Boxing


Pacquiao-Bradley Preview: Has Manny Pacquiao lost his ‘Killer Instinct’?

by Geoffrey Ciani - There are many things to consider when trying to determine a winner in Saturday night’s mega bout showdown between Manny Pacquiao (54-3-2, 38 KOs) and Timothy Bradley (28-0, 12 KOs). With so many questions surrounding Pacquiao following his controversial victory in his third bout against Juan Manuel Marquez last November, and Bradley being such a young, hungry, and determined fighter, this might well have the makings of a “perfect storm” scenario that could enable Bradley to score the upset. On the other hand, Pacquiao has always had difficulty with the future Hall of Fame Mexican. All three of their contests were extremely close and disputable. So this could also turn out to be the type of favorable match-up where Pacquiao once again comes across looking like Superman, as he has so many times before. So which will it be? In all likelihood, as is so often the case when viewing two polar extremes, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

Pacquiao’s struggles last time out against Marquez came as somewhat of a surprise. Despite the fact they had already had two razor-close battles in lower weight classes, the common perception was that Pacquiao had improved too much and become naturally too big for the 38 year old Mexican. The last time Marquez ventured north of lightweight was to face Floyd Mayweather Junior. In that fight he looked soft, slow, and lacked the power and speed to remotely compete with Floyd. Against Pacquiao, however, he appeared strong, bulky, muscular, and used impeccable timing and counterpunching technique that rocked Pacquiao throughout the contest. Indeed Marquez actually looked bigger than Pacquiao! It was almost ironic that after beating up one big guy after another, it would take a smaller man in the form of an old nemesis to finally make Pacquiao look human again.

Perhaps in hindsight it should not have been so surprising that Marquez was yet again extremely competitive with Pacquiao. Styles make fights! Some observers stressed this point going into their third fight, such as HBO commentator Emanuel Steward, but those voices were largely in the minority. So was this just a matter of styles make fights? Was that all it was? Or was there something more at play? Is Pacquiao beginning to slow down and show signs of decline with his age? Are the outside distractions finally catching up with him? Can Pacquiao still cope with an undefeated motivated boxer in his prime? Or is it more of a combination of things at play here? We should certainly have some answers come Saturday night.

On the surface Bradley is a fundamentally different boxer than Marquez. He’s younger, faster, and far more explosive. While Marquez is more of a natural counterpuncher who utilizes range and timing to batter his unsuspecting foes when they are out of position, Bradley is more of a come forward pressure type of fighter who likes to throw punches in bunches. Examining these basic tendencies suggests that Bradley is indeed a more favorable matchup for Pacquiao than Marquez. Bradley has simply exhibited that he is naturally more inclined to approach things from an offensive mindset. He is not known for fighting the type of fight that Marquez used to give Pacquiao trouble in all three of their encounters. This gives reason to believe that no matter how determined Bradley is and no matter how physically and mentally prepared, he is ultimately just going to wind up putting himself in positions where Pacquiao can capitalize. It could just wind up being a situation where all of the things that Bradley does best play right into Pacquiao’s favor. If this proves true, then Pacquiao should win decisively whether it is an early knockout, an accumulative wear down stoppage in the mid-late rounds, or a wide unanimous decision on the cards.

While it is true that Bradley is more of an offensive-minded fighter, it is not true, however, that he is one-dimensional. Bradley is a versatile boxer who is capable of doing a lot of different things inside the squared circle. Aside from being a physically gifted athlete, he has an amazing work ethic and a great ring IQ. He carries an adequate set of tools, is superbly conditioned, and has shown good ability to adapt. He can box and move, he can press forward, he is a talented counterpuncher, is never afraid to brawl and mix it up, can box from the outside and maul on the inside, and he has quick feet and can usually dictate the range to his liking. He is also durable with a proven ability to overcome adversity, having risen from the canvas to come back and win. What is probably most impressive about Bradley, however, might be his overall attitude and mental toughness. He simply exudes the confidence of an undefeated fighter who possesses tremendous self-belief.

In boxing lore, the textbook example of the “perfect storm” scenario is when Buster Douglas shocked the world when he defeated the seemingly invincible “Iron” Mike Tyson. While Douglas was a big underdog, and rightly so, the circumstances leading up to that fight were those of a huge upset in the making and that’s what we got. Of course hindsight is 20-20, but with Tyson’s lack of desire and personal problems outside the ring, and with Douglas being supremely motivated following the passing of his mother, everything just seemed to fall right into place so that Douglas could score the biggest upset in boxing history. Could the stage be set for such an upset again when Bradley is pitted against Pacquiao?

