HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney offer their top 10 breakthrough performances in HBO Boxing history.
By Kieran Mulvaney
And so, perhaps, it ends. And while career retrospectives may very well prove premature – any boxer who prevaricates about retiring is rarely committed to the act – if last Saturday’s win over Tim Bradley was indeed his last, it was a fitting finale for Emanuel Pacquiao, Congressman from Sarangani Province, aspiring member of the Philippines Senate, and, of course, professional prizefighter of some considerable repute.
What may prove to be the end came 15 years, pretty much to the day, after the diminutive southpaw, then fighting at 122 pounds, walked into the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, California, in search of a trainer.
“He walked in; I had no idea who he was, I had never heard of him before,” recalled the Wild Card’s owner-proprietor, Freddie Roach, some time later. “His manager asked if I could work the mitts with him; they had heard I caught punches well. After one round, I went over to my people and said, ‘Wow. This kid can fight.’ And then he went over to his manager and said, ‘We have a new trainer.’”
Pacquiao had already won and lost a world title, at 112 pounds, when he arrived in Los Angeles; he would win championships at seven more weights under Roach’s tutelage, as the two men embarked on a whirlwind journey that brought each of them fame and fortune and an indelible role in the other’s life history.
The whirlwind first touched down just a few weeks later, when Pacquiao got the call to step in for scheduled challenger Enrique Sanchez against junior featherweight belt-holder LehloLedwaba, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas – which would be the site of many of his future victories. Watching the broadcast of that fight a decade and a half later, several things stand out: color analyst George Foreman’s struggles with the Filipino’s name; the patent and understandable lack of familiarity with the fighter on the part of Foreman’s fellow HBO commentators Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant; and the one-handed nature of Pacquiao’s assault. His was the crudest of styles: his lead right hand as ineffective as the vestigial forelimb of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, he inflicted damage almost entirely with a left fist that he flung repeatedly at his foe. But he flung it with such frequency and force that Ledwaba – at the time, a highly-regarded champion – had been battered to a one-sided, broken-noseddefeat by the end of the sixth round.
Two years later, Pacquiao had moved up in weight again,overwhelming the legendary Marco Antonio Barrera with a viscerally shocking display of violence. In his next outing, he appeared on the verge of doing the same to Barrera’s countryman, Juan Manuel Marquez, blasting him to the canvas three times in the first three minutes; had referee Joe Cortez done what many others in his position might have done and halted the contest after the third knockdown, we would likely have been denied perhaps the greatest in-ring rivalry of the early twenty-first century. As it was, Marquez was able to stage a comeback and earn a draw that was the first bump in Pacquiao’s road; the second came in 2005 when Erik Morales exposed his technical deficiencies en route to scoring a unanimous decision win.
That defeat, however, would prove to be transformative: it prompted Roach to focus on finally forcing Pacquiao to become a two-fisted fighter, a development the Filipino rolled out to full effect when knocking out Morales in a rematch that was the start of a stretch without precedent in modern boxing. From 2006 through 2010, Pacquiao was unstoppable, punching his way through the weight divisions, winning titles at 130, 135, 140, 147 and 154 pounds. In a remarkable stretch from June 2008 through November 2009, he overwhelmed David Diaz, blasted Oscar De La Hoya into retirement, flattened Ricky Hatton with a devastating one-punch knockout, and halted Miguel Cotto at the end of a breathtaking contest that caused Merchant to exult that, “We thought Manny Pacquiao was great; he’s better than we thought.”
That Morales defeat was significant also in that it marked Pacquiao’s last outing under the aegis of Murad Muhammad Promotions; by the time of his next bout, he had signed with Top Rank, and his partnership with Top Rank boss Bob Arum and publicist Fred Sternburg provided the rocket fuel that launched him into superstardom. Sternburg, in particular, was masterful in cultivating the image of a Manila street waif turned Filipino hero, an image that took reality and turned it all the way up to 11.
