SI.com’s boxing experts predict Saturday’s welterweight title fight between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley (9 p.m. ET, HBO PPV). Share your prediction in the comments below.
Come on, really? Bradley is an easy-to-hit fighter with a questionable chin, zero power and a willingness to trade punches. What am I missing here? I know, I know: Juan Manuel Marquez gave Pacquiao a lot of trouble in their last fight. But Marquez is a tactician with 24 rounds of experience in the ring with Pacquiao to work with; Bradley has not been in with anyone close to that level. Bradley talks a great game and win or lose there are a handful of fights (Amir Khan, Marquez, Zab Judah) that I’d like to see him in. But this is a collect-a-$5 million-paycheck-and-get-out kind of fight. I saw a very focused Pacquiao at training camp last week. If that focus produces anything close to a routine Pacquiao performance, well, it’s lights out Bradley. Pacquiao by ninth-round knockout.
This should be a terrific fight — and far more competitive than the oddsmakers (and my odd colleague Chris Mannix) are predicting. Pacquiao may well be a changed man, having found religion (or, maybe, having pretended to find religion to keep Jinkee from taking him to the cleaners), but I expect him to be very much the same fighter he has been. Put the relatively poor showing against Marquez down to personal turmoil or leg cramps or just the fact that Marquez is one fighter who has Manny’s number. Whatever the cause, I don’t think it means much. If anything, it should motivate Pacquiao all the more to make an impressive showing this time out. And, yes, Pacquiao is 33, but I don’t expect the “old-overnight” scenario to come into play here. All that is to say that I think we’ll see a full-powered Manny Pacquiao Saturday night. And I still think he could lose.
Bradley is a very accomplished and very versatile fighter. He’s younger, stronger and faster — of both hand and foot — than anyone Pacquiao has faced in years. Bradley can lead, counter, fight at a distance or in close. He has faced nearly a dozen southpaws in his career. I think his reputation as a dirty, head-butting fighter is overblown — but that’s just one more thing that Manny will have to think about in there.
Bradley’s no washed-up or over-blown opponent. He’s young but experienced and palpably hungry. He’s also in fantastic shape. That might not be enough if he gets caught by a Pacquiao bomb early. But if he can control the distance, use his speed and keep Pacquiao from blasting away from angles, it could be a difficult affair for Manny.
Just for fun, I’m calling the upset. Bradley by close decision.
BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM
Everyone agrees Pacquiao needs a sensational performance now more than ever to prove he’s still the “typhoon blowing across the Pacific,” as Larry Merchant once dubbed him, an athlete capable of those flashpoints of exhilarating destruction not seen since Tyson. But let’s face it: it’s been more than two-and-a-half years since he knocked anyone out. Once uncannily impervious to distraction, the demands of political life have compromised his edge. (See: the sparring session he was content to indulge Mosley in.) The hyperkinetic punisher who bludgeoned Oscar De La Hoya into retirement with a thousand left hands and nearly decapitated Ricky Hatton ain’t walking through that door. Maybe the resourceful Bradley, buoyed by the soaring confidence of a young man who doesn’t know how to lose, is in the right place at the right time. (“I truly believe it’s going to be an easy fight,” he’s said in interviews.)
The opening rounds will reveal much. If Bradley can score with the right hand, make Pacquiao miss and pay with counterpunches, the momentum could be difficult to reverse. Yet I suspect a hungry, come-forward challenger will bring the best out of Pacquiao, and he won’t allow Bradley the time to get comfortable. At 33, the Filipino may not be the fighter he was three years ago, but he’s still better than most in the game, and Bradley will offer the type of fight he looks forward to. The challenger will be there to hit, so it comes down to whether you think Bradley can take Pacquiao’s punch. I don’t. As the combinations accumulate, look for the Filipino idol — bleeding from one of Bradley’s inevitable headbutts — to close the show early in the third act. Pacquiao by ninth-round TKO.