By Kieran Mulvaney
And so, finally, we have a fight.
That fight - between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley – is, of course, why several thousand people have descended upon the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. But its existence has at times been almost forgotten, overshadowed by what has gone before: by the events in this same building 11 months previously, when Pacquiao yielded to Floyd Mayweather before complaining about the decision and his shoulder; and by the way in which he Napalmed the almost impossibly-positive image he had built up over many years with a rapidfire series of shockingly offensive statements.
The fight seemed something of an afterthought even at the final pre-fight press conference on Wednesday, where Bradley took the opportunity to stump for Pacquiao’s election to the Filipino Senate and promoter Bob Arum reminded those assembled of some of the many acts of genuine goodwill for which Pacquiao is responsible in his homeland. There, he retains much if not all of the aura that has long enveloped him; elsewhere, the glow has been dimmed and Pacquiao, in his ring dotage, is now merely a fighter – albeit, unless something has changed within him, an extremely good one.
Tim Bradley has never been anything but a fighter, from childhood through a 36-fight-and-counting professional career that has rewarded him with little of the adulation and fame that accompanied Pacquiao’s meteoric rise, but has brought him widespread acclaim and respect. If Saturday’s bout, the third between these two veterans, feels like something of a coda for Pacquiao’s career, it has the potential to provide a nitro boost to the final stages of Bradley’s.
Officially, the two men have split their previous contests, but few people outside a pair of ringside judges – and, perhaps, Bradley himself – truly believe that the American genuinely bested Pacquiao in their first outing. That contentious victory has hung like a millstone around Bradley’s neck, and there is little if anything he wants in life more than a victory over the Filipino that is clear and convincing. Should he emerge victorious, and especially should he do so spectacularly, then he likely not only punches his ballot for the Hall of Fame, but elevates himself to the role of heir to the welterweight throne that has been hogged in recent years by Pacquiao and Mayweather but has also lately been the property of the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad and Pernell Whitaker.
Yet if Pacquiao appears to have his gaze elsewhere, he knows he too needs a dominant win. If this is to be his last fight, he will want it to be a victorious one; a triumphant conclusion to this career, he believes, can only help him achieve success in the campaign for his next one. And it will reset his image, just a little; rightly or wrongly, we often forgive our sports idols many transgressions as long as they perform to the highest standards.
For Pacquiao and Bradley, this almost forgotten fight comes with much at stake. It’s one that neither man can afford to lose. And that is why, for all that it has been lost in the shuffle, it promises to be an extremely good one.