manny. He will try to engage the older Manny every second of every round, hoping that – as in their previous bout – Manny will lose steam and slow down. Younger by 5 years, Tim will try to outbox Manny, hoping for a points decision similar to his previous wins. Timmy knows that Manny’s skills have not diminished, so he will try to work on the perceived stamina advantage he thinks he has. That’s the reason why he’s been doing 10-minute non-stop rounds of sparring in the gym – to ensure he has the staying power for the war ahead. A win in this bout will give Tim the recognition, and more so, the vindication that he has long sought for.
For Manny, the key to winning this crucial bout is to pace himself properly, and not letting Tim dictate the tempo. He needs to play wise, picking his battles, but making sure the battles are consequential. He needs to throw hundreds of howitzers, but more importantly, he needs to ensure that the howitzers hit their mark and are horrific. For Manny, winning this match will mean redemption. A sensational knockout win will put him back on the pedestal. It will reawaken the imagination of boxing’s minions, and the clamor for a fight against you-know-who will surely be rekindled.
But a loss? A loss, I’m afraid, could signal the end of Manny’s illustrious boxing career. As coach Freddie Roach said, “I don’t want Manny to become a stepping stone, that’s one thing I won’t let him do. He’s the best fighter of his era. And all of a sudden, people will be using him (as stepping stone)? I won’t let that happen.”
For the more recent Pacquiao articles:
A New Pacquiao Emerges – Nov 2013
After Rios, What Next for Manny? – Nov 2013