With Manny Pacquiao there have always seemingly been distractions outside the ring. But this time those distractions do seem more profound, with Manny having made some big changes in his personal life and his worldly outlook. The fact that this is all happening with a foe like Bradley in front of him makes things more interesting, especially following his sub-par effort against Marquez. After all with the type of crowd-pleasing dynamic style that Pacquiao has utilized, wear and tear are bound to take their toll eventually. Pacquiao’s killer instinct appears to have waned off in recent fights, too. The ferocious volume puncher who annihilated Oscar De La Hoya in a mismatch, blew Ricky Hatton away in two rounds, and forced Miguel Cotto into full retreat mode was truly a force to be reckoned with. To be sure, his efforts against Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito were exceptional one-sided onslaughts in their own right! But by this time Pacquiao was expected to win, and despite administering a hellacious beating on Antonio Margarito, some observers feel Pacquiao may have let him off the hook in the championship rounds and coasted rather than pursue the knockout, as had been his prior trademark.

In addition to Pacquiao’s vicious nature questionably now in decline, he has also shown some tactical deficiencies in recent bouts. These were most apparent last time around against Marquez. Although the perception was that Pacquiao had vastly improved in a technical sense since their 2008 rematch, Marquez showed once again that Pacquiao has issues with tactical well-timed counterpunching. Even before that, however, Pacquiao became visibly flustered against “Sugar” Shane Mosley who had great success when it came to constantly turning Pacquiao. Even though Pacquiao dominated Mosley, Shane had success when it came to neutralizing Pacquiao’s power attacks, despite being shopworn and unable to pull the trigger. If a 39 year old Mosley was able to have limited tactical success, and 38 year old Marquez was able to give Pacquiao a technical headache, the blueprint is there for Bradley when it comes to proper approach. If Bradley can employ these strategies consistently in conjunction with his own unique flash and form, the “perfect storm” scenario might well possibly play out.

In the end I do believe that Pacquiao is a fighter who is showing clear signs of decline. He has been in many wars and it has left him a bit shopworn. His personal distractions from boxing, his apparent change in perspective, and his fading killer instinct are all variables that I do believe will play a role in this fight. I do not believe, however, that this will be quite enough for Bradley to capitalize on this near “perfect storm” situation. Pacquiao is still an amazing talent with blazing speed, explosive power, and tremendous fighting instincts. He still likes to fight! He also has something to prove for the first time in a long time. After all Pacquiao looked ordinary for the first time in quite awhile last time out, and this followed a long string of fights that were essentially one-sided (even if Pac-Man got a little bruised and battered along the way). Surely Pacquiao’s competitive flame still burns.

With Bradley’s style and Pacquiao’s natural abilities I still believe Manny has enough left in the tank to beat Timmy over the distance. He may even have enough to score a late round stoppage, but with Bradley’s will to win, and his superb conditioning and ring intelligence, I think Bradley makes it to the final bell. I also think Bradley will have his fair share of moments along the way where Pacquiao has issues and difficulties, especially earlier in the contest. But once these two feel each other out a little bit and begin to get comfortable, I ultimately believe that a fight is going to break out sooner or later, and when it does I believe the exchanges will favor Pacquiao more often than not. Once Bradley begins tasting Pac-Man’s power with some regularity he is going to be forced to try and adapt, and as talented as Braldey is I believe he will be short on answers for taming Pacquiao’s explosive aggression. Bradley is clever enough and slick enough to maintain a range where he should be able to neutralize Pacquiao’s attacks and maybe even surprise him with some awkwardly timed counters. I believe Pacquiao will win the fight by a unanimous decision somewhere along the lines of 116-111, 117-110, 117-110, where I suspect he will probably score a knockdown somewhere along the way. Even in the event that Bradley makes it close where there is some question pertaining to the final verdict, I believe Pacquiao will be given the benefit of the doubt.

OFFICIAL PREDICTION: Manny Pacquiao wins by unanimous decision

***

To contact Geoffrey Ciani:
ciani@eastsideboxing.com

Article posted on 09.06.2012



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