It's fight weekend in Las Vegas.
And unlike the first time Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley met at the same venue – the MGM Grand – nearly two years ago, Saturday's rematch between the two brings along an accompanying buzz that's been generated by a whole host of factors, particularly who's wearing the title belt.
Both Pacquiao's reign as the World Boxing Organization's (WBO) welterweight champion and his seven-plus year unbeaten run went by the boards when he dropped a split decision to Bradley in June 2012, but you'd be hard-pressed to find many who believed the Californian truly earned his bounty.
Indeed, the verdict in the new champion's favor encountered almost universal scorn among fans, prompted a hasty departure from the sport by embattled judge C.J. Ross and was deemed “Robbery of the Year” by many of the sport's most prominent media outlets, including BoxingScene.com.
The official weigh-in for the fight is scheduled for Friday at 6 p.m. ET. The fight card will begin Saturday at 6 p.m. ET, with the HBO pay-per-view broadcast set to open at 9 p.m. ET.
Even Bradley, who's since defended Pacquiao's belt with wins over one of the Filipino's former sparring partners (Ruslan Provodnikov) and his most familiar four-time foe (Juan Manuel Marquez), concedes the lack of clarity from the initial go-round will be a contributing factor in his encore effort.
“This is for all the people, all the millions of people who saw the first fight and said ‘Bradley lost the fight, but they gave it to him,'” he said. “It's for them, so they can say, ‘Dang, Tim Bradley the second time around made it more decisive. Maybe the first fight he didn't win, but he won the second one for damned sure.' The credit is what I'm looking for, for beating a legend.”
Bradley has spiced up the pre-fight hype by insisting Pacquiao, who was knocked cold by Marquez six months after their first fight and has appeared only once since – beating Brandon Rios in Macau, China last November – has lost the competitive zeal that had made him a pound-for-pound kingpin.
Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, predictably takes issue with the assessment, and said that he's been using it as fuel during the former seven-division champion's pre-fight preparation.
“He's kind of motivated Manny to go for the knockout if he hurts him, because he's saying that Manny's no longer hungry and fights for the money only and has lost his killer instinct,” Roach said. “For him to say that is like a slap in the face to Manny. He's a little pissed off about it. I've never seen him this pissed off. He said, ‘Do you believe he said that to me?' and I remind him every day.”
MANNY PACQUIAO VS. TIMOTHY BRADLEY 2 WEIGH-IN
How does Pacquiao win?
Because the consensus is that he won the first meeting in 2012, most would anticipate that he'd simply do more of the same, which would entail being faster and busier and continually landing the harder shots. Much will depend on how much, if any, he's slipped in the nearly two years since the first fight – a stretch which has seen him knocked out and shelved for 11 months before a one-fight return.
How does Bradley win?
Just as most believe Bradley lost the first time, most concede that he's progressed in the meantime. The post-Pacquiao defeat of Ruslan Provodnikov showed an acumen for absorbing punishment and outlasting a strong foe, while the points win over Juan Manuel Marquez proved he could handle a top-end foe with footwork and speed. The latter is more likely to be in play Saturday.
Prediction: Bradley by a close, unanimous decision
If the snarling, perpetually violent version of Pacquiao is the one who reaches the ring Saturday night – and if the assumptions are wrong that Bradley has made significant improvement – then it could be a short night in the Filipino's favor. However, the guess here is that “Desert Storm” is schooled enough to frustrate Pacquiao with movement and smart counters, and tough enough to fight his way out of trouble when it does inevitably present itself. That should be enough to win seven rounds in a fight that, if it goes according to Bradley's plan, will be far more strategic than spectacular. Call it 115-113.