HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney celebrate their 200th episode by looking back on the careers of recently retired warriors Wladimir Klitschko, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Tim Bradley, discussing their most memorable fights, best performances, and Hall of Fame credentials.
"In a Hall of Fame career, Timothy Bradley brought out the truth in the ring from his opponents and himself for all fans of sport," said Peter Nelson, executive vice president, HBO Sports.
"Tim is a family man and role model with a big heart -- and no one who saw Tim Bradley fight could refute he has one of the biggest hearts among those who compete between the ropes. From his 'Fight of the Year' clash with Ruslan Provodnikov to his other career-defining victories over the likes of Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao, we are proud to have been linked to his legacy. We wish Tim well in the next chapter of his life."
By Eric Raskin
“It just wasn’t a good decision,” Harold Lederman reflected about the first Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev fight. “I mean, there’s no question in my mind that Sergey Kovalev got jobbed.”
HBO’s unofficial scorer doesn’t speak for everyone in objecting to the decision that fell in Ward’s favor by a margin of one point on each of the three official cards last November 19, but Lederman speaks for plenty of people awaiting the June 17 rematch. After the conclusion of a boxing match intended to clarify who is the best fighter in a weight class and perhaps even in the entire sport, many fans were still left looking for an answer.
Ward-Kovalev 1 delivered entertainment and drama, it confirmed Kovalev’s capability as a puncher, and showed the depth of Ward’s resolve and ability to adapt. But it didn’t clarify anything. That’s why the only next move that made any sense for either of them was to sign for a rematch.
It’s worth noting that, with all due respect to Lederman’s assessment, Ward-Kovalev should probably not be termed a robbery. Anecdotally, it seemed the average fan/media scorecard was 114-113 for Kovalev; the three judges each had it 114-113 for Ward. If the official and the unofficial tallies are separated by one round swinging in the opposite direction, can you really cry foul? Not too loudly.
But you can cry out for clarity.
Boxing is only slightly more littered with controversy than it is with rematches signed in part to capitalize on the controversy. Whether you view it as a lemonade-out-of-lemons situation or you skeptically assume every dubious decision is a part of some devious plot to cash in a second time, the reality is that controversy sells. Not every debatable outcome in boxing history has given birth to a rematch, but here are 10 notable examples that have -- five where the rematch was immediate (like Ward-Kovalev) and five where it happened on delay:
Joe Louis vs. Jersey Joe Walcott
Louis was 56-1 and more than a decade into his heavyweight championship reign when he defended the title against Walcott at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 5, 1947, got dropped twice, and received the sort of gift split decision that aging icons who transcend their sport tend to receive. In the immediate rematch six months later, the 34-year-old Louis again struggled -- he got knocked down in round three and was trailing on two of the three scorecards through 10 rounds. But “The Brown Bomber” summoned an 11th-round knockout that would allow to him to retire (temporarily) as the champion without a cloud of controversy hanging over him.
Carmen Basilio vs. Johnny Saxton
“It was like being robbed in a dark alley,” welterweight champ Basilio said of his March 1956 unanimous decision loss at Chicago Stadium to Johnny Saxton. Saxton was managed by mafioso Blinky Palermo, leading many observers to draw unsavory conclusions about why Basilio lost by seven points on two of the scorecards despite seeming to dominate the bout. In an immediate rematch six months later, Basilio got his title back by ninth-round knockout. For good measure, he needed only two rounds to win the rubber match five months after that. Those wins didn’t erase Basilio’s loss in the first fight from the record books, but they helped magnify the asterisk attached to it.
Pernell Whitaker vs. Jose Luis Ramirez
Precocious Olympic gold medalist Whitaker had 90 fewer fights worth of pro experience than Ramirez when he challenged for his first title in France in March 1988, but it was “Sweet Pea” who looked like the savvy veteran, slickly outboxing the Mexican on his way to what seemed a clear decision win. Two of the judges, however, had other ideas, awarding Ramirez a ridiculous split decision. It was ultimately a meaningless speed bump on Whitaker’s road to the top of the pound-for-pound list, avenged 17 months and four fights later when the judges got it right, two of them seeing the nearly untouchable Whitaker as a shutout winner.
Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Meldrick Taylor
This wasn’t a controversial decision, but it certainly was a controversial ending. On March 17, 1990, down by an insurmountable margin on the cards, Chavez rallied in the 12th round to convince referee Richard Steele to stop the fight with just two seconds left on the clock, as hotly debated a split-second decision as any ref has ever made. By the time the rematch came together more than four years later, Taylor was all but used up, and Chavez’s controversy-free eighth-round KO didn’t mean much. Even so, there’s a sense looking back on their first fight that even if there are two sides to the argument over who deserved to win the battle, there is only one reasonable answer as to who won the war.
Lennox Lewis vs. Evander Holyfield
With three heavyweight belts and the lineal championship on the line, the first Lewis-Holyfield unification showdown at Madison Square Garden in March 1999 had all the makings of a glorious night for boxing. But the fight disappointed -- Holyfield was flat and ineffective and Lewis boxed frustratingly cautiously -- and the draw decision was even worse. When they did it again in Las Vegas eight months later, the action was better, the fight felt closer, and while a draw this time around would not have been unreasonable, Lewis was awarded the unanimous decision and the undisputed championship that he deserved the first time.
Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales
The first meeting between Mexican rivals Barrera and Morales may have been 2000’s Fight of the Year, but it came with a Y2K bug: In the opinion of most, the wrong warrior got the nod. The favored Morales captured a highly controversial split decision by a single point, but even in official defeat, Barrera’s career was rejuvenated. When they got around to a rematch in 2002, it was Barrera who was favored going in, Morales who seemed to win over a majority of the viewing public, and Barrera who took home the controversial unanimous nod. It took a 2004 rubber match to establish a clear winner in the rivalry, with Barrera gutting out a well-deserved majority decision to finish with both the official and unofficial upper hand.
Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward
The controversy of the first Gatti-Ward fight, waged over 10 epic rounds in May 2002 at Mohegan Sun Casino, has been largely forgotten because winning and losing was hardly the enduring legacy of their saga. But in the moment, there was heated debate over whether Ward deserved the majority decision that went his way. Gatti and Ward were probably destined for an immediate rematch regardless, but a heaping spoonful of uncertainty over who proved superior never hurts. There was no such uncertainty after their second fight, in November ’02, which Gatti won going away, or in their third fight, in June ’03, which was closer than the second but still decisive for Gatti.
Floyd Mayweather vs. Jose Luis Castillo
The perfect 49-0 record upon which Mayweather’s “TBE” claims were built was nearly spoiled 28 fights into the run, in April 2002, when lightweight champ Castillo applied enough unrelenting pressure to convince HBO’s Lederman that he won 115-111. But the official judges went the exact opposite direction: 116-111, 115-111, and 115-111, all for Mayweather. It was a controversial decision made more so by the absurdly wide scores across the board, but there was no controversy to the rematch eight months later. Mayweather again was pushed but did enough to win by dead-on scores of 116-113, 115-113, and 115-113.
Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez
Pacquiao and Marquez don’t know how to swap punches without controversy. Their first fight, in 2004, was a draw about which opinions varied wildly. Instead of an immediate rematch, they waited four years and settled nothing in their second meeting, with Pacquiao winning a disputed split decision by a single point. Three more years passed before their third fight, which was the closest thing to a robbery in their series; Marquez seemed to win seven or eight of the 12 rounds, but it was Pac-Man who got the majority decision. So they did it a fourth time a year after that, and finally there was a clear-cut victor as Marquez knocked Pacquiao cold in the sixth round of a classic punchout.
Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley
If Pacquiao got a gift or two in his series with Marquez, he learned what the short end of that particular stick felt like in his June 2012 bout with Bradley, which all but a handful at the MGM Grand Garden Arena thought the Filipino won going away. Among that handful were two of the three official judges, who somehow gave Bradley seven rounds and set in motion some outlandish conspiracy theorizing and more than a few “never agains” from fans who bought the pay-per-view. Pacquiao set things right in the rematch two years later, winning a comfortable unanimous decision, and with the series technically tied at one apiece, Pacquiao prevailed again in the unnecessary 2016 rubber match.
Of these 10 controversial outcomes, all but two (Barrera-Morales and Pacquiao-Marquez) were fairly well settled and controversy-free by the end of their second fights. For Kovalev and Ward, the challenge is not just to win on June 17, but to do so conclusively enough to end the series with no demand for a third fight.
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.
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.”
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.