In a few hours, the boxing world will know whether Manny Pacquiao’s vaunted killer instinct is history or if the Filipino superstar at 35 is still at the top of his game. And Timothy Bradley will be the catalyst that will prove or disprove Manny Pacquiao’s relevance to stay in the game.
Much has been said about Manny Pacquiao’s demise and a lot of people have written him off ever since his ignominious defeat to Juan Manuel Marquez: that he is shop worn, battle-weary, and old -- that his heart and mind are no longer into boxing anymore, replaced by his venture into the world of politics, and his time consumed and occupied by his newfound faith.
Yes, Manny Pacquiao, in the eyes of his critics and supporters, has changed, and many are claiming that despite his pronouncements, he is only fighting for the money, milking everything and squeezing the last penny out of his gloves before he finally calls it quits.
That’s why for this fight, many people are putting their money and casting their lot on the reigning WBO welterweight champion Timothy Bradley, the same muscular boxer who stole Manny Pacquiao’s thunder in their first fight in Sin City -- albeit in a fight that was described by fans and pundits alike to be the biggest robbery in boxing history, which led to Manny Pacquiao unceremoniously tumbling down from the top of boxing’s pound-for-pound list and the beginning of his career turmoil.
We all know what followed next right after that lackluster fight: his shocking defeat to his nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez via a single punch knockout, so brutal that many opined that he will never recover and would not be the same fighter again.
Yet Manny Pacquiao took and dismantled the rugged but slow Brandon Rios in his comeback fight in Macau. This time, with the knockout loss still fresh on his mind, he elected not to take too many risks and decided to cruise by showing his under-appreciated boxing skills (which were actually impressive) in carving out a unanimous decision victory, but failed to satisfy the blood lust from some sectors since they were so accustomed to seeing him destroy his foes to oblivion. The fact that Miguel Cotto was his last stoppage victim added more to the fuel regarding his diminishing punching power and the heart to finish off his opponents unlike in the old days.
Tonight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Timothy Bradley, who went to hell and back with Ruslan Provodnikov and beat Juan Manuel Marquez at his own game, will be the litmus test for Manny Pacquiao. This is Manny Pacquiao’s chance to gain the doubters back to his corner again.
In Timothy Bradley, Manny Pacquiao will face an accomplished, never-say-die fighter. A brave and very determined boxer, a pugilist who knows how to adjust and come back from adversity and win in the end. Timothy Bradley is a livewire and an undefeated fighter in his prime.
And Timothy Bradley is also very vocal about his desire to knock Manny Pacquiao out this time around to ensure that his controversial win against the Filipino in 2012 was not a fluke. In his mind, Manny Pacquiao is ripe for the taking, and Bradley has gone overdrive in the mind games department, taunting and daring his opponent to show him what’s left of him tonight. But whether Manny Pacquiao is affected or taking Bradley’s shots out of the ring seriously remains to be seen.
That’s why the grudge match is more critical for Manny Pacquiao’s career than Timothy Bradley’s. Manny Pacquiao cannot afford to lose because a loss at this stage of his career would be simply devastating. It will surely be the end of the road for one of the greatest fighters of all time.
That’s why the pressure is on Manny Pacquiao to win. And not only to simply win, but win in convincing and devastating fashion. A lackluster win will not only diminish Manny Pacquiao’s crowd-drawing capability but will also kiss his pay-per-view stock goodbye. More so, his dream of fighting Floyd Mayweather, Jr. for all the marbles will just remain an elusive dream.
That’s why this scribe is joining the minority in the boxing writers' circle who believe that Manny Pacquiao will rise to the occasion this time and stop Timothy Bradley inside the distance.
And judging by Manny Pacquiao’s positive demeanor amid Team Bradley’s pronouncements that Timothy Bradley will end his career in the ring tonight, we can only deduce that all the questions about Manny Pacquiao’s heart, mind and skills will be answered tonight.
Because “Manny Knows.”