Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
A British parliamentarian once remarked that “all political careers end in failure,” and the same is often true of sporting ones. The latter, however, don’t always meet the abrupt, brutal demise of electoral rejection; rather, they tend to peter out slowly and sadly as those once possessed of almost heroic physical abilities steadily decline to the level of mere mortals.
On Saturday, for the first few rounds of his third contest with Timothy Bradley, it appeared as if the professional boxing life of Manny Pacquiao, which had once soared to far greater heights than even most champions could dream of touching, was sputtering to just such a disappointing denouement. Once so explosive and unpredictable, firing off punches from an abundance of angles, he looked more tentative and ordinary than in his pomp.
But the mental obituaries that were being penned by some ringside soon needed to be discarded. To paraphrase another famous quotation, reports of Pacquiao’s death had been greatly exaggerated.
Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena may well prove to be the last ring outing of the Filipino’s career. But if it was his final bow, it was a successful one, as the eight-weight world champion found his groove and ultimately dominated Bradley down the stretch, knocking the American down twice en route to a unanimous decision win in front of a crowd of 14,665.
As for whether this was indeed his final appearance in a prizefighting ring, Pacquiao was initially somewhat equivocal, saying to HBO’s Max Kellerman that, “I have a commitment to my family that I am going to retire after this but I don't know.” But pressed immediately afterward by his longtime publicist Fred Sternburg, who asked him to confirm whether he was as of that moment retired, he said clearly, “Yes. I’m going to go home to spend time with my family and I’m going to serve the people.” Already a Congressman representing his home Sarangani province, Pacquiao is presently campaigning for election to the country’s senate.
But if he has retired, he has done so in the perfect fashion, by leaving the fans wanting more. After three opening rounds that were largely devoid of clear action, but which may have been shaded by Bradley’s superior movement, Pacquiao sprang to life in the fourth, landing a series of lefts and southpaw right hooks and frequently banging his gloves together in his trademark attempt to motivate himself to find yet more.
The boxing match officially turned into a fight in the fifth. Bradley (33-2-1, 13 KOs) knocked Pacquiao into the ropes with a straight right, and landed a beautiful counter right as Pacquiao marched forward. But Pacquiao was ready to exchange blows, and shrugged off a big right and left from the American to land a series of blows, punctuated by a left hand, that won him the round and caused Bradley to swat the air in frustration as he walked to his corner.
By the sixth, Bradley was beginning to look hesitant, as Pacquiao (58-6-2, 38 KOs) bounced on his toes and darted in and out in a style more reminiscent of his younger days. Pacquiao was starting to time Bradley’s moves now, and a short right hook and cuffing left hand in the seventh caused Bradley to topple forward and touch his gloves on the canvas, although he complained – and first impressions appeared to support – that he was pulled rather than cleanly knocked down.
Pacquiao was dialed in now, ready to take his offense up a level and move in for the kill, but a booming Bradley left hook in the eighth halted his march temporarily, two more hooks following in quick succession and clearly hurting the Filipino fighter. Suddenly, the tide appeared to have turned, but Bradley’s pursuit came to naught, and his last embers of hope were all but extinguished in the ninth. There was no doubting the knockdown that came in this round: a Pacquiao left hand froze Bradley and another, on the point of chin, sent him to his back. He beat the count easily enough, although his efforts to right himself by rolling over in a reverse somersault served only to complicate matters. But the damage had been done. The Californian returned to his corner a broken man, and it was clear he would be no closer to beating Pacquiao after 36 rounds than he had been after 12, notwithstanding the bizarre scores of two ringside judges in that first encounter that turned what should have been a one-off meeting into a trilogy.
The final three rounds were closer in style and action to the first three than those that had come between, neither man landing many clean blows, with the difference being that Pacquiao was now the man with confidence, controlling the ring and edging the points. Bradley attempted a desperate surge at the last, but walked into a final short punch for his troubles, stumbling into the ropes just before the final bell.
For all the speculation about Pacquiao’s retirement, Bradley gave just as much reason to believe that he too might be done, although he acknowledged that, against just about any other man, he would have emerged victorious.
“I might continue to fight, I might not,” he told Kellerman. “I can still fight. I was just in with a special man.”