Pacquaio and Bradley worth watching for what could have been

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It’s expected that somewhere north of 1 million homes will purchase HBO Pay-Per-View and tune in on Saturday to see welterweight boxing star Manny Pacquiao’s rematch with Timothy Bradley.

By Kyle Magin

Manny Pacquiao — the Filipino icon/actor/politician/philanderer/big-spender/born-again Christian/broke person — will be the ostensible draw. He’s a massive name, he’s charming enough to give a great interview in broken English and used to knock people the fuck out, Deebo style.

Used to.

In Pacquiao’s two fights since the 2012 split-decision loss (he was robbed) to Bradley, the Filipino Flash inhaled canvas against a not-at-all-suspiciously-juiced-up Juan Manuel Marquez and slipped past Brandon Rios in a decision nobody saw because it was fought in Macao.

The shine is off the superstar — he fought like hell against Marquez, going toe-to-toe for much of the fight — but looked under-muscled and out-planned, and against Rios he showed a lack of the punching power that makes you worry about the opponent’s ability to lift a spoon past the age of 43.

That’s the scenic route version of saying fans are tuning in to see the wrong guy. Boxing will take its fans however they can get ‘em — and if pimping a has-been pushes the telecast past pedestrian ratings into the sublime sunshine of a million-plus buys, so be it.

But, Bradley combines the narrative and credentials to earn the plaudits from casual fans and hardcore Ring Magazine types that he’s not getting.

In the immediate aftermath of the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s monumental screw-up following Bradley-Pacquiao’s 2012 tilt, the kid from Indio, California somehow became boxing’s no. 1 bad guy.

Never mind the fact that he was 28-0 heading into the fight (and remains unbeaten today), or even that he stood for 12 rounds in the ring with a guy whose right hand effectively ended the careers of Hall of Fame fighters like Oscar de la Hoya and Ricky Hatton in the aughts. Bradley had the nerve to accept the welterweight title and paycheck and act like he deserved more big fights following his triumph. What gall.

Since his victory in their first matchup, Bradley went toe-to-toe with Ruslan Provodnikov for 12 excruciatingly painful, concussing rounds and held on to his title in a decision. Then he won a split decision over Juan Manuel Marquez by sending the Mexican master to the mat in the fight’s final frame.

Now he finally gets his chance for redemption against Pacquiao, a chance to prove himself following a fight only he and two judges believe he won.

Bradley isn’t cosmopolitan or sexy. He speaks with the same vocabulary and cadence as your middle school buddy with the Stone Cold Steve Austin shirt and lighter in his backpack. He’s not ostentatious. He still lives in Indio — a place I imagine far-away relatives visiting and begging their hosts to drive them down to the ‘real’ California, the one without the unemployment, meth, Monster Energy flat-billed hats and consecutive 100-degree nights.

It’s a far cry from the glitzy New York or Vegas surroundings Floyd Mayweather and Adrien Broner reside in.

He also, likely, isn’t great at the punching part of boxing. His hands are a tick slow and he hasn’t knocked anyone out in 12 fights, and his legs get notoriously leaden in the later rounds.

No, what makes him eminently watchable is his chin. In their first fight, Pacquiao landed a furious combination of jabs and hooks to close out the fourth round — leaving Bradley looking like Spicoli had he wandered into a trig final.

Pacquiao’s hooks were the stuff of legend — a place where chinny boxers went to die, and Bradley weathered the storm.

In his fight with Provodnikov, Bradley gave a rambling, stumbling post-fight interview serving as proof in itself that he was concussed in the first round of a 12-round tilt. Bradley has essentially ascended to zombie status—one could stand in the ring whacking at him with a shovel and he’d keep coming.

So, when your buddy invites you over on Saturday to ‘watch the big Pacquiao fight’ and leaves out a donations jar because he’s an asshole who wants you to subsidize his interest in a marginal sport’s superstar, happily plop down $5 for the privilege of watching the kid from Indio.

He’ll be the one grinning like an idiot after 12 rounds of (probably) good, vicious boxing.

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