April 4, 2016

The Evolution of a Trilogy: Why Pacquiao-Bradley III Matters‏

"Pac Man" Bible Belts "Desert Storm"
It would be all too easy for boxing fans to dive into the depths of cynicism and dismiss the third meeting between Manny Pacquiao (57-6-2, 38 KOs) and Timothy Bradley (33-1-1, 13 KOs), scheduled for April 9 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, as unimportant or irrelevant. Many fans are doing exactly that. The officially non-title, 12-round bout is in danger of falling like a tree in the proverbial woods. It can be persuasively argued that the now long-dead issue of who's superior has been already twice decided. After two WBO championship fights, 24 relatively tepid rounds, one outrageous 2012 robbery, and then a clear UD points victory for Pacquiao in 2014; I'd say Bradley can't beat Pacquiao.

But not so fast. This is boxing.

Things evolve. They even marinate.

Believe it or not, Pacquiao-Bradley III is being promoted by Bob Arum's Top Rank Boxing as their Filipino cash cow's swan song, the final fight in a legendary career that began more than twenty years and 20 pounds ago. Would Nebraska's Terence Crawford have been a more intriguing opponent for Manny's North American finale?  Sure, but that's just how the primaries of pugilism work. Not enough people in the grassroots of boxing know who "Bud" Crawford is yet or believe that he would have pulled enough votes in the "general election" of a pay-per-view prizefight against Pacquiao. It's still all about the money and Bradley makes more dollars and sense, or so Arum claims about this particular cash-out. Looking to the future, the two-term Filipino Congressman now has a seat in the Philippine Senate to run for in 2016. After speaking out against homosexuals last month, even Pacquiao's own promoter was forced to rebuke his homophobic, politically pandering comments. Perhaps feeling a bit disenfranchised on Super Tuesday III, Arum then came out publicly against American Presidential candidate Donald Trump. In a Super Tuesday press release to promote the ‪Pacquiao-Bradley III‬ undercard, Top Rank included a curious "No Trump" campaign slogan to publicize the international flavor of its undercard participants. According to Arum's publicist Fred Sternburg, "Unlike Trump, we believe in the American Dream and in America being a melting pot for immigrants."

"The undercard," Sternburg told me, "is a symbol of that."

In fact, fighters from no less than seven nations are represented on it, including "King" Arthur Abraham versus Gilberto Ramirez for the WBO super middleweight championship and Oscar Valdez versus Evgeny Gradovich at featherweight. Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, France, Lithuania, Germany, and Armenia are all sending their best to America to compete on the world stage of a global sport. 

Interesting. But what does the main event symbolize? That's very much open to interpretation.

The first fight was an awful robbery
To purists, the fight represents an encounter between the de facto #1 and #2 rated welterweights in the world. Accordingly, it is being seen by some as a box-off for the lineal world welterweight championship left vacant by Floyd Mayweather Jr. last year when Mayweather retired undefeated after decisioning Pacquiao. The Transnational Boxing Ratings Board will presumably recognize the winner as new world welterweight champion. The TBRB rates Pacquiao #1 and Bradley #2 at 147. That's easy to understand. Ring Magazine ratings are a bit more difficult to fathom with Kell Brook #1 and Pacquiao #2. The Ring rates Amir Khan #3 and Bradley #4. The real problem here is that if Manny wins as expected, he might also retire as expected and then leave the beltless welterweight title "vacant" again. It's confusing, I know. But maybe you're one of those fans who thinks the notion of a linear title is outdated and antiquated. In any case, "the" welterweight title, such that it still exists, is a key reason why Pacquiao-Bradley III matters.

To others, it represents the first official meeting between trainers Freddie Roach and Teddy Atlas. In boxing, competition among trainers is as fierce as anything you'll find in the ring and both chief seconds surely want to achieve victory against the other for personal reasons. Atlas refers to himself and his new pupil as "firemen" putting out fires. If they can extinguish the final embers of Pacquiao's Hall of Fame career and emerge as the last men standing from this apparently redundant trilogy, all will not have been in vain. Roach, longtime trainer of Pacquiao, has already taken verbal shots at Atlas for his unabashed love of the spotlight. It's a charge Atlas doesn't deny.

Roach vs. Atlas: Part One
Teddy might very well be the most entertaining aspect of the show on April 9.

It's easy to imagine the trainer getting emotional in the corner while willing Bradley to victory. It's also just as easy to see Atlas growing frustrated with Bradley's limitations and resorting to the kinds of tomfoolery and ballyhoo in the corner that made him so famous in the first place.

One other reason the match-up matters is the possibility of an unexpectedly great fight. Few envisioned Pacquiao's fateful fourth meeting with rival Juan Manuel Marquez to be anything other than what the first three fights were; tactical affairs won, lost, or drawn by inches. When it was least expected, a Hagler-Hearns-esque war emerged from the apathetic response of the boxing community to the announcement and promotion of a fourth fight. What if after two fights and 24 rounds, Pacquiao and Bradley are done warming up and are both ready to throw down and go for the knockout? It's a strategy that Bradley attempted without success in the second fight.

Following that humbling loss, I asked Bradley about where he went wrong. "I went in with the mindset that I had to knock him out to win," he told me. "The plan was to outbox Pacquiao and everybody knew it, even Pacquiao. I didn't do that. I went straight at him. I attacked him. I had some success on attack but I could've been a lot better in the late rounds if I'd taken my time."

Will Bradley be lured into another brawl?
Fans know one thing about "Desert Storm" Bradley. He likes to battle even when he promises to box. It's in his nature to fight back hard and find himself in the trenches like he did with Ruslan Provodnikov and Diego Chaves. Or Bradley can box like he did when he outpointed the great Marquez in 2013. If Pacquiao wants to go out in a blaze of glory, Bradley will almost certainly be willing to oblige him, particularly with the bombastic Atlas in his corner. If Manny's shoulder is not fully healed from rotator-cuff surgery, that could also provide Bradley with the opening he needs to avenge his only defeat and entertain fans in the process.

A legitimate Bradley victory would help solidify his position as a top American pound for pound star at a time when boxing's international stars are taking over the mythical P4P list that's now headed by a Nicaraguan named Roman Gonzalez and a Kazakh named Gennady Golovkin. A Pacquiao win would allow for Manny to ride off into the sunset on a high note after the embarrassing 2015 defeat to Mayweather and the 2012 knockout loss to Marquez.

Or it might open the door to more fights and more money

Either way, there is more at stake here than meets the eye.   

To be clear, Pacquiao-Bradley III matters.

And now you know why.

Written by Jeffrey Freeman, originally published on The Sweet Science