By Kieran Mulvaney
Timothy Bradley Jr. argues that Manny Pacquiao has lost the burning desire to excel in the ring. He cites as evidence the fact that none of Pacquiao's fights have ended in a blistering knockout since 2009 (except for the one occasion when he was the blistering knockoutee rather than the blistering knockouter); he notes, also, Pacquiao's failure to respond to the accusation during the pair's appearance on Face Off with Max Kellerman.
Instead, when Bradley leaned in, looked in his opponent's eyes and essentially told him the fire that once burned inside him had been extinguished, Pacquiao smiled and looked away. It was a moment that led to plenty of postgame analysis that Bradley had clearly "won" the exchange, which prompts a pair of observations:
Observation # 1: What happens before a fight largely means squat. Remember when Hasim Rahman and Lennox Lewis wrestled on an ESPN set before their rematch, and Rahman ended up pushing Lewis through a table? "Ooooh, Hasim looked really strong," they said. "He out-wrestled Lennox," they said. And just how did that work out for him? Exactly.
Observation # 2: That's what Manny Pacquiao does. It's how he behaves. It's how he was, for example, before his fight with Oscar De La Hoya, smiling and waving as he walked to the ring, at which point he proceeded to beat the bejesus out of the Golden Boy; even then, trainer Freddie Roach had to beseech him to quit being nice to his boxing idol, and to step on the gas and finish him off.
And it's how he's been in the build-up to the Bradley rematch, how he's been during fight week, and how he was when recently speaking with some journalists:
Hey Manny, what's the deal with you not having scored a knockout since 2009? You going to score one on Saturday night finally?
"As long as the fans are happy with the performance, and that I did well in the ring, I'm satisfied with that. Of course, it's better to knock your opponent out. That's a bonus for hard work in training. If the knockout comes, it comes, but my focus is to be aggressive and throw a lot of punches and make the fans happy.
I don't want to be careless, and have what happened again what happened against Marquez. Because in the Marquez fight, I was about to finish him. If he didn't get me in six rounds, by seven rounds I could have finished. But by being careless, that's what happened."
Will you retire if you lose on Saturday?
"I'm not thinking negative, I always think positive, so if your mindset is on the winner's side, you're thinking positive. If your mindset is on the loser's side, you're thinking negative. My mind is set on the winner's side, so I'm thinking positive."
Have you had any difficulty moving on from your losses to Bradley and Marquez?
"I am always able to move on, learn from what happened, and charge it to experience. That's good. Most of the people in sports – in boxing, or other sports – if they lose, they get discouraged, they don't think about tomorrow, about the future. We can see that in a lot of boxers who lose and become discouraged.
In this sport, sometimes you're on the winner's side, sometimes you're on the loser's side, so you have to prepare for that. That's how I accepted it when I lost to Marquez. I never complain. In boxing, it's part of the sport. If you don't want to lose, then don't fight."
And then he paused. And giggled.