In much the same way as the menace of Mike Tyson merged improbably with his high-pitched lisp and love of pigeons, Pacquiao the destroyer inside the ropes appeared to be a perpetually serene, childlike beacon of hope outside them. He would smile and wave at his fans as he walked to the ring, as if heading to a red carpet event rather than a fistfight; when thebattle was over, the lover of karaoke would perform at concerts that his acolytes appeared to take seriously even as others wondered if the less-than-stellar singer was in on his own joke. His regular prefight appearances on Jimmy Kimmel’s talk show, which also always culminated in a song, were not so much a choice between laughing at Pacquiao or with him as a combination of both.
But there was no doubting the genuine reverence with which he was held in his homeland. It appeared to be truly the case, and not just a Sternburg creation, that crime in metro Manila dropped to zero when Pacquiao fights were broadcast on the country’s television. Arum may have chuckled when he said that the Philippines’ social security system was called Manny Pacquiao, but he wasn’t entirely joking. And there could have been no greater illustration of what he meant to a nation than the sight of thousands of survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the country in November 2013, gathering in public squares to watch on big screens as Pacquiao soundly defeated Brandon Rios just days later.
Of course, when anyone or anything seems too good to be true, he or it likely is, and the Pacquiao phenomenon was not untainted. There were suspicions raised – not least by certain other boxers – about how he was able to carry his power through the weight divisions, and why it deserted him at approximately the same time strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza left his team. (Defenders argued that the answer to the first question was that he was simply becoming a better fighter, and that the answer to the second was that, while he may have been irresistible all the way through 140 pounds, he had less impact at 147 and above, particularly after taking sapping blows in his otherwise-dominant junior middleweight win over Antonio Margarito.)
In addition, he was a central figure in the so-called Cold War between Top Rank and rival Golden Boy Promotions, the Gavrilo Princip moment being when, while under contract to the former, he reportedly accepted a briefcase of cash from Golden Boy’s Oscar De La Hoya. That conflict ossified over the rival camps’ stances on a possible clash between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, a will-they-won’t-they saga that suffocated the sport for five years. When battle between the two boxers was finally joined last May, Pacquiao ultimately acquiesced in a tepid affair that may have soured casual fans on the sweet science for years to come. And then came Pacquiao’s deeply hurtful and offensive comments toward homosexuals, projected through the newly-devout lens with which he now viewed the world, which put an end to the Kimmel appearances and cast a pall of indifference over the build-up to last Saturday’s bout with Bradley.
But we are somewhat hypocritical in our condemnation of sports heroes, tending to be more forgiving of those who perform to a high level and yearning for any kind of redemption narrative. Which makes what happened on Saturday night the perfect note on which to bow out.
It was not, as some offered, the Pacquiao of old; it was, rather, an older Pacquiao, who showed more hesitation, fewer angles and less explosiveness than at his peak. By way of illustration, consider the CompuBox punch stats: on Saturday, he landed an average of just 10 punches per round, out of 37 thrown, compared to 17 of 47 in their last meeting and 21 of 63 when first they fought, back in 2012. It is a measure of just how brilliant a boxer he remains that, even in this diminished state, he could dominate an opponent widely regarded, at least when he went to bed on Friday night, as one of the top ten pound-for-pound in the world; it speaks even more to just how great Pacquiao was at his peak.
At the post-fight press conference, a smiling Pacquiao equivocated slightly about his future, stating that “my heart is 50-50” but that “right now, my decision is to retire.” He said only nice things about his vanquished foe, saying that there was no need for boxers to hate each other outside the ring, that he hoped he and Bradley were friends, and that he had even invited him to Bible study the following morning. Asked about the best and worst moments in his boxing career, he serenely offered that “there is no worst moment; sometimes when you lose, you want to grow, you want to learn more about your job.” It was vintage Pacquiao: violent in the ring, peaceful and humble afterward.
He thanked everyone assembled, and offered “God bless us all.” He stepped down from the dais and – smiling, naturally – made his way around to the back of the room, slipped out the exit, and was gone.
Watch a replay of what may have been Manny Pacquiao’s final fight, his unanimous decision win over Tim Bradley, Saturday April 16 at 10PM ET/PT, on HBO.
