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MANILA, Philippines – What made Pacquiao a special fighter in his prime was his seemingly insatiable desire to punish his opponents, earning him a reputation as one of the sport’s most vicious finishers of recent vintage.
Yet at 35 years of age and seven straight fights without a knockout over the past five years, opponents are beginning to wonder aloud whether Pacman still has the desire to eat up opponents as he did during the previous decade.
WBO welterweight titleholder Timothy Bradley has also taken note of that. During their first fight in 2012, Bradley survived several scares and an injured ankle to hear the final bell and win a disputed but final decision.
Bradley has felt his punches; but he’s also felt his mercy.
Speaking at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles, Calif. on Tuesday afternoon for the kickoff press conference of their April 12 rematch at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nev., Bradley let his doubts about what remains of Pacquiao’s fighting spirit be known.
“He still has all the skill sets, he still can fight like hell, he still can punch, he still can move. He still has it all, he hasn’t lost his gifts,” said Bradley. “I just feel like that killer instinct is gone.”
Pacquiao (55-5-2, 38 knockouts) of General Santos City, Philippines and Bradley (31-0, 12 KOs) of Palm Springs, Calif. both agree that they have something to prove. For Bradley, 30, he is still fighting for the respect and credit that eluded him after the first fight, while the former eight-division champion Pacquiao is fighting to prove that he still has the desire to be a fighter.
“To be honest, I wasn’t as motivated when I was training for our first fight,” said Pacquiao, a currently sitting congressman in the Sarangani province. “I guess I didn’t take him seriously enough.
“Boxing has always been fun for me. This time the fun is secondary. This is a mission to prove I am the best.”
Pacquiao, who sustained a knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez right after the Bradley loss, rebounded with an easy decision win over former WBA lightweight titleholder Brandon Rios in November.
Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach, who preaches that “all fights should end in a knockout,” lamented Pacquiao’s merciful approach in the Rios fight, saying that Pacquiao had Rios going in the twelfth round but didn’t push the advantage further.
“Boxing is not for killing,” Pacquiao said after his 2010 fight with Antonio Margarito, which is probably the opposite of what he would’ve said before his star-making drubbing of Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003.
Pacquiao’s mercy has been a consistent theme in his performances since immersing himself in his religious endeavors.
Few were watching the fight closer than Bradley was, and his assessment was mixed.
“I thought he fought a very smart fight. I’d never seen Pacquiao fight exactly like that,” said Bradley. “He was fighting off the back foot a lot, he was getting out the way, he was bobbing and weaving. He just seemed a little bit different in there and he wasn’t really willing to take chances like I normally see him do.
“Normally when he gets a guy hurt or stunned, he’ll go after them. That’s the compassionate Manny and I still think he’s like that. Yesterday at the (HBO) Faceoff, he couldn’t even say that he was going to knock me out.
“He’s just so humbled and he believes in what he believes in. He’s a real man.”
Despite the consensus opinion being that Pacquiao deserved the decision in their first fight Pacquiao opened as a slight favorite at -180 at the MGM Grand sports book while Bradley’s line is at +160, which are much closer than the odds in their first fight (+320 for Bradley to Pacquiao at -420).
Bradley isn’t a fool, however. He knows that Pacquiao is a fighter desperate to hold onto his foothold in the sport, and the accompanying marketability and fortunes that come along with it. A desperate fighter is a dangerous fighter.
“Manny’s a difficult style to deal with because he’s so fast and he uses his feet very well, his movement,” said Bradley. This fight’s not going to be easy by no means. Even though I’ve been in there with him, it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a tough fight all around.”
Pacquiao has the speed and power advantages in the fight, but Bradley may have the edge in heart. And in boxing, that may be all that a guy like Bradley would need to pull out a victory.
To beat a fighter with a nickname like “Desert Storm,” as Bradley is dubbed, you might have to resort to guerrilla warfare to win. – Rappler.com
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com. An archive of his work can be found at ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.