In 2009, Manny Pacquiao was introduced to the audience at Madison Square Garden before Miguel Cotto and Joshua Clottey swapped punches in the main event. Although Pacquiao was rumored to be a future opponent for Cotto, the crowd, made up largely of Puerto Ricans, cheered wildly when he was announced. Since blitzing his first topnotch Mexican opponent (Marco Antonio Barrera), in 2003, Latinos have come to respect and admire Pacquiao for his fighting spirit and his electrifying style. Now, years after he last scored a KO, a fading Pacquiao looks for an odd form of revenge on Saturday night when he faces Timothy Bradley at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, in a rematch of a fight that was overshadowed by one of the strangest verdicts in years. Somehow, Bradley was awarded an outrageous split decision over Pacquiao on June 9, 2012.
Two of the judges involved in that fiasco have since returned to The Outer Limits: Duane Ford retired after years of hallucinating at ringside, and C.J. Ross was banished into some sort of administrative limbo following her absurd scorecard on behalf of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez against Floyd Mayweather, Jr., last September. This time, however, the judges assigned for the fight may look to compensate for the outcry over the first decision, a verdict so fishy that Senator Harry Reid called for a formal investigation.
Although Pacquiao, 55-5-2 with 38 knockouts, did more than enough to win the first fight, he did not perform particularly well. For one of the few times in his career, Pacquiao seemed to be going through the motions, and Bradley was smart enough to work during extended lulls. It was a dull fight, made shocking in retrospect by the bizarre decision and some of its curious implications. Not only did he outbox Pacquiao, but Bradley, who rolled to the postfight press conference in a wheelchair, apparently did so with two gimpy feet. Now *that* is an accomplishment. (A few weeks ago, Bradley revealed that, in poorly-timed homage to Mike Tyson, he decided not to wear socks against Pacquiao, and that going raw in his shoes caused tendon damage to both of his feet. Imagine that.)
To make amends for his mediocre showing against Bradley, Pacquiao, 35, stormed out recklessly against Juan Manuel Marquez six months later and wound up hearing the sounds of a thousand marimbas when Marquez knocked him cold in the seventh round. Ever since then, “Pacman,” whose last fight was a pay-per-view dud broadcast from China, has been trying to convince the world that he remains an elite fighting machine.
As for Bradley, few marquee wins have brought a fighter so little. After receiving a decision as strange as anything you can see in a Dali painting, Bradley was ridiculed by the media, slighted by his own promoter, and, worst of all, he received death threats from some of the many sociopaths who follow boxing. For a while, Bradley was starting to look like the boxing equivalent of Gwyneth Paltrow: hatred followed him no matter what he did. But he reestablished himself in subsequent fights against Ruslan Provodknikov and Juan Manuel Marquez. Make no mistake about it, Bradley, with a record of 31-0, with twelve knockouts and one no-contest, is a world-class professional prizefighter.
If he can lull Pacquiao into another uneventful waltz by minimizing exchanges, working behind his jab from a distance, and using angles to avoid counterpunches, he has a good chance of hearing scorecards that may once again confound the sports world. For this fight, then, maybe Bradley should double down enter the ring wearing two pairs of over-the-calf multicolored tube socks sent via a time machine from the 1980s.
Carlos Acevedo is the editor of The Cruelest Sport and a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in Boxing Digest Magazine, Maxboxing, Boxing World Magazine, and Esquina Boxeo.