Watch LIVE! Undercard action leading up to the pay-per-view telecast. Pacquiao vs. Bradley happens Sat., April 9 live on pay-per-view beginning at 9pm ET/6pm PT.
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.
Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley stepped on the scales Friday evening at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Pacquiao vs. Bradley happens Sat., April 9 live on pay-per-view beginning at 9pm ET/6pm PT.
Photos by Will Hart
Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley stepped on the scales Friday evening at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Pacquiao-Bradley happens Saturday at 9 PM ET, 6 PM PT on HBO PPV.
Bradley W12 Pacquiao
Whatever Freddie Roach may promise (again!), Manny Pacquiao isn't knocking out Tim Bradley. Bradley isn't knocking out Pacquiao, either. This rivalry is going 36 full rounds. And all that has gone before, all the evidence of the previous 24 rounds, suggests – insists, even – that Pacquiao has Bradley's number and should score another win. But I'm not sure the Filipino icon still has the fire he had before, whereas Bradley burns white hot at the most relaxed of times. I think that this time Bradley is going to be that bit quicker, that bit faster to the punch, and that bit smarter, and he's going to do enough to outpoint an at-times sloppy Pacquiao.
Pacquiao by SD
Based on my best guess as to how much Pacquiao has left at age 37, this feels like a dead-even fight. On at least a subconscious level, however, the judges have to know that Manny is "owed" a decision in this rivalry, so I expect them to lean his way, mildly controversially, after 12 back-and-forth rounds.
Pacquiao by UD
Manny has won the vast majority of the 24 rounds that he has tussled with Bradley. I think it will be a hotly contested fight, but that in the end Manny's footwork and mobility as well as his more explosive punching power will bring him home to victory.
Bradley W12 Pacquiao
As absurd as it seems—and, boy, does it get absurd in boxing—two of the best welterweights in the world are fighting on Saturday night and the buzzmeter is barely audible. Which is a shame, really, since unlike some of the HTML stars at 147 pounds, Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley, Jr., have actual accomplishments on their ledgers. Admittedly, Pacquiao-Bradley is not a trilogy to set alongside Zale-Graziano or Ali-Frazier, but both men are world-class professionals and their rubber match promises to be, at the very least, competitive this time around.
Even before his dud against Mayweather nearly a year ago, Pacquiao resembled a hologram of his former explosive self. And that may explain why Pacquiao, outside of the protracted anticlimax against Mayweather, no longer has that special blood sport allure. At the peak of his stardom, Pacquiao was warring against some of the best fighters of his era but it was his breakneck style that explained his universal appeal. In recent years, however, Pacquiao has turned in more than his share of routine performances. Without a KO since 2009, Pacquiao, once a tornado but now more of land devil, has opted to mix boxing with the occasional offensive outburst. While Pacquiao picks his spots and stalls on the outside, Bradley will look to work the interior in hopes of accumulating points.
And the possibility that Pacquiao, now 37, stalls more than usual seems likelier than ever.
Between recent surgery, inactivity, and age, Pacquiao is facing a trifecta of drawbacks. There are also a slew of psychological factors that may affect him once the opening bell rings. First, Pacquiao is coming off of a loss (one suffered in the biggest fight of his career); second, ruminating openly about retirement may be a sign that Pacquiao has lost his zest for fighting; and third, the bonanza paycheck he earned against Mayweather last year may have dulled his edge even further.
(One final intangible—probably overstated by most—is Teddy Atlas, who replaced Joel Diaz, Jr., last year as trainer and chief Freudian in the Bradley camp. As strategists, Diaz and Atlas may not be that far apart, but motivation between rounds is the key for Bradley. At times, "Desert Storm" seemed unfocused in the corner and the possibility that he was tuning out Diaz after a long working relationship cannot be overlooked. With his conspicuous love of the limelight and his hammy battle cries full of mixed metaphors and the occasional malapropism, Atlas will have no problem getting Bradley to concentrate.)
