Friday, June 8, 2012

The Rhythm of the War Drums - Pacquiao vs. Bradley Preview

Photo: AP

The hard sell on big fight events is such these days that it's tough to discern between actual can't miss cards, and ones that have been packaged well enough to build a congregation. Even the weathered long-time fan falls victim to the ruse from time to time, as many of us who were around when Mike Tyson fought consistently can attest to.

Fanfare, Cracker Jacks, "Free Nachos" coupons -- a legitimate boxing event craves not these things, says Cliff Rold; real worthwhile fights sell themselves. 

But as the above piece points out, it doesn't stop the marketing and promotion folks in the sport from laying it on extra thick. Still, every so often a fight's call for a little bit of excitation deserves to be answered by fans.

The latest event demanding our attention is this weekend's Manny Pacquiao vs. Tim Bradley match, and it's one that has a chance to offer us a little bit of remuneration in light of our patience in recent weeks and months.


Whether an event's big or not, there will always be the pre-fight mathemancy that consists of adding up numbers, comparing height, weight and speed, and combing through the combatants' records to envision an outcome. Tim Starks of TQBR does an excellent job of that here and here

To condense, this welterweight version of Manny Pacquiao has a number of advantages over Tim Bradley -- a fact that is reflected in Bradley being tabbed the underdog at +360. In addition to the stat that Manny has faced markedly better opposition, he's also faster, stronger and hits harder. 

Not totally unlike Bernard Hopkins, at 54-3-2 (38 KO), Pacquiao seems to be the type of character that you just cannot count out, even when things aren't going his way on pre-fight paper. The last time Manny wasn't a favorite going into a bout, he sat anywhere between +150 and +200 prior to his eight round shellacking (video) of Oscar de la Hoya in 2008, and odds makers have learned from that one. Even when seemingly beaten outright by Juan Manuel Marquez this past November, he was awarded a majority decision, further bolstering the fight odds' contention that he's not only difficult to beat in the ring, but on the cards as well. 

Mid-fight, Manny's opponents find the quicksand rising about them as they struggle to keep up with his high energy output, confused by his ability to land before they can even begin to react to a shoulder twitch. Aside from his blistering 2nd round KO of Ricky Hatton (video), the combination of surprise, frustration and inability to respond in kind usually adds up to sustained beatdowns that render opponents impotent down the stretch. 

Across the ring from him on Saturday night will be Tim Bradley, undefeated at 28-0 (12 KO) and 1 No Contest, and a man intending to have odds makers doing somersaults with a huge win over Pacquiao. 

For his part, Bradley is a quick-handed, sure-footed ball of energy that always steps through the ropes in tremendous condition, and has likely underrated boxing skill. In terms of ability, he's capable of fighting a few different ways and has shown that against a variety of styles, and generally with very good results. That said, the presumption is that while Tim does these things very well, Manny simply does them better, and has proven it at higher levels. 

Additionally, a fair amount of pre-fight coverage has centered around Tim Bradley's tendency to lead with his head (video) when advancing. And coming forward is often a main facet of his game plan. All partied involved have voiced concern over the fight ending early on a headbutt, and it's not altogether an unfair concern to have. In his last five outings, two of Tim Bradley's fights have been halted due to cuts caused by headbutts, and Pacquiao is prone to cutting, though his last fight stopped early for it was his foul-filled effort against Agapito Sanchez over 10 years ago. 

When they step into the ring, however, there should be plenty of punches thrown, as both men favor activity and aggression over more pedestrian outlooks, and both enjoy gifting leather in waves, probing for openings before crashing onto opponents when a way in is eyed. The rub here is that Bradley likely has more options in terms of how he can be successful than many of Pacquiao's recent opponents, Juan Manuel Marquez notwithstanding. 

Whether it's out-battling Lamont Peterson inside and out, grinding down a shrieking Devon Alexander in the clinch, or timing a very awkward technician in Junior Witter to win the WBC strap, Bradley has shown he's got the tools to jigsaw his way to a win. His footwork is deliberate, but solid, and while his bread and butter shot is a weird overhand right, his punch selection is wide and his bag of tricks deep. Some of this is undone by the fact that Tim has been fairly inactive while banking on his shot at Pacquiao, and again canceled out a bit by his unreal conditioning and spartan training regimen (video)

The lingering doubt in the minds of Manny Pacquiao supporters is likely that he seems to have slowed down a touch in recent years, leading to him getting hit a little more than he should. For example, Antonio Margarito, never known for any type of speed, was able to trap Manny on the ropes a number of times and bombard the Filipino superstar with heavy shots to the body and a few upstairs. Miguel Cotto -- not exactly a speedster himself -- had success early on punching with Pacquiao, and managed to tag him from time to time. In themselves, these were small victories that did little but add up to swollen mugs and early nights. But considering Bradley's different skill set and freshness in comparison, they could mean openings for him to exploit. 

In the end, it may come down to more than just class and experience, and Bradley's status at 140 as the default top dog should make this fight interesting enough for the hardcore fan base as it is. But a little extra hype (video) shouldn't hurt in terms of the Pay-Per-View buy rate.

A win here for Manny Pacquiao wouldn't be the biggest of his career, but an outright demolition at this point would be highly impressive. While many of his previous opponents had some glaring weakness, decline or weight issue, Tim Bradley comes into the fight undefeated, hungry and without an excuse to fall back on. 

For Bradley, a win against Manny would be huge for his career and set him up for a rematch (with more favorable financial terms) a few months down the road, not to mention catapult him up the pound for pound rankings. Thus far, Tim Bradley has shown he belongs at or slightly below this very top level of pugilistic performance, but his lack of punching power may be Pacquiao's key to scampering about unchecked. How Manny Pacquiao reacts to Bradley's cranial karate chops and leather connects should be apparent early, and will likely set the tone of the bout. 

PREDICTION: Manny Pacquiao by hard-fought, close decision. 

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