By Kieran Mulvaney
At the most basic level, every boxer approaches his next fight with one specific goal: namely, to win. At the higher echelons of the sport, however, winning alone is not always enough.
For Timothy Bradley, defeating Manny Pacquiao in anything but the most controversial and contentious circumstances on Saturday night will almost certainly be sufficient to bring him the validation and fame that he has long sought.
Both have at times seemed within reach and tantalizingly so, but have continued to elude his grasp by the slimmest of margins. Last January, his junior welterweight clash with Devon Alexander seemed destined to the be the moment that would propel him toward the mountain top, but although Bradley was victorious, the two men’s styles did not mesh, and the bout’s conclusion, with Alexander retreating from battle after an accidental clash of heads, was unsatisfying. Since then his only outing has been a win over shopworn veteran Joel Casamayor; if Bradley is to take that leap to the next level, he must now do so on the brightest and biggest stage.
For Manny Pacquiao, his place in the sport’s record books is secure, as the only fighter ever to win world titles in a barely fathomable eight weight classes. Yet, two and a half years ago, he was being spoken of in terms of the very greatest of them all, following a reign of terror that had most recently accounted for Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto, at least two of whom are surely destined for the Hall of Fame. Since then, he has been taken the distance four times: In a dull contest against Shane Mosley last year, he heard previously unthinkable boos from the crowd; and in his most recent outing, against nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez, his fans in the arena were outnumbered by his opponents’, while the win he secured was perhaps the most disputed of his career.
He remains one of the two brightest stars in the sport, and its biggest global icon. There are very few matchups in which he would not be favored. But his run of relatively underwhelming performances has paralleled a spell in which his great rival Floyd Mayweather has excelled and excited, most recently in a thrilling duel with Cotto.
The challenge Pacquiao faces on Saturday is for him to do more than secure another win; for it to truly be a victory on every level, he needs to make it emphatic and spectacular. The fact that Bradley is an aggressive fighter presents him with that possibility, creating openings that a more elusive or reluctant opponent would not. At the same time, it offers risk. Pacquiao’s commitment to aggression could just as easily play into Bradley’s own fast fists. His pursuit of a perfect victory could have the opposite effect and facilitate a Bradley win.
For Pacquiao, that would be little short of a disaster. For Bradley, it would be more than enough. It would be everything he’s waited for.