When Manny Pacquiao signed to fight Timothy Bradley in early 2012, no one thought this pairing would produce a second fight, much less a third. But Bradley's controversial split decision in fight one begat a rematch, won easily by "The Pac Man" in April 2014. But just when most believed that was that, Bradley regained the WBO welterweight title he lost to Pacquiao with new trainer Teddy Atlas in tow (he's since vacated it) while an injured Pacquiao comprehensively lost to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in their highly-publicized match. Thus, much intrigue surrounds this fight: Can Bradley duplicate the sterling form he showed against the faded Brandon Rios and will Pacquiao, now 37 and presumably recovered from shoulder surgery, dominate Bradley again or will he bow to age?
The First Two Acts: Statistically speaking, Pacquiao dominated both fights as he out-landed Bradley 253-159 overall and 190-108 power in fight one as well as 198-141 overall and 146-109 power in the rematch. Pac's 253 landed punches in first fight are the most by a Bradley opponent in 15 of his fights tracked by CompuBox. Interestingly, Bradley's output was higher than the volume-punching Pacquiao in both bouts (69.9 per round to 62.6 in fight one, 52.3 to 46.9 in fight two), an area Pacquiao usually dominates, while Pacquiao was the better jabber each time outlanding Bradley 63-51-4.3 landed per rnd for Tim), 24%-11% in fight one; 50-32-2.7 landed per rnd for Tim, 23%-11% in fight two), an area in which Bradley customarily excels. In fact, in his last 11 fights, Bradley landed and avg. of 6.1 jabs per round- 20% higher than the wgt. class avg. Can Teddy get Tim to rely more on his boxing skills this time around? The round-by-round breakdowns revealed that in fight one Pacquiao led 10-1-1 overall and 11-0-1 power in fight one as well as 10-1-1 overall and 11-1 power in the rematch. Will the balance of power swing in fight three or will it remain the same?
Last Time Out: Mayweather-Pacquiao defined the term "anti-climax" mostly because of what Pacquiao either couldn't do or wasn't allowed to do. Shockingly, Pacquiao averaged fewer punches than Mayweather (35.8 vs. 36.3) and the man named "Money" feasted in terms of accuracy (34%-19% overall, 25%-9% jabs, 48%-27% power) and raw connects (148-81 overall, 67-18 jabs, 81-63 power). Therefore, what was thought to be the most mortal threat to his pristine record turned into just another fantastically compensated tutorial. Meanwhile, Bradley produced his best form since the Juan Manuel Marquez fight two years earlier. Yes, Brandon Rios was a spent force due to his chronic weight-making struggles (and his equally chronic weight gains) but a finely conditioned Bradley smartly curbed his own brawling instincts and picked at the carcass until nothing was left. His volume was excellent (63.3 punches per round to Rios' 50.4) as was his jab (27.2 thrown/8.9 connects per round) and his percentage gaps (45%-18% overall, 33%-15% jabs, 54%-19% power). Bradley couldn't have asked for a better preamble to his third -- and presumably final -- meeting with Pacquiao.
Prediction: Bradley is younger, busier and coming off an excellent performance while Pacquiao is nearly a year removed from one of the worst outings of his 21-year professional career. The fight will swing on two factors: Pacquiao's ability to regain form after such a long layoff and
Bradley's willingness to control his emotions and fight a disciplined fight. Atlas' emphasis on the mental side of boxing makes his presence in Bradley's corner a possible game-changer and if he follows his trainer's blueprint -- both physically and psychologically -- he has the skills, youth and volume to win by decision -- and this time the verdict will be viewed as legitimate.