By giving Bradley a third shot, Pacquiao has also given him an opportunity to adapt to his unique style. What made Pacquiao such a force of nature inside the ring was not just his speed and power, but also his offbeat rhythm and his improvisatory offense. In a way, the difference between Pacquiao and a conventional welterweight is like the difference between, say, a swing drummer like Gene Krupa and a modern virtuoso like Max Roach or Elvin Jones. If ever Bradley had a chance to solve the Pac-man puzzle—legitimately—it will come tomorrow night at the MGM Grand Garden. Pacquiao may have enough left physically to dissect Bradley again, but the signs point to narrow spreads on the scorecards. This time, perhaps, Bradley may finally achieve what has eluded him for so long.
Manny Pacquiao had enough to beat Tim Bradley twice, even if one win came back a loss and the other had just enough question marks to make a third fight palatable. Not much has happened since their second to tell us anything we didn't already know about both fighters: Pacquiao is still approaching middle age, and Bradley is still earnest, tough, talented, light-punching, and genuinely likeable in a way few boxers are. He's also got a new old trainer in Teddy Atlas, who might make all the difference or none at all, depending on what you tend to think of trainers these days – anyone who saw Atlas's Alexander Povetkin, which is to say pretty much the exact same Povetkin before and after Teddy's time, will be hesitant in accepting the line that argues Bradley is now supercharged, or firefighting, or much changed at all. Still, Pacquiao's motivations for fighting on are to be questioned, and Bradley's motivations for fighting at all are not. The Filipino might have had his number somewhat in previous years, but Bradley proved plenty difficult all the same. Enough has changed in the meantime, which is to say not much other than Pacquiao's age and body, to make Bradley a plausible candidate to end his more famous opponent's career. I'll take Tim, then, by close, probably disputed decision.
Pacquiao W12 Bradley
Let's just face it: the only reason why we’re being forced to see 24 additional rounds (between the rematch and the rubber match) just to make sure that we all know that Manny is better than Tim is the fact that two judges failed to see him win the first bout. Bradley may have an advantage in speed, conditioning and ring IQ, but Pacquiao at his usual relentless self is just too much for him, and the added motivation of this being his last hurrah will give him an additional push to get the job done. Again.
Frank Della Femina
Pacquiao W12 Bradley
I anticipate a lot of movement with little action. Bradley will come out fired up looking for a brawl that Pacquiao won't want. I expect Pacquiao to be poised and unwilling to take chances. After a few rounds of dancing Teddy Atlas will give Bradley a speech about them being garbage men ("We're garbage men! What do we do with trash? We take it out! We put on our old man slippers, walk it down to the curb and take it out! Take out the trash!") or gardeners ("We're gardeners! What do we do with weeds? We rip them out of the ground and spray weed-be-gone! Spray weed-be-gone!"). Then it'll be more of the same for the final rounds before Pacquiao wins on points.
Pacquiao W12 Bradley
I have to pick Pacquiao by decision because all things being equal he's a better fighter and we've seen this fight twice already so we know how it goes. The only question is whether Pacquiao slowed down significantly since their last fight. I tend to think that he hasn't (not enough to lose at least), but it's a close fight and Bradley will keep coming no matter what, so Pacquiao will have to work hard to win. No magical motivational speech from Teddy Atlas will make Bradley a better fighter than Pacquiao. Only Pacquiao getting old will do that.
Pacquiao by SD
The punches will fly but it's hard to see either one getting stopped. After almost a year off Pacquiao should be rejuvenated, while it remains to be seen if Bradley’s new trainer, Teddy Atlas, is a difference maker.
Pacquiao W12 Bradley
In an alternate world where the lights go off, Ocean's 11 style, after the 8th round of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, we'd remember that Manny was battling Floyd to a near-draw through 2/3rds of the fight. There's no shame in getting swept down the stretch by the best fighter on the planet, and we shouldn't think of Pacquiao as being a diminished fighter for having lost those rounds.
We saw this Pacquiao-Bradley fight two years ago and two years before that. I don't think enough has changed – with either fighter – to expect a different result in the ring. Manny clearly getting the better of Tim in a competitive fight.
HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney are back with more from Pacquiao-Bradley radio row, including an interview with Terence Crawford.